Production Blog

A behind the scenes peek at rehearsals, artistic choices, artist interviews, and the daily business of running a theatre.

A chat with Rahul Joshi on the context of GUARDS AT THE TAJ

Q: Although this script premiered in 2015, the story it recounts is centuries old. And while the play is set in 17th century Agra, the playwright has given the characters a contemporary style of speech. In working on this production, what parallels in themes do you find between the historical context of the story and our modern times, and how do you think this tale is in conversation with us today?

Rahul Joshi answers: 

When I first read about the legends surrounding the making of the Taj Mahal I must’ve been in my early teens, but even back then it struck me as a little weird. It didn’t make sense to me why people all over the world were championing this building when the cost of it was so monumentally high, both in terms of finances and human lives. Then as you get older, you realize that things aren’t as black and white as you thought they were. Pretty much everything in our world and our lives is a mixture of good and bad. That’s also why one of my favorite quotes from Star Wars is “only a Sith deals in absolutes.” In this play as well, you meet our two characters who maybe at first seem to be plain opposites, but then you gain their perspective and shed light on how these are brothers divided by circumstances.

Through the lenses of these two guards, we examine our relationship with ambition, duty, and beauty. The cost of ambition for all of us involves some hard sacrifice and an almost warrior-like mentality to just push through no matter what.

That goes a level further when you’re dealing with personnel like military, police, and public leaders who have to make tough choices in favor of the ‘greater good’. At the same time, we find beauty in chaos, in free thought. Our history as a species has shown that we would rather accept death than submit to oppression, and this stands true as we continue fighting against various forms of oppression today. And yet you have to ask, who is this greater good for? Who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed? These are not easy questions, and that’s why we have this play - not to give you answers, but just to give you food for thought, something to chew on. With the help of Rajiv Joseph’s incredible writing, and our own interpretations of the play, I think we’ve managed to create something that successfully boils down all of this to conversations between two simple guards, two seemingly polar opposites that have more in common with each other than they might ever know.

In my eyes, this is what the play and this legend tells us, that everything is beautiful, but that beauty ALWAYS comes at a cost. Taj Mahal is the world’s greatest tomb - there was no rest for its workers. The Terracotta army is astounding - the masons were buried alive. The West is the symbol of modern development - built on the backs of whom? It is a blessed opportunity to be able to share a story like this, and I can’t wait to share all the blood, laughs, and tears with the audience.

Patron Spotlight: Melinda and Bob Allen

Stage West’s Development Director, Tonya Wilson-Brown, recently got the chance to catch up with loyal Stage West patrons and area performers, Melinda and Bob Allen. The pair have both performed at the theatre, and Melinda’s amazing vocal talent has been featured several times over the years at Stage West.

How long have you both been coming to Stage West?

Melinda: I was in I Hear The Rolling Thunder and Cowgirls at Stage West in 2000. Cowgirls was a huge hit. Jerry Russell directed Cowgirls. He always loved directing the musicals at the theatre.

Bob: Well, I was in a show, Buck Nekkid in 1999. I was an actor at Stage West before I started to see shows at the theatre.

Do you have any memories you would like to share of our founder, Jerry Russell?

Melinda: I loved him as a director. Jerry was an actor’s director. He would always ask about our feelings and take on each character. He was not a drill sergeant…It was beautiful to work with him.

Bob: Jerry was just great.

How did you become interested in theatre?

Melinda: Well, when I was born (laughs) I came out of the womb singing. I did my first musical in 4th grade. I made my own costumes.

Bob: I was just a business guy. One day someone asked me to be in a play and during that play Johnny Simons from Hip Pocket came to see it and started casting me. Then, I started doing television and commercial work with an agent.

Why do you support SWT?

Melinda: I have worked at many different theatres over the years. From a performer’s perspective, Stage West is a space where I have felt the most safe and nurtured. I feel that is very important to say.

Years ago, when we did Johnny Guitar, the stage was built higher up in certain areas and there was always someone with a flashlight ready to escort me into the wings. It all felt very safe. At the time it was Peggy Kruger O’Brien who made sure this happened. But in general, there are theatres out there that don’t go above and beyond like Stage West does.

I have never had an experience at Stage West that did not feel professional and familial.

What was your favorite Stage West show of the 43rd Season?

Melinda: The one woman that Dana did, On the Exhale. It was a very impactful show as far as content, but would not have been as impactful if Dana was not the performer that she is.

Bob: We were blown away.

What short phrase or sentence would you use to describe Stage West to a friend?

Bob: Exciting theatre.

Melinda: If I were describing Stage West to a non-theatre goer I would say: This is the best theatre to see a wide variety of good shows.

Any final thoughts?

Melinda: Dana, bring back Cowgirls! It was such a fun show to perform and I still meet up with the women I did the show with every year.

We are so grateful to Melinda and Bob for their support of Stage West and the local arts scene through the years!