Camden Close - Up: Varshini Pichemuthu
Love Camden loves its local talent. We aim to celebrate everything cultural in the borough, from Hampstead to Kilburn, from the British Library to that little café around the corner - we are always out to show what Camden has to offer. As part of this we launched our Camden Close-Up series: interviews with artists, thinkers, entrepreneurs and downright interesting figures that live, work or are inspired by the borough.
From real-life incels to microaggressions; the 2019 Camden Fringe Festival line-up tackles sexism head-on. Almost two years on from the birth of the #MeToo movement, this year’s acts are showing there’s still a lot to fight for. Over the course of the Fringe, we will be talking with performers and creatives who are tackling sexism head-on.
We spoke to Varshini Pichemuthu, applied theatre facilitator, actor and spoken word artist who was born in Singapore and is now based in London. She is the co Founder and Co Artistic Director of London based company RootPrints Theatre, which creates bespoke drama workshops to integrate immigrant and non immigrant communities through the celebration of cultural diversity and place attachment.
She is currently rehearsing for the one woman show, The Cardboard Kitchen Project produced by The FK Co-Lab which premieres at the Camden Fringe 2019 on 19 and 20 August at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre. Tickets on sale now
1. What would you would do if you weren’t doing this?
What would your parallel life look like? I think there might be quite a few! When I was much younger, I was determined that being a lawyer and working with families and social issues was all I wanted to do so. In another life, I would be a triple threat musical theatre extraordinaire! A yoga teacher and life coach perhaps in yet another life. Lots of people expected me to become a teacher as well when I chose to major in Sociology in University. And in another, a singer-songwriter, musician. I do dream a lot.
2. What do you think is most important: luck, chance, opportunity or hard-graft?
I would say that hard-graft is definitely crucial. Most successful people I know put in the hours, work hard and work consistently. You work hard to find those opportunities and perhaps luck and chance might land you that important meeting, or bring an interested agent into your audience. At the same time, I would not discount the importance of the other three and we have to be mindful about privilege that creates opportunities for some and not others. There are, for a lot of people, structural inequalities that make it harder for them to transform and transcend their circumstances even with all the hard work put in. So it is also necessary then, that those in power are aware and ensure that ample opportunities and spaces are available and made accessible for people to pursue their dreams.
3. What has been your most career defining moment to date and why?
This is such an interesting question for me to answer because I feel like I have already led so many different lives that have each, in its own way, been a defining moment and contributed to where I am today. I first performed on stage when I was 5 years old so perhaps the love of performance was seeded then. I spent 5 years working as an employment inspector investigating / looking after the well-being of foreign domestic workers which defined in me the love of wanting to do work that has a social impact. I was a librarian for another 5 years, which defined in me the love of working with community and creating spaces where others can express themselves. (Am I sensing a weird pattern with the number 5 here?!)
Perhaps one of 2 most recent defining moments was about 6 years ago when I attended several creative workshops in Singapore led by Theatre extraordinaire David Glass who runs the David Glass Ensemble here in London. I learned about Applied Theatre from him, which embarked my research into this field and ultimately led me to choose an MA in Applied Theatre instead of an MA in Acting. That decision brought me to London and here I am now, feeling grateful and really enjoying the kind of work I am able to do. And the other was when designed and co-facilitated a drama project in a care home for abandoned and orphaned young girls in India, which focused on increasing artistic expression and self-esteem among the participants. That experience really got me thinking about why I want to do the kind of work I am doing now. Getting to learn how to be an entrepreneur and landing our first client for our company was definitely a defining moment as well. And I still get the opportunity to perform and be an actor, how wonderful is that! I feel that the next defining moment for me will be the upcoming Camden Fringe where FK Co-Lab will be presenting our show, The Cardboard Kitchen Project.
3. What makes your work important today?
Since I do quite a number of different things, I believe they each have their own unique importance.
With our current show for the Camden Fringe, I am so proud to be part of the collective FK Co Lab that seeks to champion minority representation outside of Singapore as well as fair and ethical ways of making theatre. We are also an all female team, which is really important in terms of bringing that collective grit, and voice to the table; where the space is created for us to explore, be vulnerable and also empowered. As an actor, I value the opportunity to bring powerful stories to an audience where they can hopefully relate to or experience something that changes a certain perspective or impacts them positively.
With my spoken word, I am currently working on a piece that explores themes of displacement, diaspora identities, what it means to be a minority ethnic woman today and the complexities of being ‘othered’. I recently performed a scratch version of the piece where after the performance, a man came up to me to thank me for my words and said that he was not aware of the types of experiences that come from the part of the world and culture that I am from. For me, that represents why my work is important – creating awareness and spaces for dialogue, sharing and acceptance.
With my work as an applied theatre practitioner, I am passionate about making the arts accessible to people from different walks of life and using theatre and performance to address social issues. This is important especially in a time frame now where there seems to be more barriers and borders. I am also keen on highlighting the benefits of mindfulness within my practice.
5. What does Camden mean to you?
Camden is a place to explore, discover and thrive in. Camden is where you can be whomever you choose to be and feel part of a fun and rambunctious community that is open and accepting.
6. What makes Camden Unique?
There is a very special energy about Camden that is just bursting through and I love that! It is made up of diverse stories and there is space for all these different stories to exist in the same sphere. Apart from just existing, these stories are celebrated as well. Definitely a gem of a place that is incomparable. I am very grateful to be a small part!
Artist bio :
Varshini is a multifaceted artist. She is an Applied Theatre practitioner, actor, singer and spoken word artist from Singapore. She is also Co- Founder and Co-Artistic Director of RootPrints Theatre; a London based applied theatre company creating bespoke workshops that focus on the celebration of cultural diversity and place attachments. Varshini has a Masters in Applied Theatre from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She also freelances as a drama facilitator working with SEN schools, dementia care homes, with young women with eating disorders and recently coordinated and jointly produced a cross-collaborative theatre project involving women with refugee backgrounds in London and Lebanon. Varshini has been trained and mentored by Jane Gilmer (NZ), Kamil Haque (SG) and David Glass (UK). Her stage credits include Star Spangled Girl (Yellowchair Productions), Nagamandala (HuM Theatre), A Second Life (Little Red Shop) and Blithe Spirit (StageClub Singapore). She has been the face of nationwide (SG) Julie’s Biscuits ‘The Best of You’ advertorial campaign. Her work can also be found in the poetry anthology, Words: Lost and Found (Coffee Stained Press). She was recently a featured artist in spoken word event, You’re Hysterical. Varshini is passionate about using theatre as a platform to address social issues she cares about including displacement, women’s and children’s rights and human rights violations.
@varshvictoria (Instagram and Twitter)