Playing Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’ is lot of excitement and hard work: Shobha Narayan

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Shobha Narayan, who plays the lead character of Jasmine in the Broadway musical ‘Aladdin’ spoke to ITV Gold host Aditi Lamba recently. Following are extracts from the interview which was edited for style.

Shoba Narayan as Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway_photo by Matthew Murphy_(c) Disney

ITV GOLD  —How has your experience been of acting in ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway?

SHOBHA NARAYAN — It feels like a homecoming. Broadway was shut down for 18 months. I feel so grateful that we figured out a way to continue doing what we do in a safe way. And I am grateful that I get to do what I love every day and do it with people that I love working with. So it’s wonderful all around.

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I am wearing the tiara as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway. Princess Jasmine meant so much to me as a young girl. She was one of the very few role models that we had growing up. She was a leader, quick witted, smart, willing to challenge authority, she was the whole package. To be able to step into her shoes every night is wonderful. There are no words to describe that. I am just having the time my life.

ITV GOLD – How do you feel about Disney becoming more diverse?

SHOBHA NARAYAN – I think it’s a really positive thing. They are definitely one of the organizations leading the change. But we still have a long way to go. We are seeing a lot of ethnic representation now on Screen both in television and films. There is Mindy Kaling, there is Kal Pen. However Stage is still a little bit behind. But I definitely see us moving into the right direction when it comes to diverse casting.

ITV GOLD – How challenging has been playing Jasmine on Broadway?

SHOBHA NARAYAN – It is extremely challenging as an actor. You have to empathize with every character you’re auditioning with, find a way into their lives and figure out a way to connect your story to theirs and be able to tell it in a truthful and honest way.

This field that I have entered into isn’t necessarily built for someone like me, or someone who has ever looked like me. So I think an added challenge for me is that the roles that I have inhabited, were not necessarily written for someone like me. And so a lot of roles that I’ve been able to play on Broadway have been traditionally not South Asian, not ethnic by any means. So it is challenging to be able to inhabit those roles in such a way that the people behind the table or the people who are making casting decisions are transported regardless of what I may look like or what my background might be.

ITV GOLD – What is your daily schedule before performance?

SHOBHA NARAYAN – Every day looks a little bit different. What I do at night succeeds only when I make sure that I am ready and able to rise to the occasion every single night, to be able to honor the story that I am telling and bring the same level of focus and honesty to my performance. That requires a lot discipline on my end – that goes for what I’m cooking, what I’m putting into my body, how am I exorcising, how am I staying on top of my vocal training, how I am staying on top of my dance training – all of these things are happening during the day, before I come to the show at night.

 ITV GOLD – Where do you derive your inspiration from?

SHOBHA NARAYAN – I think what inspires me a lot on a daily is getting to actually go on stage, getting to interact with the audience members. Those stage-door experiences where you’re meeting people who have just experienced their first Broadway show or so moved by the story that you were telling, come to you and say how much that moment meant to them. That is definitely a huge motivator.

Then it is little things here and there. It is teaching children how to get to the art form and helping them build their craft. I’m inspired by so many things constantly. And that’s how I know that I picked the right career path because I genuinely love what I do.

ITV GOLD – How supportive has your family been over the years and now?

Michael Maliakel (Aladdin) and Shoba Narayan (Jasmine)_photo by Matthew Murphy, (c) Disney

SHOBHA NARAYAN – I am the daughter of avid art lovers. Art, especially music and dance, is an important part of our cultural identity, especially from the part of India that my parents come from.

Even as a young girl of four, I used to arrange elaborate performances for my parents. Through that they started to see that I had a great interest in the Arts. Also, as a growing child, my parents exposed me to many performances and concerts, Western orchestras, opera. musical theater, Carnatik music concerts, Bharatnatyam dance performances. And they took it a step further. I also got to train in classical voice, in ballet, and then later on in musical theater. It was when I came to musical theater that everything came into full focus for me.

My parents supported me wholeheartedly, which is so unusual for Indian parents at that time. They supported me when it was time for me to decide where I wanted to go to school, what I wanted to pursue, whether it was going to the Boston Conservatory or to Berkeley to study musical theater, or to auditions.

Of course, they were nervous and worried about me. I think if I had more representation to look at, if I had seen people who looked like me, doing what I wanted to do, and I could show that to them, that probably would have helped a little bit. But regardless, they knew in their hearts that I would figure out a way to do it, and I have the grit to pursue this path.

Now, after marriage, my husband is my number one fan. I would not be where I am without him. He is definitely my backbone, my support, my audition helper. He loves reading lines with me. I’m very lucky to have a great support system. I think support is really important in this business because it is very competitive and heartbreaking at times. You get a lot of rejections. You get ‘no’s way more than ‘yes’s.

ITV GOLD – What kind of impact are you making on young South Asian girls? How much responsibility do you feel?

SHOBHA NARAYAN – I remember being taken up with the story performances as a young girl when my parents took me to the Broadway shows. I knew then and there that was what I wanted to do with my life. But there weren’t any people on stage like me, let alone the leading lady. That was hard. And that became a huge motivator for me wanting to go down this path in the first place.

And so it means everything to me that I have been able to fulfill that goal. I have been able to be that role model for young brown kids that come, to see this iconic moment in life where I get to step into this role. It is so meaningful for Middle Eastern and South Asian communities.

ITV GOLD – How do you feel about being recognized at community events for being a leader and representing the South Asians in the Arts?

SHOBHA NARAYAN – It has been Wonderful. The events that I have been fortunate to attend are hosted by my dear friends and colleagues who have been in this groundbreaking field in their own right. They have ventured into fields that are not conventionally taken by South Asian people. And so to be able to see the moments of breaking glass ceilings has been incredibly inspiring and moving.

ITV GOLD – What’s your advice to the South Asian Americans trying to make it into Broadway?

SHOBHA NARAYAN – I think the best thing that you can do is to better yourself, to invest in yourself. That includes getting the education, taking the classes, being creative. We can create our own skits, we can write, we can put something together on ‘tick tock’ and share it with the world in a matter of seconds. And figure out a way to keep working on your craft. The more you work at it, and more you put into your work, the more likely you are to succeed. I think this is a really exciting time to be coming into this field. South Asians are getting a little bit of a spotlight. So I would encourage anyone who wants to go into a creative field to go for it, but know that it is going to be a lot of hard work, and a lot of hustle.

ITV GOLD – What are your future plans?

SHOBHA NARAYAN – You will definitely catch me eight times a week in this role. It is a time consuming job. In addition to that, I am giving a solo concert in New York City on March 7, at the venue 54 below, and it will be a beautiful evening of song and story that I wrote. Other than that, I do have a few projects that are currently under development.

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