For "Shakuntala" to grace the stage of Central Michigan University's Theater-on-the-Side, it took not only weeks of rehearsals but months of a special cultural exchange.
The play's director, Satyabrata Rout, is a visiting Fulbright scholar from India.
The fifth-century play is a love story written as visual poetry and told using classical Indian dance and drama to create a stylized portrait of life through metaphors and symbols.
"'Shakuntala' is challenging," Rout said, "But my actors worked hard to understand, to adopt the style."
A cultural exchange
While CMU often hosts visiting lecturers and scholars, it is exciting for Rout to stay for such an extended period of time.
"The advantage of having a Fulbright scholar is that we really get to understand his culture," said Annette Thornton, faculty member in communication and dramatic arts. "Because he is here for several months, we really get to know both him and his culture."
Rout, professor and head of the theatre arts department at the University of Hyderabad in Telangana, India, is at CMU for three months as part of his Fulbright scholarship. He agrees that this cultural exchange is key to a successful Fulbright scholar experience.
"You are not going just to teach and learn," Rout said, "you are going as a cultural ambassador. You must gather experience that will benefit you, your students and your academics."
Working with students
In addition to directing "Shakuntala," Rout is teaching an eight-week course on Indian theater performance. Meeting three days a week, Rout and students discuss different aspects of Indian performances and how they relate to both Western and Indian theater.
Darby Johnson, a music theatre student from Phoenix, Arizona, saw Rout's course as an opportunity to learn something completely new.
"I love learning about history in relation to the style of acting in India," Johnson said, "I know this class has made me a far better actor."
Abbey Demorow, a music theatre student from Allen Park, Michigan, has found her experience performing in "Shakuntala" to be empowering.
"Getting to work with Professor Rout has made me become more open-minded with new information," Demorow said. "He demonstrates a level of dedication and accomplishment that I want to see in myself."
Rout's impact on CMU will not end with the closing of "Shakuntala" on Oct. 14. Over the next few weeks, Rout will teach workshops on campus as well as visit the classrooms of other faculty members as a guest lecturer.
This integration across campus allows other students and faculty to experience the cultural exchange from a long-term visiting scholar.
"Hosting and working with a Fulbright scholar helps us be more empathetic world citizens," Thornton said. "It's about expanding our worldview and working to communicate within our cultural differences."