Rasa founders establish Chicago’s first South Asian theater company

Rasa Theatre Chicago founding members Jaya Subramanian, Samir Wadke, Parvesh Cheena, Barnali Das, Anjalee Deshpande, Sonal Shah, Anish Jethmalani, Rachana Khatau, and Anita Chandwaney.

The ten actors, playwrights, singers and dancers of Rasa Theatre Chicago came together to establish the city’s first South Asian theater company.

“Chicago is such a diverse city, there are so many great companies representing their own ethnic groups, like Black Ensemble and Irish Repertory, and there are audiences of all backgrounds that like to learn and experience multicultural theater,” said Rasa founding member Sonal Shah. “We hope to provide a voice for our community.”

Rasa introduced themselves to the public with a recent benefit party at Fizz Bar & Grill featuring Indian fusion band Karma Sutra. Proceeds from the fundraiser will benefit Rasa’s first production, planned for this spring: founding member Anjalee Deshpande’s “Tamasha,” an Indian-American adaptation of Chekov’s “Three Sisters.”

The Rasa members began meeting last spring to workshop “Tamasha.” “?Tamasha’ talks about the South Asian-American experience, what it’s like to grow up in America as children of parents from South Asia,” said Shah, an artistic associate at the Running With Scissors theater company. “We want to produce work that features our culture and our community, and ourselves as artists.”

Rasa hosts a reading of founding member Anita Chandwaney’s “Gandhi Margh,” Dec. 16 at Victory Gardens Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. “Gandhi Margh” is a Chicago-set adaptation of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

“Our founding members are doing a lot of adaptations, because it’s somewhere to start,” Shah said. “If ?Tamasha’ is a success, our second production will probably be an already-published work, not an adaptation.”

The Rasa members are in the process of recruiting a board of directors, and hiring a director and finding a venue for “Tamasha.” They’re operating under the umbrella of the Kala Academy for the Performing Arts while their non-profit status is pending.

Chandwaney is Rasa’s managing director. Artistic directors are Deshpande, and Anish Jethmalani, artistic director of the Eclipse Theatre Company. Another member is Parvesh Cheena, who makes a memorable supporting turn as a convenience store owner in the “Barbershop” movies.

Reach Rasa Theatre Company at 312/777-1070 or rasatheatrechicago@yahoo.com. ? by Ed M. Koziarski, edk@homesickblues.com