Theater department dances to new beat with visiting artist

Photo by Reid Bruner

The bodies and minds of students in Butler University theater department ache from the addition of Kunju Vasudevan to their family.

In the best way possible, of course.

“The students are sore from the physical training,” Diane Timmerman, theater professor, said. “[But] they are loving the class and loving their work with Kunju and his associate artists who are here with him.”

Vasudevan—originally from Kerala, India—is this year’s Christel DeHaan Visiting International Theatre Artist. The program brings theater experts from other countries to Butler for a semester to teach the department something new.

This semester, Vasudevan is teaching his students the art of Kathakali, a highly stylized Indian dance-drama. Students spend most of their class time from 2:25 p.m. to 5:05 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays learning Kathakali sequences and drumming sequences.

Before all the physical activity, however, Vasudevan starts his classes with a discussion about a particular aspect of Indian culture, history or religion, allowing the students to appreciate the culture from which Kathakali was formed.

“India is not merely the ‘Incredible India’ the tourism department is trying to make you believe,” Vasudevan said. “It’s more vibrant and colorful with its deep- rooted and strong culture that has made an indelible mark on humanity in general.”

With this background, Vasudevan has brought what Timmerman calls a completely new perspective to the entire department.

“The motivations, preparations and history behind his art form are completely different than those of an actor pursuing theater training in the United States,” she said. “It is fascinating and even humbling for all of us to get to know artists whose work is completely tied to their heritage, history and religion. There is no ‘show business’ to this art form.”

Vasudevan’s commitment to the art form has impressed his students as well, who all speak of him in only the highest regards.

“Working with Kunju thus far has been an amazing experience,” Lauren Albert, a junior theater major said. “Not only do we get to work with him in the classroom but also talk and learn from him outside of it. He is an extremely smart person who is always willing to share his knowledge.”

Junior theater major Thomas Benoist said he is also pleased with Vasudevan as well because of the way he has opened their minds and gave them insight into a new culture.

Vasudevan said his goal for his time at Butler is to initiate the students to a totally new theatrical experience, which will be somewhat incorporated in their November production of “The Priest and the Prostitute,” which Vasudevan is directing.

In the meantime, his own show will take place Sept. 22-24 in Lilly Hall Studio Theatre 168.

Three of his colleagues will also perform with him—Sadanam Bhasi, Kalamandalam Aneesh and Jishnu Namboodiripad. The students have welcomed the entire crew whole-heartedly, taking them to the 80s

Prom last weekend that was hosted by the theater department and Alpha Psi Omega, the national theater honor society, inviting them to their apartments for lunch and introducing them to American pastimes such as the game Apples to Apples.

The students said it has been a hard task learning the art of Kathakali and all that Vasudevan has to teach them, but that it is worth the effort.

“The Butler department of theater has never had the opportunity to host Indian artists of this caliber for such a long-term, intensive visit,” Timmerman said.


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