Khameleon Productions, a British company focused on promoting diversity in the arts, visited Wellesley on Feb. 15 as part of their “Uprooting Medea” tour. Khameleon’s founder, Shivaike Shah, is visiting 30 US universities during his time as a visiting artist at the Brown Arts Institute. At Wellesley, the tour presented their project and led workshops for classics and theater students.
“I worked in a couple creative industries at the time [that I founded Khameleon] … and the sheer lack of diversity that I experienced not just in front of the camera … but actually behind the scenes is what I thought was most disruptive,” Shah said.
“Medea,” directed and adapted by Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, was first performed in 2018 with the Oxford University Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) Drama Society. Amewudah-Rivers and Shah are both recent Oxford graduates, and their “Medea” is an adaptation of Euripedes’s play. “Uprooting Medea” aims to help students examine theater in a global, diverse mindset.
“We’re taking workshops using the script, presenting the work, thinking about decolonizing the classics, decolonizing theater; ‘What does it mean to be working with the classics?’” Shah said.
While Amewudah-Rivers chose to produce “Medea” due to the “themes of belonging, home and identity” which are central to Khameleon, Shah makes it clear that classics are not the only option for theater, especially for artists of color.
“Obviously, we’re a company that’s choosing to adapt Greek; I’m not going to … say that we should never put on Greek,” Shah said. “What I think is most important is that … the prestige and immediate importance you gain by using these texts does not overshadow … texts that speak much more directly to issues that are really resonating with communities right now … We must break down and really assess and understand the weight that this supposed ‘canon’ [has].”
Shah acknowledged the complexities of fighting for diversity in a historically exclusionary field.
“We want to challenge those preconceptions of what it means to be a classical text,” Shah said. “It’s a constant battle of ensuring that we’re keeping our work accessible and open while working with a text or … with a field that has a history of being exclusionary.”
Ultimately, Khameleon Productions aims to increase spaces that have a global BIPOC perspective for both contemporary and classical productions.
“It’s not easy to find spaces, but try if there are opportunities to find spaces that are celebratory,” Shah said. “It’s very easy to feel like the work you’re doing and your experience isn’t really valued, but there are so many incredible … people who are constantly doing their best to constantly create space. I also think it’s very important for these young artists to, if they feel they can, … keep opening up space.”