By Margaret Koss
Lawrence International (LI) has undergone some transformations this year, and this year’s Cabaret was a display of how amazing those transformations were.
The two days of performances on April 11 and 12 showcased a variety of cultures through performances by international and domestic students, as well as community members. Members of the LI Board, Cabaret performers and attendees all came away from the event feeling impressed.
Senior and LI Vice President Samhita Nagaraj and sophomore and LI Events Coordinator Vijayashree Krishnan both expressed feelings of accomplishment after putting on the show LI has been working on for a long time. Both noted what a difference the work put in by LI President Amaan Khan made. “He is so organized. Being as nit-picky as he is is what made the difference. That’s how you get things done right,” Krishnan said.
In addition to helping to organize the event, both Nagaraj and Krishnan were performers. Krishnan is trained in Indian classical music and Nagaraj was originally a piano major, so Krishnan sang the solo “Mora Saiyyan, Mose Bole Na: Love Across Distances,” and Nagaraj accompanied her on piano. Being able to perform in the show gave them a sense of pride different from that of organizing the event.
“You have this whole history you’re drawing from every time you perform a song or dance,” Nagaraj says. “In that way, I felt very connected to the audience and proud. You’re going up there and representing a part of your culture that not very many people get to see,” Krishnan adds. “A lot of people who weren’t Indian came up to me after the show and told me how much they loved the song and how they felt the tradition coming through it. I think that if you can appreciate my culture without having been in my culture, that’s a mission accomplished.”
In addition to relating her perspective of her culture, the song Krishnan chose also expressed her own personal sentiments. “The song is about losing a lover,” Krishnan explains, as Nagaraj adds, “One of the lyrics literally means, ‘my dearest, don’t tell me,’ so he’s saying, don’t tell me you’re leaving.” Krishnan nods and says, “He’s also saying, ‘you’re so far away from me, and I can’t stand it,’ and I can find a personal connection with this. It makes me think about my family.” Nagaraj says, “That speaks for a lot of us. We don’t get to see our families very often, so it’s a common theme for a lot of us—the love across distances.”
Another common theme for the performances in Cabaret was the goal to portray what culture means for different people within the countries presented—not to strictly define what these cultures are. “We’ve received a lot of flack over the years for promoting events that are self-exoticizing and commercializing of culture. As an international student myself, I can call myself guilty of it. Until coming here, I didn’t realize that I was actually feeding into stereotypes myself, even though I spent a lot of time trying to break these stereotypes personally in my own culture,” Nagaraj explains.
“LI started making a lot of changes to Cabaret through auditions and our requirements for performances. We tried to ensure that everything was culturally accurate and appropriate, and that nobody was falling into a trap of self-exoticization. Although, that doesn’t mean we’ve eliminated all flaws.”
“We try to take into consideration all of the interests of the people who are being represented and make sure people are content and comfortable with what we’re putting on stage,” Nagaraj says. “We are no one to say what culture is to anyone, because it really differs. Given that point of view, it’s been very difficult reconciling all these different ideas and trying to [do] what we think is right and what we think will make people feel comfortable and culturally safe at Lawrence.”
Balancing one’s right to express themselves with forming cultural representations everyone is comfortable with is a difficult task that LI has taken on. “The best we can do is create a place where people can talk about this and be aware of all the aspects going into the decisions we make,” Nagaraj says. “Hopefully all the future boards will make improvements on what we’ve done and what we’ve started to do.”