Sharvari Sastry

sharvari sastry
Harper-Schmidt Fellow Collegiate Assistant Professor in TAPS
PhD, University of Chicago, 2021
Teaching at UChicago since 2022

How would you describe your background or upbringing? Were there any signs during your childhood that you would be a performance specialist?

I am from Mumbai and my childhood and adolescence were steeped in commercial Bollywood cinema and classical Hindustani music, alongside many, many, doomed attempts at formal dance training. I always suspected I’d eventually make a life in the arts, but I was surprised when I somewhat accidently stumbled into theatre after college.


What's the title and chief claim of your book manuscript?

My research probes the unruly entanglements between live performance and recorded history, with a regional and discursive focus on modern South Asia. My book project, Performances of Posterity: Theater, Archives and Cultural Regulation in Modern India (1947-2015) tracks processes of cultural preservation and appropriation in the context of minoritarian performance cultures, particularly tamasha and lavani, popular ‘folk’ forms local to the Maharashtra region in Western India. I argue that in the post-independence decades, theater emerged as a crucial archival site for the preservation of subaltern performance forms, specifically tamasha and lavani.

In my work, I’ve been trying to chase down and delimit a distinctive theatrical genre that I call archival performances: plays that have an archival impulse, where performance is both the form and the content of the work.


What's a research discovery that you came upon in your research that really surprised you?

When conducting archival research at the local censor board offices, I was surprised (and very amused) to discover, amidst all those meticulously documented and classified reports, ledgers and correspondences, a host of errant marginalia supplied by frustrated government employees – angry letters to superiors, complaints from colleagues, gossip about co-workers, inter-departmental conspiracies…it’s the kind of thing that makes archival research exciting. I have found that gossip and rumor (historical and/or current) can be a very useful research tool.


What's the most fun/rewarding class you have ever taught?

Last year (in 2021-22), I designed and taught a course called “Context for Theatre” to a cohort of actors training at the Drama School Mumbai. It was extremely challenging, since it was my first time teaching actors, and I taught the class virtually on zoom, over six months. It is very rewarding to be able to teach the same batch of students for an extended period of time. Recently, I even got the opportunity to meet them all in person. They are all now on the verge of graduating from the program and will soon start creating and performing their own artistic work – and I can’t wait to see what they will get up to next!


What are you most excited about as you prepare to join the TAPS faculty at U of C?

I am really looking forward to teaching in the TAPS core, and adding in texts and references from my own research and background into the mix. I’m also excited to scheme and dream with other folks in TAPS and the university – and hopefully with the larger Chicago performance community as well.


What methods/practices are especially important to your approach to performance?

I am very interested in tracking how seemingly ephemeral performance events can have enduring material consequences. I take very seriously the idea that performance is a mode of history-making, and I seek to understand how ideas of gender, sexuality, caste and class come to be reinforced and resisted through acts of performance. I have found that in order to understand and analyze these kinds of historical effects, one requires a mix-and-match of methodologies, including archival research, ethnography, production histories, oral histories, textual analysis, embodied research, and so on. For me, that’s what makes the study of performance so enriching – since the object of analysis is so slippery, you have to bring together a range of approaches and perspectives to really get anywhere!


Is there a book you have read recently that you would recommend to the TAPS community?

I’ve been really enjoying reading memoirs and autobiographies of artists lately. Most recently, I read Regrets, None, a memoir (co-written) by Dolly Thakore, a veteran theatre actor and TV personality in India. It’s a romp through many decades of English-language theatre in India, a candid account of a long and illustrious life lived on the stage. It was edifying, entertaining and quite inspiring.


Do you have a secret talent?

I can rhyme. Seriously rhyme. If anyone ever needs a rhyme…