When Deepali Lindblom immigrated to the United States in 2015, she was struck by how lost she felt. Deepali was born and raised in India, where she was trained in street theater.
“In India, art isn’t just entertainment, it’s more. It’s a way of life, and it’s a way to communicate,” she shared.
When she and her husband moved to Canada, she continued to find ways to express her cultural heritage as a dancer. She arrived in the United States just as the tumultuous 2016 election season began, and she struggled to find stories like hers, let alone a place to express those stories openly. After her sister visited her from India, she felt inspired to create a platform for people like her from different cultures to come together and share their stories through art. Roshni, a storytelling maker space, was founded in 2016.
The organization started by providing performing arts programming to refugee youth in Aurora, but Lindblom realized that to make a bigger impact, she had to also engage parents. So, she started the I ARISE (I am Resilient. Informed. Steadfast. Empathetic) program to engage mothers of students in youth programs. The women in I ARISE started by sharing lullabies, which eventually led to conversations about their respective lives. Eventually, I ARISE evolved to become a space for diverse women to come together and share their stories over 20 weeks in order to create a short play about their experiences.
This year’s cohort of twelve women worked with Lindblom on a play which will premiere at Roshni’s 2023 New American Arts Festival: Yatra – A Journey to Truth, Light and Life. Written by Lindblom with spoken word by Erin Thibodaux, the play focuses on four women who have found themselves in the place between life and death. Guided by Tira, a blind seer, the women share their stories and learn their truth to decide whether to return to their lives or continue to the afterlife. Women in the I ARISE program shared their own life stories which inspired the play, selected music for the production and played a role in the way that each character’s story was choreographed. The play falls under the festival’s theme of “In War, In Peace.” As such, Yatra viewers can expect impactful stories about the literal and figurative wars women across the world may face such as gender-based violence, disability, memory loss and drug use.
For program participant Brenda Mosby, her role as Tira the seer and the play both hit close to home. Brenda lost her sight at the age of 40. After struggling for years with depression, she began to work to change her perception of herself and her visual impairment. She credits the change in her mindset for the opportunities she later encountered. She attended New York University to become a certified rehabilitation counselor and travelled to India for three weeks with a friend from her master’s program. These journeys served as the inspiration for her to start Mosby Services, a personal empowerment program for people with disabilities.
Mosby first got involved with Roshni and the I ARISE program in 2021, when she shared her story for last year’s play, The Colors of Love. This year, Mosby was hesitant to take on the role of Tira, at least at first. She worried that she wouldn’t be able to memorize her lines since she wasn’t able to see the script. However, once she learned more about the character, she knew she had to be a part of Yatra.
“The character represents the way I live my life,” Mosby said. “Tira has a monologue where she addresses the darkness and lightness within all of us. I’ve learned that you can’t deny the shadows and darkness in life, but you must also recognize opportunities for healing.”
Both Lindblom and Mosby agree that audiences will walk away from Yatra with a new understanding of how to find their truth and will feel inspired to use their stories to empower themselves, those around them and humanity as a whole.
In addition to Yatra – A Journey to Truth, Light and Life, Roshni’s New American Arts Festival will include monologues about the experiences of military veterans and active-duty personnel, a play for youth, visual exhibitions, and dance performances. The festival will close with a play inspired by Henry V called Zahara, which Lindblom identifies as the epitome of this year’s festival. Many New American Arts Festival events are free and will take place between Sept. 9 and Sept. 30. Visit https://www.roshniislight.org/festival to learn more.