A first-year student at Franklin & Marshall College from Pune, India, Priyanka Patil began inspiring theatregoers in the seventh grade when, to prepare for a local festival, her teacher assigned the class to write scripts they would act.
Patil has been writing, acting and directing ever since.
“One year for Independence Day, my teacher asked us to write a speech. Instead, I wrote a play about the life of women in India addressing sexism and the patriarchy. I could pull a lot of what I wrote from my experiences, and at the end of the performance, I cried,” said Patil.
So did the audience. “It was a good way of letting it out,” she said.
Patil’s acting prowess led her to take part in a larger production through Teach for India (TFI), a nonprofit organization that strives for educational equity in India. TFI partnered with Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), which brought in Broadway artists to produce an original musical, “Maya,” that was performed in front of more than 10,000 people.
“I find a lot of value in living another life. I can empathize with other people and put myself in their shoes,” said Patil. “Acting allows me to understand humanity and extend compassion for other people.”
When Patil arrived at F&M, she wanted to join an acting community. She auditioned for “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Carol Davis. The play opens Feb. 8.
“I’d started loving Shakespeare and wanted to help put the production up in any way,” Patil said. “When I went for callbacks, I was terrified. I didn’t expect to be cast at all.”
Instead, she was cast as Juliet, a star-crossed lover in a rubble-filled Verona at war. It’s under these circumstances that Juliet meets Romeo and falls in love.
“I connect with Juliet, but I know that I’d have never made the decisions she did,” Patil said. “She’s rational and complex, but also ready to marry someone she met the day before. Asking ‘why’ helped me to understand the depth of these human experiences.”
It hasn’t all been easy. Mastering the language and memorizing so many lines have led Patil to fight self-doubt.
“I’d never had formal training,” Patil said. “I’d believed that you couldn’t learn how to act; I thought it was intuitive. Before, I’d put my experiences on stage. But when I say these lines, it doesn’t come from inside. Acting is work — it doesn’t always flow from you.”
Patil said this new outlook on acting was a revelation. She asked Davis for reading material to study up on techniques, and she is excited by all she’s learned thus far.
“My perception of acting has changed completely,” she said.
She has felt a great deal of support throughout the play’s preparation.
“Others have shown more faith in me than I have in myself,” she said. “My coworkers at the Joseph International Center showed such enthusiasm when I asked for time off for rehearsal. My mother is always so happy for me. And I love and respect the cast members so much.”
Patil is left with two reflections: vulnerability and gratitude.
“I felt a lot of love during this process. There were times when I experienced emotional difficulties, but there were intense moments of connection with the cast or with Carol. Every time I felt I was falling apart, I felt put back together again and had energy to keep going. Emotionally this experience has pushed me to find new parts of myself and to learn and grow,” she said.
Patil hopes that the play will ask the audience to reflect, too.
“I hope the audience gets to see that depth of love,” she said. “I hope they ask themselves, 'What is it that I deeply and passionately love?’ This question brought me a lot of understanding about myself, my purpose, what I value, and how I choose to live.”