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Lyon student uplifts underrepresented voices on stage

A Lyon student is making space on stage for diverse voices.

Navy Griffin, ‘20, enrolled in a summer internship with Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, Minn., working directly under artistic director and co-founder Dipankar Mukherjee. Pangea illuminates the human condition, celebrates cultural differences, and promotes human rights by creating and presenting international, multi-disciplinary theatre.

“They’re all about inclusivity,” Griffin said. “It’s a lot of non-Western theatre and stories that aren’t really told in the classical theatre canon. It’s so cool. I love working here.”

She said Mukherjee co-founded Pangea with executive and literary director Meena Natarajan because he was tired of seeing stories on stage that didn’t represent him.

“So he made his own theatre,” Griffin said. “Pangea has done shows like Hmong Bollywood, a one-woman show telling the story of how this woman’s family immigrated from Vietnam and how she used Bollywood movies to cope with her broken-ish family. It was really neat.”

Pangea does not do any productions over the summer, she said, instead focusing on the National Institute for Directing and Ensemble Creation. The institute is committed to supporting the professional development of directors from underrepresented backgrounds.

“It helps bridge the gap for women, people of color, and queer people who aren’t normally seen as directors,” Griffin said. “So this institute helps aspiring directors learn about ensemble building and see the other styles of directing you wouldn’t normally see.”

The program attracts people from across the United States and the world.

Griffin said she is learning directing skills from Mukherjee.

“I really want to learn how he works with non-Western theatre,” she said. “He’s from India, and theatre in India is obviously not the same as theatre in America. I’m also learning literally how to run a theatre.”

Being a director is a balance of artistic skills and business, she said.

“I’m figuring out how much leeway a director gets between being a big artsy nerd and being a businessman.”

Griffin said her experiences in Lyon’s Holloway Theatre helped prepare her for work at Pangea because the program must operate within a fixed budget each year.

“You have to learn theatre by doing it,” she said, adding, “and I’ve done almost everything in our theatre department. That really prepared me to go into a real life theatre.”

Griffin said Pangea is also helping her build her fundraising skills.

“I’m getting to learn how the real world works,” she said. “In a school theatre program, you have a set amount of money. In this setting, you’re always running after money. I can bring back some of the fundraising skills that I’m learning.”

Pangea has “mission moments” where staff and cast members discuss the program and share the impact it has had on their lives to encourage donations.

“You talk about how the program has changed your life and then say ‘Please give us money,’ ” Griffin said, laughing.

Pangea also gives back to its community through programs like Lake Street Arts! (LSA!), working with “artists from East African, Latinx, and Indigenous communities along East Lake Street” to promote leadership and community development.

“They believe that the theatre is not just the theatre,” Griffin said. “Theatre includes the world around it.”

She said she hopes to use what she has learned at Pangea to continue uplifting underrepresented voices in her career.

“I want to show stories that aren’t normally told,” Griffin said. “I want the world to see what I see and not just [the same stories] they see every day.”