Meet the Playwright: Uma Paranjpe
Moxie's third birthday is this weekend, marking the beginning of our spring season! To celebrate, we're introducing you to the writers who make it all possible. Meet our third and final playwright: Uma Paranjpe, author of 14th Street! Get to know Uma before you see her show May 7th-17th at the American Theater of Actors!
Want to support the work of incredible artists like Uma? Donate on our Fractured Atlas, or Venmo us @moxiearts
The essentials: Uma Paranjpe is a Indian-American playwright and actor originally from San Francisco. She found writing in college, and realized how much she liked to tell stories, especially those about people who aren’t able to tell them themselves. Uma currently lives in Brooklyn with her cat. BFA University of Miami. umaparanjpe.com
Read on for our Q&A with Uma!
Q: Tell us about the writing process for your 14th Street.
A: The first draft of 14th Street was actually a collection of short stories. I was interning in Chelsea and found myself at the A/C/E train station at 14th and 8th every day. There was a built in ensemble, a group of homeless people, buskers, and others who were consistently there, moving from place to place in the station, and intertwining their own lives. I started to talk to some of them, just to learn about them -- there was no ulterior motive. But their stories were so rich and nuanced that I felt compelled to write them down. Maria and Elena [characters in 14th Street] are real people, as well as Nicolai and the Red Lady. After I submitted two stories to my creative writing professor at the University of Miami, she told me, verbatim, "Uma. You just wrote two monologues." And I had! So the play was formed.
Q: What inspires you as an artist? What drives you to work in the theatre? A: I'm inspired by real people and real stories that are the engines that move us forward. The theatre feels like a good place for reality (not saying magic realism is bad, I just don't have the vision for it) because the medium and its intended audience aren't separated by a page, or a screen. You are immediately moved by theatre, whether it's in a positive or negative way.
Q: Who is a woman+ artist you admire, and why? A: Is it cliche to say Frida Kahlo? Because Frida Kahlo. I also hugely admire Ava Duvernay, because she's paved a very clear path for more WOC to enter the directing world. Ava is also someone who I feel like makes art about things she cares about. When They See Us moved me to tears, and I think the sheer amount of passion and grit she put into it is the reason why. Q: What is your favorite thing about living in New York City? A: I really love bodegas? Like I really, really love the interactions I have with my bodega guys, and the knowledge that they're there for me and also my cat. Bodega men always have your back, they keep their promises ("I'll buy some more of that since you love it so much!") and they really care about your life. I've gone back to the bodega across the street from my first apartment, and the guy remembered me, asked me about my boyfriend, and gave me a six-pack of Stella cider for free . Q: Why did you want to work with Moxie Arts NY? A: Moxie Arts is one of the only theatrical organizations in New York which is committed to full inclusion of intersectional diversity. I know the women+ who run Moxie would be able to tackle the nuance in the different characters of 14th Street, and it helps they're incredibly kind and funny too! Q: Why is 14th Street an important piece for right now? A: There is not a day of living in New York where you don't pass by homeless people. They are interwoven into New York culture, yet they're largely unnoticed or disregarded. Sometimes even vilified. I didn't grow up here, so when I moved to New York, I was baffled by the lack of understanding or care for these humans, these people who are passing through our lives, who didn't have the things we have. The privilege to not empathize with these people is everywhere. And I think 14th Street makes us question why we don't deign to recognize them.
The Moxie team is so excited to be producing 14th Street this May, and to be working with Uma! Want to support our work? Donate today!