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The Pickle King

With local theatre company Indian Ink celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Shawn Cleaver sat down with marketing intern and AUT student Ankita Singh to talk about Auckland’s burgeoning Indian theatre scene and the company’s reimagined production of ‘The Pickle King’.

“Nah, screw it. It’ll be good for your confidence.”

That’s what Ankita Singh thought to herself as she disobeyed her parents’ wishes, choosing to take drama over math in high school. “Most Indian parents think you need to do math or science, because back in India it’s the only way.”

While theatre probably wasn’t the career path Singh’s parents had envisaged for their daughter, those drama classes clearly paid off – landing her a marketing internship at one of New Zealand’s most renowned theatre companies, Indian Ink.

Indian Ink has been producing successful theatre shows with an Indian twist since 1997. From its humble beginnings in a small rehearsal space in Wellington, the company has gone on to win a host of international awards and relocated to Auckland, where it has grown to become a well-established part of the local theatre scene.

Indian Ink has a loyal fan base, but Singh says the company is trying to expand its reach within the local Indian community. “Whenever we do get people who are skeptical to go, they always have a wonderful experience…[the Indian community] is just not used to theatre that represents them.”

The company has a strong focus on producing theatre that Indian immigrants can relate to, covering themes such as the migrant experience, assimilation and pushy Indian aunties who meddle in your affairs. “Our relatable approach is a bit different to the usual ‘over the top’ nature of traditional Indian theatre. However, we do have archetypes that a lot of Asian and Indian people can relate to.”

She says Indian Ink’s productions strike chords with many Indian theatre-goers, and have inspired other young people to get involved in the scene. “That is massive for us – encouraging other young Indians into the arts…We want to make it clear that you can follow your dreams if you want to, even if you are not confident.

“Auckland has such a supportive network of Asian artists who want the scene to grow.”

Another Aotearoa-based Indian theatre organisation, Prayas, also produces theatre directed at an Indian audience, and Singh says with a lot of community level theatre also starting to come up, the scene is burgeoning. “There are many more Indian actors graduating too, so the Indian theatre community is growing rapidly,” she says.

Indian Ink’s celebration of diversity isn’t only about race, says Singh. In the latest production of ‘The Pickle King’, the original love story has been adapted to feature a same-sex couple. “This only further voices the unique array of people we have in New Zealand. It’s new for Indian Ink, and an important conversation to have.”

Fifteen years after the award-winning Pickle King premiered in 2002, the company is bringing the show to life once more to celebrate its 20th anniversary, touring the country until September. Singh encourages students to go along and experience Indian theatre.

The Pickle King is showing at Q Theatre from 2-19th August. For special student ticket prices email or pick up a mag and check out our giveaways page to win yourself a double pass.

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