One of New Zealand's most successful theatre companies has gone back to school.

Indian Ink, the company behind productions such as Krishnan's Dairy and The Guru of Chai, rehearsed its latest show watched by pupils at Ormiston Junior College in South-east Auckland.

As actors Kalyani Nagarajan and Justin Rogers and director Justin Lewis polished the company's ninth production, Mrs Krishnan's Party, they also ran workshops then invited the school community to two special performances.

Deputy principal Vivienne Mallabar says for the school, it's about opening pupils' eyes to a wider world and starting in them a love of live performances.


"It was an amazing opportunity for students who are interested in theatre and for those who might not have experienced anything like this to see what actors in a rehearsal do, what goes on behind the scenes and what it takes to make something like this," Mallabar says.

"The story takes place at a party and they came out like they'd been at a party themselves."

The opportunity for "real world" learning is invaluable, she says, and something the school tries to encourage right across the curriculum.

"We'd definitely be open to this sort of opportunity again."

The pupils — perhaps even some of the staff — weren't born when Indian Ink leapt to nationwide attention in 1997 with its first show, Krishnan's Dairy. Starring Jacob Rajan, it tells the bittersweet story of an Indian immigrant couple running a dairy while coping with the birth of their first child.

It ushered in a new era in New Zealand theatre, creating opportunities for local South Asian artists to tell their stories. Mrs Krishnan's Party, which began a nationwide tour in Whangarei this week, picks up 20 years later.

Kalyani Nagarajan grew up reading Indian Ink's plays; now she's breathing new life into one of its most beloved characters and inspiring the next generation of theatre-makers.
Kalyani Nagarajan grew up reading Indian Ink's plays; now she's breathing new life into one of its most beloved characters and inspiring the next generation of theatre-makers.

Mrs Krishnan is still behind the counter and keeping a motherly eye on her wannabe DJ boarder, James, who, she discovers, has invited a whole store-room full of strangers to a party in the backroom of the family shop. The audience play the roles of party guests and are even invited to join in a meal after the show.

Ormiston Junior College, which opened last year, has a high percentage of South Asian pupils which made the partnership all the more poignant.

"The pupils really seemed to connect with the story and they loved the character of Mrs Krishnan, because they know Mrs Krishnan and, often, being able to see such familiar characters doesn't happen in a lot of contemporary theatre," says Lewis, who cofounded Indian Ink with Rajan.

Nagarajan says as a high school student, she didn't see in modern theatre many characters or stories she could really relate to. Seeing Indian Ink's earlier work helped her realise she could have a future in the performing arts. She was thrilled to be able to do the same for a new generation and test out how well Mrs Krishnan's Party connects with the community.

"If they were silent, we would know we were doing something wrong."

Lewis says it keeps performances honest.

"It allows us to be connected to the community in a more personal way than staying in our own little theatre bubble."

Mrs Krishnan's Party is on in Whangarei this week before dates in Hamilton, Auckland's Q Theatre, New Plymouth, Wellington and Christchurch. The cast then travel to Pittsburgh in the United States for a festival and there is talk of later taking the show to Vancouver, Canada.

First, though, Rogers will join Auckland Theatre Company to play Dr Hone Ropata in Shortland Street — The Musical at the end of the year.

• Indian Ink were able to take up the residency at Ormiston Junior College thanks to a grant from the Mazda Foundation.