An Interview with India

I met India in my Environmental Cultural Studies class this year, at Columbia College Chicago. I was very impressed with her use of language and how brilliant she was. The more I got to know India, I realized she had depth, strength, and courage.

This is a fascinating article about a woman who is learning how to live a life of freedom. To learn more about India and the company she co-founded, Rascal Arts, check out their Facebook page and website. Rascal Arts is gearing up for their inaugural comedy show in NYC this June, and is in preproduction for their mainstage show, written by National Young Playwrights Award winner Emma Silverman.

1) What is your personal mantra?

I generally live by the principle of Make Your Own Damn Opportunity. It’s easier said than done sometimes, but the reward is always exponentially superior. When I’m feeling more poetical, or needing of an emotional pick-me-up, I refer to this wonderful quote by Gustav Mahler: “O Beauty! O Loving and Life Bedrunken World!” Some trivia, Mahler wrote that as he was dying of cancer, the holocaust was sweeping his homeland, and his son had just passed away. That is some seriously positive 1 thinking right there!

2) Why do you have such a passion for playwriting?

Theater is all about empathy. Playwriting is a vehicle for understanding. It’s about crawling inside of your characters heads, convincing yourselves of their honest opinion, figuring out why they feel that why, and portraying their perspective without judgment. You need multiple perspectives to make a play, so chances are you’ll disagree with some of them, but if you vilify a character in your own head, it’s all over. They’re no longer a character but a caricature. The same is true in the real world, I think. You learn why a character holds certain beliefs and, by extension, you realize why some people might share those beliefs in the real world. I would love to write a Trump supporter, figure out what makes them tick and what makes them human.12046701_1701863276714169_6354301823970481150_n.jpg

3) You Co-founded a theater company, what advice do you have for women & girls who want to create a company based on their passion?

  • 1. Check Your Ego at the Door. Rascal Arts could not have come to fruition were it not for the unique skills, insights, and talents of each and every member. A company is the sum of its parts, and jealousy has no place at the table. Honor your collaborators’ strengths as they honor yours, and don’t assume you can do everything.
  • 
 2. Ask For Help! Here’s where a little bit of ego can do you good. If you know anyone in the field you’re looking to entrepreneurialize, take them out to coffee and pick their brains. It can be intimidating to ask for the time of someone you admire, but most people love being asked for advice. If you’re young, capitalize on that. There’s a golden period where you’re old enough to be taken seriously, 1 Mahler wrote this for his final opera, Der Abscheid, or The Farewell. Some more trivia, this was my high school yearbook quote. but young enough that you’re considered adorable. Take advantage of that! It won’t last forever.
  • 3. Know What You Want. My company, Rascal Arts, came to be kind of by accident. My friends and I wanted to put on a show as a last hurrah, commemorating our high school experience. But in the process of renting theaters and buying insurance and publicizing our show, the project snowballed into a longer-lasting establishment. This left us without clearly established protocols/policies and no designated chain of command. This led to some uncomfortable situations and high tensions between me and my co-members. Not all companies need such a precise, traditional structure—Rascal Arts functions without one—But in retrospect, some ground rules could have made everything so much easier.
  • 4. Disclose! OverDisclose! Just Don’t UnderDisclose. When you’re in a company, especially if its members are scattered around the country or the globe, you have to be incredibly proactive about communication. Transparency is absolutely vital to establish trust, and to reinforce the idea that you’re all working towards the same thing. For example, not every company member will attend every meeting, but we have a company gmail account, and all of the meeting minutes are shared with every member every time. We’ve found that Skype is a hellhole if you want to get anything done. I am partial to email chains, but a Facebook group can be good too (Especially when voting on something).
  • 5. Prioritize Life. Art never trumps real life. Art never trumps love. Art should never, ever trump friendship. It can be a hairy situation, cofounding a company with friends. Especially with all of your closest friends. Whilst founding Rascal Arts last summer, I had bouts of incredible loneliness because literally everyone I loved was intimately involved in the making of the company. My friends and family were no longer my friends and family, but my colleagues. Thankfully, with practice, we have resumed equilibrium. Finding that balance between friendship and collaborator-hood will take time. Protect your friendships. Business of any sort is political, which easily leads to hurt feelings. Maybe there are some power play going on. Maybe one collaborator is more invested in the project than the other. All of that is OK so long as you are acknowledge and communicate freely about it. Everything will be OK. Finally, don’t be myopic about it! There is life outside of your company, and if it’s a healthy, ensemble model, your company will survive without you. Take a day off! Travel the world! Have an adventure! (Just be sure to tell your co-members beforehand.)2  Seriously, though. Founding a company is a seriously soul-draining experience at times, and you may wake up one day unsure of who you are and how you got there. Guard your mental health with gargoyles if necessary.

4) You struggled with an eating disorder, how has that affected your perspective on body image and eating?

Having an eating disorder made me an exponentially more empathetic person. I went to a performing arts high school, so I was entrenched in a culture of eating disorders long before I developed my own. Walking into the changing room on any given day, you’d see the same thing: a line of girls, staring at themselves in the mirror, pinching their bellies and comparing their bodies. There were a few girls who were well known to have very serious eating disorders and were in and out of rehab. This was common knowledge but never discussed. I’m not proud to say that I judged these girls. I thought they were weakwilled, reinforcing damaging societal norms and even being “unfeminist,” for buying into the narrow-minded image of what women should look like. It was a very myopic, ignorant perspective. I now regard these women as some of the strongest people I know, and I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for what they’ve overcome. The coolest thing is that I can apply this evolution of thinking to anything else I can’t experientially understand, like what it must be like to be trans or genderfluid, a racial minority, or disabled. Whenever I catch myself discrediting these perspectives, I say to myself, “but remember what you used to think about Anorexia?” I actively seek to understand a plethora of perspectives now. I don’t assume to speak for anyone. I love a good debate, and have been known to play devil’s advocate just for the sake of being contrary, but my eating disorder taught me to shut up and listen.

5) Food is a constant struggle for someone who has overcome an eating disorder, how do you create a balanced relationship with food?

I didn’t grew up religious, but recently I try and remember to say a prayer before eating. Nothing scripted, but this is the gist: How incredible that the earth evolved to give rise to this array of food that gives my body energy, floods my brains with endorphins, enables me to form coherent thought, and taste delicious? The fact that my body can smell and taste and digest and energize never fails to humble me. I know that if something were to happen that would prohibit me from eating, I would miss it so much. I usually deal with heavy topics by enshrouding them in comedy. Too much earnestness tends to make me uncomfortable. However, in this arena, 100% sincerity is the only viable route. It’s been refreshing.11143549_1644478672452630_7653793719416207404_n.jpg

6) How has being an environmentalist affected your perspective on the world?

It’s given me a moral code. Not that I didn’t have one before, but like I said, I didn’t grow up religious, and environmentalism has given me a definitive set of values that informs how I act. For example, I eat a primarily vegan diet to reduce my water 3 footprint, use reusable produce bags at the grocery, dress myself in hand-me-downs, and refuse to learn how to drive. I do this out of a larger sense of obligation to the world and to the future…Although it is also in part motivated out of my own egocentric terror of catastrophe, of course. I grew up in Brooklyn, where everyone shared my tree-hugging beliefs. It was a shock to discover how much of the country was not environmentally conscious. I remember going to North Carolina for a summer intensive, my first time away from home, and being shocked that the school did not recycle. I panicked, freaked out, and then freaked everyone else out, in that order. Habits and ideologies as deeply entrenched as American consumerism will not die overnight. It’s an infuriating, unfortunate truth. So I guess in that way environmentalism taught me patience. I’ve always been an rashly emotional, unreasonably impatient person. But on this issue, I’ve found the most effective way to cause change is to remain calm, focused and consistent.

7) what simple tips can you give reader to live a greener lifestyle? (At least 5).

  • 1. To-GoWare. This portable set of bamboo silverware is hands-down the best and most utilitarian gift I’ve ever received. Not only will you field a plethora of compliments each time you break these babies out, food tastes so much better on bamboo. If you can’t invest in these, just carry around your own silverware in a designated baggy or somesuch. You’ll save so much plastic. I don’t buy meat or dairy—saving eggs—but I’ll eat it if it happens to be there and would otherwise end up in the trash.
  • 2. Ruby Cup. Getting pretty up close and personal here, but all in the name of saving the planet! If you happen to be of the menstrual persuasion, I cannot recommend this product enough. It takes a cycle or two to get used to, but after that there are innumerable benefits. To begin with, financially. The average woman spends X on tampons and pads each year. Lunacup lasts for 5-10 years, and you only have to pay for it once. You’ll save countless amounts of plastic, paper, and other materials from ending up in landfills by using the cup, and get this, it is so much more effective. Seriously. Less leaking, less spillage…And because it holds the blood as opposed to absorbing it, it’s exponentially more comfortable. Also, this brand donates one cup to an African girl in need for every one you buy.  Or you could just get an IUD and have five years of birth control with no periods at all 😉
  • 3. Thrift! I bet I don’t even have to sell you on this one. Thrifting is a beloved millenial pastime. But in case you’ve not yet enlisted in the Salvation Army, here’s some propaganda: It’s cheaper. People will think you’re cooler (not that that matters of course.) But most importantly, you won’t be contributing to child labor overseas, and it’s much better for the environment to buy your clothes second hand. It’s not 5 only the fabric, dies, and possible metal/plastic/animal hydes/fur. Most popularly sold clothing is manufactured overseas, so you have to account for the CO2 emissions involved in shipping it from Taiwan or China or Mexico to the states. Travel is often the clincher, environmentally speaking.
  • 4. Learn to Love Walking. Or running. Or biking. Or public transit. No joke, public transit is one of my favorite things on earth. I grew up taking the train to school, and my morning commute became a cherished daily moment of solitude. There are endless people-watching opportunities, and on the bus there are endless worldwatching opportunities. Plus, walking and biking is far healthier for you than driving. The repetitive motion of walking and biking unlocks chemicals in the brain that give way to ideas. Darwin took long walks on his property each day. A walk will clear your head and get you some exercise. Driving, you’re probably just damaging your back and getting caught in traffic. 4 Lots of girls in developing countries miss school when they’re on their periods because they can’t afford sanitary products. You’ll be doing right by the earth and helping to educate young women with limited access to education. How on earth could you go wrong??
  • 5 This doesn’t apply to clothing exclusively. My very favorite casserole dish was thrifted. You can thrift books, dishes, yarn, gifts, jewelry…The list goes on and on. And you can donate to thrift stores too, thereby completing the cycle of hipness. 5. Use Revolving Doors Whenever Possible. It cuts down on the exchange of chemically altered air (i.e. air conditioning/heating)
  • 6. Become an Advocate. The best thing you can do for the environment is spread the word. It can be an uncomfortable conversation—no one wants to be accused of hurting the planet, and, furthermore, no one believes they are damaging the planet —but knowledge is power, and strength is in numbers. There are ways to help others help the planet, too. Make a chart of compostable and recyclable items and hang it in the kitchen. And try to keep emotions in check when fighting the good fight. It’s hard to be convincing when you’re hysterical (believe me, I’d know.) Have calm, informed responses at the ready for when you find yourself engaged in debate. Don’t lose hope! It can feel like an futile battle at times. And don’t beat yourself up too bad if you forget your reusable grocery bag at home, it’s not constructive. Forgive yourself and use the plastic grocery bags as a garbage liners.
  • 7. Use Plastic Grocery Bags as Garbage Liners.

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