By DEVIN LINER
On Wednesday, Feb. 22 in Holloway Hall’s auditorium, Qurrat Ann Kadwani performed her one-woman show, “They Call Me Q.”
Kadwani is an established actress, teacher, producer, writer and the founding artistic director of eyeBLINK, a nonprofit arts organization promoting social change and conversation through the mediums of theater and dance. She has been featured on numerous television shows such as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” ABC’s “What Would You Do?” and “All My Children.”
“They Call Me Q” is a show Kadwani wrote over the course of 4 years, which is an autobiographical monologue involving 13 different characters who had an impact on her life as she found her way as an Indian immigrant growing up in the Bronx.
Born in Bombay (renamed Mumbai in 1995), Kadwani’s parents moved to New York City when she was young, resulting in a cultural divide she would struggle with throughout her childhood and adolescence. Her parents are traditional in their Indian and Muslim customs and had high expectations, and when she lived up to those expectations, the other kids noticed and took issue with her, resulting in multiple fights and social issues at school.
Kadwani’s imitations of her mother, teacher and the schoolyard bullies were funny on the surface, receiving laughs from the audience, but on a deeper level they demonstrated the tear between the two cultures she did not fully fit into.
The story takes Kadwani through high school and college, where she impersonates a few of the friends she made: an electric girl named Beanie who loved to go to clubs but committed suicide suddenly, a fellow Bronx kid with radical ideas about the world and a pot smoking yogi/dancer who advises her to go back to visit India if that is what she truly wants to do.
She decides to go, and her trip takes her through the looking glass of what her life could have been as she reunites with an old friend who lives with her family and allows her parents to make decisions such as what she does and who she will marry. Kadwani’s fate could have been very similar to that of her friend’s if her family had stayed in India. It is clear that she does not look down on or pity her friend for having a different, more traditional lifestyle, but simply acknowledges that it is different from her own situation; it is a reminder to appreciate the freedom she has and the way she lives her life in the United States of America.
Upon her return to the states, the narrative comes full circle and Kadwani seems to have found some peace with the life she was given and she embraces both cultures that previously tore her apart. She allows her experiences to define her without putting her in any particular box, and although the people in her life still pull her in different directions, she has managed to find her own way to embrace both worlds that make her who she is.
When asked what the biggest takeaway from the show was, student Amy Wojtowicz said, “It’s important to appreciate where you come from, even if you don’t live there anymore, because it shapes who you are.”
During the Q and A after the show, a young boy asked Kadwani who her favorite character to play is, and she responded that she loved playing her friend from India because she is very complex. She noted how a lot of people think the friend is repressed, and that they feel sorry for her because she seems like a bird in a golden cage; however, the reality is that the audience does not actually know her, and our definition of independence might be very different from hers. The friend does wonder during the show, perhaps with envy, what could have happened if her life was more like Kadwani’s—but Kadwani wonders the same thing about her.
Also brought up during the Q and A portion was the fact that the show was brought to Salisbury to encourage productive conversation about diversity. The show contained themes of power, gender roles, stereotypes and the individual vs. the institutional.
Kadwani asked the audience how people in this area tend to feel about these themes and the way things are, particularly in the country today, and the overwhelming response was that most people just accept it, even if they do not like it. She seemed surprised at the unanimity of the answer, and gave some parting words of wisdom: everyone has a voice that they can use to create change, and everyone can use their voice in whatever way works best for them—theatre, dance, music, art, writing, debate—and use it to create the change they want to see in the world.