INSIDE CRACK – Improving Public Perceptions with Improvisation

An Interview with Vidya Rajan

By Alex Morris @Nemiwai

Vidya Rajan wants to know why there can’t be lightness and silliness to go with complex topics like diversity and immigration.

She and her performing partner Shannan Lim are improvisational performers and the Setting the Stages artists from Western Australia.

Both are in their mid-20s and work professionally during the day. Shannon as a freelance designer and Vidya will soon be a practicing lawyer. Vidya is of Indian heritage and spent much of her childhood away from Australia, and Shannan was born in Singapore and later migrated to Perth.

Together in Perth they run an improv group called Oh the Humanity, and one of the many things they hope to draw attention to is the cliché of Asian parents encouraging traditional careers versus fulfilling artistic needs.

“I guess any artist is trying to figure what their balance is,” she said. “Both our parents are very supportive.”

She said that unlike corporate law firms, with improv there’s a lot of flexibility. She plans to continue working in both fields. Improvisation sometimes serves as a bit of a coping mechanism for Vidya when working in law, though she does enjoy her day job. She works in the community legal sector and finds a lot of people with dark senses of humour, in part because they regularly deal with challenging issues like domestic violence and sexual assault.

Their performance for Crack Theatre Festival is called Asian Ghostery Store, and Vidya and Shannan were inspired to create it due to their shared love of Asian grocery stores. She said the vibe of the show will be confronting, silly, touching and a little bit edgy.

“There’s a strangeness to them,” Vidya said of Asian grocery stores. “You will stumble across a strange package you’ve never seen before. We’re not trying to sanitise that strangeness. It’s experimental, which is why Crack is a good avenue.”

She described their upcoming performance, which they also trialed at Melbourne Fringe, as ‘an exorcism of identity confusion through comedy and improvisation.’

“There is a script, but it’s been developed through improv, and there are bits of the show that are unscripted. Part of it is questioning stuff when we get audience interaction,” she said.

She and Shannan both went to UWA but didn’t actually meet until later at an improv class in Perth. They also studied improv for a summer in Chicago.

She said part of their friendship is based on their conversations and reflections about improvisational theatre, the writing community and the dissonance and alienation they’ve both felt due to not seeing themselves reflected.

“Our sensibilities lead to that experimental vibe,” she said of their unique friendship. “We often observe or joke about a lack of diversity in performance, in terms of actual representation, not as much in themes. We have a distaste for telling the same narrative in the same way.”

She added that when the audience comes to see Asian Ghostery Store, they should prepare to be confronted and even a little bit shocked.


Catch Shannan and Vidya in Asian Ghostery Store at the Crack House, Market St, Hunter St, Newcastle CBD, on Friday 2nd at 9:15pm or Saturday 3rd October at 9:30pm.