Late last decade, Rajiv Shah, though enamored with his employment within the theater world, sought to take a break and looked for a job with a predictable schedule, ultimately applying to a bank. When his application met with rejection, he chose to count on his calling minus any hiatus and has continued to combine his creative profundity and cordial personality for numerous productions, with Orbiter 3 enlisting him as its resident technical director, a title the resident of the 1800 block of Wharton Street is reveling in as the collective stages “I Am Not My Motherland.”
“It’s easily one of the best companies that I have worked for,” the 36-year-old said of the thriving South Philly resident-dominant entity. “I like to engage with the Orbiters because there’s so much dedication to taking chances and addressing important topics.”
His peers’ offering marks the third production for the group, with Emily Acker handling the writing duties in crafting a tale that retells stories of “collective grief and collective possibility,” per Orbiter 3’s website, following the futile execution of a live-saving operation by a Palestinian-American surgeon and her Israeli-American resident. Accustomed to working with established and new material, with “I Am Not My Motherland” as a world premiere, Shah does not burden himself based on the relative age of a piece, feeling he needs to convey a director’s desires as best as he can. Not the component that draws the applause, his work nonetheless resounds as a mammoth part of presenting a provocative theater experience.
“I like to feed off the creativity that the contributors bring and the content, too, if I’m familiar with it,” Shah said. “There are definitely some occasional challenges, but, in the end, everything is incredibly rewarding, especially when I’m working on something that is in Philadelphia because it has such a unique and compelling theater community and the productions are always trying to inspire conversations on what contemporary life is all about.”
The metropolis is making for a pleasant engagement for the Point Breeze occupant, as the Center City-based St. Stephen’s Theater is staging the three-person play through July 31. Shah oversaw technical directing duties for Orbiter’s 2015 endeavors “Moon Man Walk” by South Philadelphia-based Barrymore Award winner James Ijames and “A Knee That Can Bend,” so he is happy to have a hat trick of successes for the widely respected union of some of Philadelphia’s finest creative minds, who will offer three more plays through next year before transforming their brainchild into an online resource for entrepreneurial theater makers.
“I love that each show is at a different venue and by a different writer,” he said of the appealing nature of what Ijames, Emma Goidel, Maura Krause, Acker, Douglas Williams, Lauren Feldman, Sam Henderson, and Mary Tuomanen ponder and present. “I’ve had many opportunities in this profession, and I’m thankful for them all, particularly this one because Orbiter 3 is really taking off and I’m among these amazing people who are natural encouragers.”
The Upper Darby product has been involved with theater since middle school, growing as an artistic appreciator and helper through his Delaware County turf’s summer stage productions. Carpentry skills built his resolve, influencing his penchant for being a behind-the-scenes factor in the business.
“I never considered being an actor,” Shah confessed. “In fact, while the other students went through different tracks, like lighting or sound, I stayed in the shop and grew my passion for this line of work.”
Matriculating at Temple University with technical theater and set design as his concentrations, the son of Indian immigrants enjoyed taking on a worldly approach through his studies, holding that no matter which books he would be cracking open, the text would direct him to some lessons that would enhance his professional journey. Commencing employment in 2001 with the Charleston, S.C.-based Spoleto Festival USA, which unites renowned and burgeoning opera, theater, dance, and music practitioners for 17 days each spring, Shah, who retained his connection to the Palmetto State celebration for 12 years, gained a wonderful introduction to the workings of engrossing tasks, with production manager responsibilities for international and domestic tours of “Porgy & Bess” intensifying his joy from ’02 to ’09.
“Encountering so many places that were thrilled to have a great story before them amazed me,” Shah said of his connection to the George and Ira Gershwin opera, with European lands as his primary stops. “It all made for a great collection of memories that I call on occasionally.”
The seven-year South Philly inhabitant, whose other extremely commendable credits include head carpenter gigs for the national tour of The Martha Graham Dance Co., “Avenue Q,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” which took him to France, Germany, and Greece, also uses his Philadelphia experiences as opportunities to stroll down memory lane, and, with his line of employment, one might suspect that he has constructed a few figurative thoroughfares to cover. Among others, Prince Music and Lantern theaters; Swim Pony Performing Arts; Pig Iron; Inis Nua and Amaryllis theatre companies; and the South Philly-friendly Berserker Residents and The idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium have helped him to feel happy about continuing to carve out a career here. Next month, he will celebrate his third year as the technical director at Villanova University, where his interactions with graduate students expose him to enthusiastic enrollees whom he is proud to dub contemporaries.
“I really try to keep busy because I love to create,” Shah, who will co-technical direct the July 27–31 Shakespeare in Clark Park production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and who has embarked on set design for the Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s “The Comedy of Errors,” which has the same run as “I Am Not My Motherland,” said of his tenacity. “I tried to step away from this field a few years ago to have a bit of a change, but that wasn’t meant to be, and, fortunately, I’ve been able to stay active, which is great considering the abundance of diverse shows in Philadelphia.” ■
Contact Editor Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.
portrait images of Rajiv Shah By Mark Carosiello
Play Image by Plate 3