Theatre with a Mission: Meet Resident Artist Radhika

D72_1631Our Resident Artist company is one of SF Shakes’ most unique features, and we’d love for you to get to know our RA company better. The Resident Artists of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival are a core group of actors, designers, directors, and teaching artists who bring their expertise to all of our programs. They uphold SF Shakes’ artistic values and serve our mission to provide access to Shakespeare and theatre to everyone regardless of age, ethnicity, financial status, or level of education.

We visited with Radhika Rao, whom SF Shakes audiences might remember seeing as Guildenstern in last year’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet, or as Brutus in our 2014 Shakespeare on Tour production of Julius Caesar

Radhika Rao will never forget falling in love with the Bay Area when she moved here in 2012. “As soon as I came here,” she says, “I felt home.”

Radhika journey to Northern California stretches back across the globe to her native New Dehli. Her women’s college in India didn’t offer theatre degrees, so she majored in Psychology instead. She discovered her passion for theatre later, in an unusual way: teaching theatre basics to children in an Indian Outward Bound camp.

“I watched as theatre enabled the young people I was working with to transform their views and perspectives,” she remembers. “As they took on another character or imagined they were in another environment, then they transformed themselves.” Radhika became hooked on teaching theatre with the view and goal of altering lives.

This new mission took her to the Harvard School of Education, where her Doctoral thesis focused on theatre education and social change. Lately she’s become a renowned theatre educator in the Bay Area for companies like New Conservatory Theatre Company, American Conservatory Theatre, and Cutting Ball Theatre (where she also used to be Education Director). Radhika’s teaching prowess also led her to join the SF Shakes family in 2013 when she became a teaching artist in our Bay Area Shakespeare Camps.

The following year, director Stephen Muterspaugh cast her to play Brutus in the Shakespeare on Tour production of Julius Caesar, and that’s when she began to think her commitment to socially conscious theatre and our focus on casting diversity were a match. “I loved being part of Shakespeare on Tour (SOT),” she says, remarking that she might not have won the role of Brutus at a different company. “SOT is always very diverse. Being a brown woman on stage and seeing kids who look like me, and how much it meant to them to see South Asian person on stage, that’s always been one of my favorite aspects of working with SF Shakes.”

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Radhika loves teaching Shakespeare in particular and continues to act as one of our most beloved Teaching Artists. She appreciates his plays’ rich themes and variety of character perspectives, which allow for countless interpretations depending on each group of students. For proof she points to an SF Shakes residency that she led this fall with a group of home schooled children in Belmont, who explored and performed As You Like It. “Their ages were 7 through 11, so they’re not really interested in romance right now,” she says. “But there were sibling relationships in the play and sibling relationships within the group of students.” She therefore helped the students to create a production that focused on As You Like It’s pairs of siblings.

When she’s not helping young people to find their voices as artists, Radhika has enjoyed an exciting year as an artist in her own right in the Bay Area and beyond. Her favorite stage performances in 2018 included Strange Ladies at Center Works and Timon of Athens at Cutting Ball Theater, both of which received TBA Award nominations for Best Ensemble Performance. Most recently, she just finished a run as the Narrator in a dance drama called The Forgotten Empress, produced by Farah Yasmeen and Noorani Dance; this latter project gave her a welcome chance to perform with her own South Asian community. And she’s especially proud to have served on the reading committee and helped to moderate post-show talkbacks for Z Space’s 2018 Problematic Play Festival, curating three different plays that had been deemed “unproduceable” by the theatre world at large.

While her performance work might take her across the country from time to time, Radhika says SF Shakes provides a unique artistic home for her in our Resident Artist company. From revising the SF Shakes education curriculum, to mentoring interns, to serving on our 2017 strategic planning committee, Radhika has become an integral part of our organization as an SF Shakes Resident Artist. She insists that the RA program brings benefit to artists as well as to our company: “I’ve always wanted to belong to a space where I could meet with the same group of professionals regularly and get to know them,” she says.  The RA Company has given her “a space to play with the same people, debate ideas, go to workshops. It’s a community.”

Where can SF Shakes audiences see Radhika next? She’s currently on a break from acting—“I wanted time to be present in other areas of the theatre world, to go to theatre conferences and watch some theatre as well”—but hopes to hop back on the stage in spring 2019. In the meantime she has a new project on the horizon: she’ll be working with Richmond artist Amir Jaffer on a web series called “Alone Together,” addressing the South Asian immigrant experience in post-Trump area. She’s also a key member of Theatre Bay Area’s new committee to address instances of sexual harassment in the Bay Area theatre world. Keep in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter or visit www.radhikarao.org to keep track of where to see Radhika next!

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