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ASU to Host “Flight from the Mahabharath” World Premier Apr. 26-30, Todd Bush Composes All-Original Indian Score

By Bailey Faulkner

ASU’s Department of Theatre and Dance will host the world premier of South African author and playwright Muthal Naidoo’s Flight from the Mahabharath on Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. in the Valborg Theater on ASU’s campus. The production, which explores one of ancient India’s two major Sanskrit epics, will continue through Sunday, April 30 with 7 p.m. performances held Thursday through Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday.

Naidoo will come to Boone to attend the production’s first performance, after which she will host a talkback with audience members. During her five-day stay in the High Country, Naidoo will also lead classes and meet with the play’s cast and creative team to discuss her 1992 work that imagines the role that women from the Sanskrit text Mahābhārata play outside of the context of the original work.

The South African playwright of Indian decent often focuses her works on “power dynamics in racially-divided societies.” In Flight from the Mahabharath, Naidoo explores the role that women from the Mahābhārata play when they escape from the ancient epic into the play’s genre of drama. The escape enables the women to leave behind the patriarchal society of the epic where women “function mainly as adjuncts,” giving the women, along with two men escapees, the opportunity to explore their identities in the new setting.

“In the original story [Mahābhārata], the women are given very short shrift in the story, so in the beginning of the play, the women race onto the stage, reaching away from the epic. Then they try to discover what their own voices are, and they use the stage as a way in which to create that,” director Dr. Ray Miller said.

Students and staff from the Department of Theatre and Dance have worked tirelessly on the production, which has presented the department with many unique opportunities considering that Wednesday’s show will be the world premier of the play.

“It has been a really collaborative process from the whole cast and with our director, Dr. Ray Miller. The script left so much room for artistic interpretation, so we’ve all been really working together to make it a whole collective piece, and we’re really excited about that,” sophomore dance major Sabrina Furchess stated in an interview that aired on AppTV.

Playing Draupadi in the play, Furchess has worked alongside senior theatre performance and dance double-major Darius Gregory. Gregory will play the role of Brihannala, one of the male characters joining the women in their escape.

“It has been a process, but it has been a fun process and, I think, a challenging process,” Gregory remarked.

While the preparation process may have been challenging, everyone involved in the production has been excited by the unique opportunities that the world premier has afforded them.

“It has been really enjoyable seeing how the actors approach the writing and the script and just have fun with it,” stage manager Christina Donovan said.

While each character serves an important role in the development of the production’s plot, the nature of the play is especially meaningful for Furchess.

“As someone who identifies with a lot of feminine energy, I think it’s awesome. I think that the women in this department and that are in this cast are just made for these types of characters that are strong and powerful and willing to do anything to make their voice heard,” Furchess asserted.

The production will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 26 and run through Sunday, April 30 at the Valborg Theater on ASU’s campus. Wednesday through Saturday’s shows will be held at 7 p.m., while Sunday’s matinee will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets for the show are $10 for students and $17 for adults.

For more information on tickets and the show, call the Valborg Theater box office at 828-262-3063 or visit www.theatreanddance.appstate.edu.

Stay tuned for more information on Naidoo and the upcoming premier of Flight from the Mahabharath!

Banner Elk’s Todd Bush Composes All-Original Indian Score for Upcoming World Premier

Considering that the ASU Department of Theatre and Dance’s upcoming production of Flight from the Mahabharath is based around an ancient Indian epic, audience members might not realize that the play’s musical compositions also have roots in the High Country. Banner Elk’s Todd Bush, a lifelong student of Indian music and culture, has worked alongside of the play’s cast to create all-original score for the play’s world premier on Wednesday, April 26 at the Valborg Theater on ASU’s campus.

Bush plays the sitar for an audience/Photo by Michael Moss

Running from Wednesday to Sunday, April 30, the play focuses on women from the epic Mahābhārata, one of India’s two major Sanskrit texts, as they transcend the boundaries of the epic, enabling the characters to discover and create their own voices in a realm not controlled by the patriarchy of the ancient text.

After a few of his friends informed director Dr. Ray Miller that someone in Banner Elk had experience with Indian music and sitar playing, Bush had the opportunity to read the script for the upcoming world premier.

“Once I read the script, I fell in love with it,” Bush said.

Like many others growing up with the music of the era, Bush first became interested in Indian music when hearing George Harrison use the sitar in recordings with The Beatles. After an older brother returned home from college during the early ’70s with a collection of Beatles records and other counterculture music, Bush knew that the then-unfamiliar sitar would come to hold great significance in his life.

At the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh (India)

“When I first heard the sitar music of Ravi Shankar, I had one of those déjà vu moments. I had to ask: what is that instrument?,” Bush recalls.

Not wasting a moment, Bush began saving up for a used sitar. Already having experience with music, he was excited to add the exotic instrument he heard Harrison playing to his repertoire.

“As a guitar player, I thought it was a short hop for me to go to the sitar,” Bush reminisced. “But then I realized I didn’t know how to play it.”

Deciding instruction was necessary, Bush found an ad in the newspaper for sitar lessons by Hasu Patel, who had just arrived from India. Now realizing the debt of gratitude that he owes, Bush, still in his early teens, relied on his father for transportation to each of his sitar lessons.

“Each Wednesday, my dad would work all day and take me 45 minutes across town for lessons,” Bush recalls. “That’s something of a life lesson in itself.”

Bush practices with instructor Hasu Patel in 1973

During his lessons, Bush was immersed in all aspects of Indian culture. While not instructing the young student on sitar, Bush’s mentor would offer Indian food and teach him about classic Indian music and culture.

“I learned so much about India in those early days.”

While he gravitated to more western instruments during his mid and late teens, Bush continued his interest in Indian culture and music into adulthood. Since first hearing Harrison play under Ravi Shankar’s direction, Bush has now logged multiple trips to India.

Needless to say, Bush was elated at the aspect of becoming a part of the world premier of playwright Muthal Naidoo’s Flight from the Mahabharath. Naidoo, a South African of Indian decent, often focuses on power dynamics in her works, and the feminist element of Flight hit home with Bush while reading the script.

“I thought it was so cool how the playwright was breaking molds in such bold ways,” Bush said. “We desperately need more open-mindedness in all people.”

After hitting it off with Dr. Miller, Bush compiled some compositions he thought would be relevant for the play. The composer considered one specific melody that seemed fitting for a scene in which the characters set out to create a new reality unbounded by the setting of the original text upon which the play is based.

Having just watched the short film and documentary Echoes of Creation, Bush was inspired to take a hands-on role in composing the production’s score.

“I just got through seeing Echoes of Creation in which the songwriter and videographer worked side by side to make the wonderful movie,” Bush said. “So I told Dr. Miller that I wanted to play along in some of the rehearsals.”

After first meeting with the cast to show one of his sitars and cover some the basics of the Sanskrit alphabet and its pronunciations, Bush began working alongside the cast to create the play’s score. Before long, Bush and the cast stumbled upon magic.

“The gang just clicked,” Bush happily asserted. “I could see in them a deep interest in Indian culture and philosophy.”

In addition to composing music for the play’s world premier, Bush has been honored to work with Dr. Miller and the entire cast and crew.

“It has been an evolution of ever-increasing improvement,” Bush reflected. “All the things you could imagine great actors doing, the cast is doing.”

Bush has been equally impressed by Dr. Miller’s professionalism and enthusiasm during the process.

“During one of the rehearsals, Dr. Miller left his notes to show the dancers a step or two, and the cast cheered for him. They work so well with him.”

Flight from the Mahabharath‘s world premier will be held in the Valborg Theater on Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. After the performance, playwright Muthal Naidoo will host a talkback with the audience to discuss her 1992 work as part of her five-day stay in the High Country.

Showings of Flight from the Mahabharath will continue through Sunday, with Thursday through Saturday’s shows set for 7 p.m. and Sunday’s matinee scheduled for 2 p.m. Tickets for the show are $10 for students and $17 for adults.

For more information on tickets and the show, call the Valborg Theater box office at 828-262-3063 or visit www.theatreanddance.appstate.edu.

You won’t want to miss out on Bush’s original Indian score and Flight from the Mahabharath‘s new and exciting take on ancient Indian culture and art!

“I feel honored to be a part of this at every level,” Bush said.

Check out these photos of Bush over the years!

Bush reunites with instructor Hasu Patel in India in 2009

At the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh (India)

Bush plays the sitar for an audience/Photo by Michael Moss

Bush plays the sitar for an audience/Photo by Michael Moss

Bush at a sitar shop in Varanasi (India)

At the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh (India)

At the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh (India)

At the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh (India)

Closeup of sitar neck and strings

Bush leaps with joy in the Indian Himalayas

Bush practices with instructor Hasu Patel in 1973