Back in April, when Priyanka Shetty presented her play “#Charlottesville,” she included a one-woman show on the bill that is close to her heart.
While “#Charlottesville” dives into issues of community and identity after the violence of Aug. 12, 2017, “The Elephant in the Room” traces her journey as a woman and an artist from India making her way in the United States, while exploring the challenges of the international student experience.
Shetty will be back in Charlottesville to present “The Elephant in the Room” again at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at IX Art Park, and she’ll be sharing with audiences how much she and the show have grown since last time. Part of the show’s success, she said, comes from the ways in which audiences have shared with her.
“Right now, I’m touring with my one-woman show,” she said. “The play has evolved a lot since it was first performed in Charlottesville. With each performance, I go back to the drawing board.
“A lot of thinking has gone into it, because we’ve been having these community conversations, and really insightful comments come out.”
Audience members who linger for discussions after each performance have talked about race, identity, otherness and art. Shetty’s work has been striking a chord with African American and LGBTQ+ audience members in particular.
“It’s that kind of show where people have a lot to say after,” Shetty said. “It opens up so many topics. People I didn’t expect to have commonalities with are saying, ‘I can totally relate.’
“There’s so much to talk about and share. It would be incomplete without the conversation, because it was written to create a dialogue.”
Many audience members have been excited to speak up because it’s rare to see the world of the international student explored onstage, and Shetty’s sharing of “what it’s like to uproot yourself and land in a new place and be expected to stand out” has resonated with them.
Feedback from fellow international students “made me want to dig deeper,” she said.
“Once I got that feedback from the audiences, I realized this is an important play to share, because we do have a lot in common.”
Shetty, who received her MFA in acting from the University of Virginia Department of Drama in May, will be heading back to Charlottesville to teach acting and public speaking this fall. She called the invitation to teach a happy surprise.
Her tour will continue, and she plans to present “The Elephant in the Room” Nov. 23 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. That free performance also will be live-streamed.
Shetty wrote “The Elephant in the Room” and “#Charlottesville” as part of a trilogy with “The Wall,” a play about immigration that hasn’t been performed in public yet.
In the meantime, she is delighted to be returning to Charlottesville to work, because she values the bonding with community members she experienced during the rehearsal period and run of “#Charlottesville.” It can be difficult for students to find time to venture off Grounds and get to know local residents, but Shetty came away enriched and excited.
“I really have developed a bond with the community itself,” she said. “I’ve really found my community, and I’m so excited to be coming back.”