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MIT Technology Review

Sameera Iyengar '93

Math major makes a career in theater

November 14, 2006

Math major Sameera Iyengar ‘93 initially took a theater course just to fulfill the MIT humanities elective–but her work with Michael Ouellette, now director of theater, changed her focus. “I still loved math,” she says, “but the kick I got from theater was something else!”

Sameera Iyengar at a theater conference in India.

After MIT, she earned a PhD in theater at the University of Chicago, where she focused on contemporary theater in India. “I had a glorious time traversing various Indian cities, towns, and villages–watching theater, meeting artists, getting a sense of how theater worked in this diverse and large country,” she says.

Iyengar hasn’t left the theater since. For the past four years, she’s worked with Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre, a premier venue that runs an annual festival; she’s now the creative director. “It’s a dream job for me,” she says.

She is also involved with Prithvi’s summertime workshops for children. There, she says, “we’re not so much interested in imparting professional skills as in sharing the process of the arts, opening the doors of creativity and imagination, making them fall in love with theater–thereby building future audiences for it.”

Recently, Iyengar’s theater life and her MIT ties reconnected. “Last winter, Nachiket Mor of ICICI Bank e-mailed that the MIT-India program wanted to collaborate with Prithvi–were we interested?” she says. “I was, naturally, thrilled! MIT’s attitude of thinking out of the box, taking the risk to follow a new idea, and doing what it takes for a project is very much in keeping with the way we work.”

The two institutions’ goals fit together, she says: “The fact that MIT’s theater department is not about creating theater professionals but about sharing the strengths of theater with people who will, by and large, go into other fields is also very important.”

Iyengar grew up in Calcutta participating in swimming, golf, and other sports. Now she lives with her partner in Mumbai, and she’s an avid soccer player. She maintains close friendships with her peers from Epsilon Theta and the MIT theater community. “MIT remains my special place,” she says.