By Bailey Faulkner
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.
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.
“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.”
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!