A MOVING TALE - Season 1, Episode 105 - Anant Das
Kevin Sturmer 0:09
Hello, my name is Kevin Sturmer and welcome to another episode of A Moving Tale sponsored by the Outermost Ring. Before we unbox the Broadway gift that is today's guest, I want to answer the question I get more often than anything else. What is the Outermost Ring? It's the title of a musical I'm writing and I liked the philosophy so much that I made it the core of my company. It refers to the rings of a tree and as a tree grows and expands, it adds one ring for each year of its life. The Outermost Ring represents the present or the current time and I like the idea that we are always learning, always growing, and taking new shape, while never losing sight of where we've been and what's at our core. What I also love is that we've partnered with Trees for the Future, and for each podcast episode, the Outermost Ring donates 100 trees to be planted in their forests around the world. Now my guest today is a self described tech enthusiast, computer scientist and finance geek by education. He was voted the Best and Brightest in the class of 2019 at the University of Virginia, and he has a passion for theater. He was the co-organizer of the 2019 season of Broadway Talks Back, he has produced cabaret shows, he has produced films, and he is the creator and CEO of Broadway Boxed Up, named one of the Top 20 Subscription Companies by Pitney Bowes. He has big hair, he has an even bigger smile. So grab some sugar, butter and flour because we are about to hear A Moving Tale from the biggest Waitress fan I know, Anant Das. Welcome, welcome. How are you doing?
Anant Das 1:44
Thank you so much for having me.
Kevin Sturmer 1:46
It is so great to have you here. Thank you. Thank you. Now before we get to Broadway Boxed Up, which is your company, and the other projects that you have in the works, which are pretty exciting, actually, let's take our cue from the sound of music as we always do, and start at the very beginning. It's a very good place to start. So I want to go back, you have this passion for technology and finance. And you have this love for theater. How did it all begin?
Anant Das 2:11
That's such a great question. I think my story really began with me loving to be involved. I loved doing things extracurricularly, elementary school chess club, Monday afternoons, I signed up, orchestra band choir signed up for all three, I loved doing things, I loved every opportunity to jump into something, whether that was school, STEM, science, tech related, whether that was theater, whether that was music, I just love doing it. I think that want to be involved and do something beyond just the regular school day kind of influenced how I went through my classes in middle school and high school and college. And I think I ended up studying finance and computer science, because I felt like it allowed me to do anything I could I could go into anywhere I could continue to have that want to do whatever I wanted to do. And that was really important to me. And so I just love to being involved in love trying new things.
Kevin Sturmer 3:08
Love it. I love it. Now, when we talk about theater, was there a pivotal moment when you were growing up where you just absolutely fell in love with the theater?
Anant Das 3:19
I feel like my story is probably similar to a lot of people's in that first time they performed on stage. I remember, that's seventh grade musical. We did a version of Cinderella and I just loved being on stage and transporting myself and other people to that new world. And I remember in eighth grade, we did a show called Starmites. And I got to play the villain and I absolutely loved it. And I loved being something that I definitely was not in real life. I'm not this villainous, creepy, treacherous character. But being able to do that on stage. I fell in love with the theater. And I knew I wanted to be involved in that world some way, somehow.
Kevin Sturmer 3:56
When you get to college, let's talk about this. First, there was a pivotal trip. You went to New York City. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that maybe shaped your future?
Anant Das 4:06
Absolutely. I went to New York City when I was I want to say 19 years old. And my family and I we had one purpose to go to New York City. It was to drive up from the DC area, watch a matinee of Waitress and then drive back. We just want to see Waitress and I really want to see the show of the huge Sara Bareilles his fan. I'd seen her concert the year earlier where she teased this. And I love Sara Bareilles's music. I had been to Broadway seen a show twice before middle school, but I wasn't as into the whole Broadway world yet. And I went I saw this show and within the first few notes, I was already getting teary eyed. I was so excited to be there that energy exchange in that room and I was in the very back row that Brooks Atkinson theater. As far back as you could see, and I didn't even care. I love being there. I loved the experience. I loved the energy exchange. And then after the show my family and I we had no idea what to do. We literally came up to see this show, we were just loitering around outside the theater trying to figure out what to do. And the lead actor of the show Drew Gehling, who plays Dr. Pomatter, he came out of the stage door, he saw me. And he was like, do you want to see backstage? And I was like, Oh, my gosh, yes, absolutely, please. And so he showed me around backstage, we got pictures on the stage. And that was sort of my first entrance into the world of theater beyond just what a fan sees and I started understanding things backstage, and the space and all of these different things that go on, that I don't normally get to see as an audience member. And I think that piqued my interest of wanting to learn more about this world and be more involved in this world.
Kevin Sturmer 5:42
What was it like you're standing on this stage? What was it? Like? How did it How did it feel?
Anant Das 5:47
It reminded me, a lot of the times I was performing in middle school, seeing sort of bright lights in your face, and you can't really see past the first few rows. And it reminded me of that, and I realized, you know, that experience, that feeling I had when I was just barely a teenager. It's a similar feeling that these actors are having every day. And I was like, This is so cool. I got to experience some of that growing up. And so it just inspired me to want to delve deeper into this world and figure out how can I continue to experience that feeling without necessarily being onstage as a performer.
Kevin Sturmer 6:21
What did you do next? You had all of this energy. Where did you channel it?
Anant Das 6:24
Yeah. So I heard of Drew Gehling actually coming down to my alma mater, UVA. And I was like, wait, what is he doing coming down to Charlottesville I just met up in New York a few months earlier. And I had a friend or I later made into a good friend, she started this program called Broadway talks back. And the goal was to bring Broadway actors down to Charlottesville to connect with the community, to talk with students to give masterclasses and to basically inspire students. And I went to this meeting, I went to this masterclass, I didn't know anyone there. And no one knew Waitress as well as me and the person who started the program. So we bonded immediately over our love for the show. And I told her, I want to get involved. And so in 2018 2019, and I sort of started helping out a little bit as much as I could. And that kind of taught me as we brought guests down, over the years, more about this world. And I really took the time to listen to their stories to me, it wasn't, oh my gosh, I'm so excited to meet someone from Broadway. To me. It was like, I want to learn how you got to Broadway. I want to learn your story. I want to learn why you're here today and why what you did in the past got you here. And to me, I feel like I learned so many secrets of Broadway that I've retained, that maybe other fans may have ignored because they're just so focused on the star struckness of that experience.
Kevin Sturmer 7:45
Okay, top three secrets that you learned during the Broadway Talks Back experience.
Anant Das 7:52
Number one, I'd say the way actors get to performing on stage isn't super cut and dry. Sometimes people are on tour and they get called for an audition. And they lie to their stage managers that they they're sick, and they can't make a show and they go to audition, and things like that. And you just have to follow your gut. And if you have an audition, or if you have something that you know you need to do, and you need to be there, you have to follow your gut and do it and ask for forgiveness sometimes. And I found many people with stories similar to that, of asking for forgiveness, and maybe doing things that they probably shouldn't have done that made their current stage managers unhappy, but it worked out for them in the end. Another thing is really making sure what you're doing aligns with your values. You don't have to say yes to everything. You can say No, not you don't have to go to every gig, every performance, you're allowed to be selective. You're allowed to have preferences and choices. And you just have to say yes to everything that comes your way because it's paying you and I'll look good on your resume. I think that's another somewhat of a secret. And I think I think the third thing is, everyone struggles with auditions. Everyone's nervous. No matter who you are, it doesn't matter if you are the biggest Broadway star, it doesn't matter if you're going to your first audition, everyone's nervous and no one's guaranteed that role, which means it's just as likely to go to you. I think I think those are sort of the pieces of advice that I really took, and that I've applied to my own life, whether it's been theater related or not.
Kevin Sturmer 9:18
Those are great pieces of advice, too, because we've, we've talked about it before on the show where there are times in life when you don't know what the outcome will be when you when you have a decision to make. And it's impossible to be certain that either of them will be right. And you have to follow your gut just like you said, usually that will serve you. The other thing that I love what you mentioned about audition, because I remember from my days auditioning especially in New York was the best piece of advice I ever got was to treat it as a performance and tell the story. Tell the story of the song, tell the story in the monologue. All you're doing is trying to communicate an idea or a thought or an emotion and and have that objective in mind when you go into the room. And then suddenly the fear of, "am I right for this part? Am I you know, do I have all the notes? Do I have it perfectly technical?" You know, that all goes away. And it's just about making an emotion making a moment happen in the room. And I think that we focus on that and focus on serving your audience that will always turn out the best you graduate college. What is next for you? How did you get to New York? How did you you get to Broadway Boxed Up?
Anant Das 10:27
I all knew I want to live in New York City. And I was considering job offers San Francisco, Charlotte, Washington, DC, New York City, I had one in New York City and I knew that was the right one for me, is in financial valuation work, figuring out the value of things. And I picked that job offer. And I'm so thankful I did got me to the city. And I realized once I was in the city, I wanted to be able to do things, weeknights, evenings, weekends. So that was really important to me, once I got to the city to be able to go to theater, to be able to meet new people to be able to talk to people go to cabaret shows, I loved going to the cabaret shows meeting people there learning new things. I love being able to learn things about the deaf theatre community and going to their shows and realizing there's this blossoming theater community of deaf performers that I knew nothing about until I got to New York City. And I started doing sign language classes are learning more about that world. And I loved having the time to do things in the city, in person, on my evenings and weekends. So that was really pivotal to me when I was choosing a job being able to have the flexibility to do that. And as we know, the pandemic hit, maybe six, seven months after I moved to New York City, I was in my studio apartment, right by Grand Central Station, you know, looking out on the streets 5pm, there's almost no one there March 12 2020. And I was like, I need to figure out what I'm going to do because something's wrong with the city, something's going on. This is not normal. And so that's sort of when I kind of had to stop going out, stop doing things like everyone else, and figuring out what I was going to do next. And my one thing, my one creative outlet was theater. I used to do that evenings, weekends, and without theater without cabaret shows I thought, What am I going to do? What is my creative outlet going to be? And then that summer of 2020, the social and racial justice protests were occurring. And I thought, you know, what can I do to be part of this movement as well, without actually leaving my house because I didn't feel comfortable at the time to leave the house in the pandemic. And I thought, what if I could bring theater, to the homes of fans who are missing it just as much as I am, while also having that social justice component in elevating diverse voices in theater and elevating theater movements, and things like that through postcards, and articles and virtual events. And that's sort of how Broadway Boxed Up, formed the summer of 2020.
Kevin Sturmer 12:58
And we're now what a year into this. We just passed a year. "We" I say "we", you just passed a year in Broadway Boxed Up. And I love the fact that you took inspiration from multiple sources, your passion for activism, and your passion for theater, and you brought it all together, what are people? How are people embracing it?
Anant Das 13:17
I think it's been such a phenomenal response. And nothing that I could have imagined. People are so excited to receive their boxes every month, we currently are in 46 states plus DC and over 12 countries, which is absolutely wild to me, I could have never imagined we'd be shipping out so many boxes each month. And people are receiving them from theater fans who are just excited to have a piece of theatre in their life, to people who have no access to live theater normally, that they're able to access something of that world, they love so much to people who want to learn more about the industry and are starting to learn new things and discover new performers and discover new shows. And I've really realized we're starting to become this great connector in the theater world where the fans were never truly part of the conversation. And now they feel like they're a little bit more part of this conversation in the theater world about what's going on, just because now that barrier to knowledge is being broken a little bit that they can understand this world a little bit better. So they can take part in that conversation. And so this box has sort of served as this connector between fans and theatre professionals and those who are trying to disrupt the theater world. And it's been really exciting to be that connector in that piece in the middle between all of that.
Kevin Sturmer 14:31
People should look forward to a huge disruption or at least a change in the theater world. There are a lot of exciting things that are coming up. And hopefully people will embrace them and understand that there is a new era of theater coming. And it's very exciting. And I'm so excited that you are a part of it and I'm excited to be a part of it as well a little bit. Speaking of us, we had the pleasure of seeing the first preview of Waitress and I think You very much when it reopened on Broadway, it was September 2 2021. And it was the very first night of musical theater returning to Broadway. Hadestown was the other show that night that had their first performance, joking that, you know, we had the choice of going to hell or the diner, and we chose to go to the diner, which I love. What did it mean for you, given the fact that you you, you love the show, and had seen the show on that pivotal trip before? What did it mean for you to be in the theater in that moment? What did the energy feel like inside of that room after not feeling that energy for 18 months?
Anant Das 15:36
I always say Waitress is my gateway musical into the world of theater. And you know, when it closed, I didn't expect to see it again. And being able to be there. On the very first night that Broadway musicals were back. It just reminded me how much I wanted to be in this community and in this world, and I needed that reminder, and how much I love that exchange of energy and that human connection that live theater brains, and just being in that room, it was absolutely phenomenal. I don't even know how to describe it, I think there were almost a dozen standing ovations. Even before the show started, people were standing and clapping, and just the excitement to be there with other people who loved theater, and to be able to safely gather and love it together and embrace it together. And to have that exchange of energy. It was so, so important for me. So revitalizing, it reminded me like this is the industry I want to be in, I want to be creating these boxes and helping create that feeling for other people. I want to be hopefully down the line producing and creating forms of theater that also invoke that feeling and other people. And making sure diversity is at the forefront of that. It just reminded me of all of those things. And I think we all needed that reminder after 18 months, because some of us were starting to forget why we truly loved the live aspect of live theater.
Kevin Sturmer 16:58
That is such a great description. I love how you said you felt revitalized, they brought a feeling back that you hadn't felt in a long time. For me, it always felt like we were coming home, coming home to a heart that we hadn't had in a long time. Well, first, can you quickly describe the plot? So for anybody who's not familiar, but then what is it about Waitress that resonates with you and connects with you on an emotional level?
Anant Das 17:23
Absolutely. So Waitress is based off of a movie by Adrian Shelley. And the movie is about a waitress named Jenna. And two other waitresses, Becky and Dawn and Jenna finds out she's pregnant. And she didn't want to be pregnant. Her husband is abusive. She didn't want to have a kid with him. And she goes to this doctor, Dr. Pomatter, and they sort of have an affair. And now Jenna is grappling with sort of the ethics of this affair she's having she's having a baby she that didn't want, what does she do with her situation at home, and it's about her sort of grappling through life, while Don and Becky also deal with their life situations. And it's all about sugar, butter, flour, pies, eating, baking. And it's just sort of this delicious, musical that deals with some hard hitting life issues. One of the things I love about it, because I think if you're someone who's never seen a Broadway show before, I think Waitress is a great one for you. Because it has a lot of pop elements that but mix with showtune. So you can kind of get the best of both worlds a little bit. But even beyond that, I think I think the story of the show is relates to life. I think it's about life and making choices. I think we've all made very difficult choices. And we've all been in difficult situations, whether you relate to being in a domestic abuse situation, or whether you relate to being in a situation where you don't know whether you can make that dating profile like Don and put yourself out there and you're nervous because you're quirky, or whether you're like Dr. Pomatter, and you're not sure where to find excitement in life right now. I think we've all been in situations similar to all of the characters and we can relate to that. And we want to see how they figure it out. So we can kind of figure out for ourselves, are we on the right path? Are we gonna figure out and I think by the end, we you realize there's there's no one right decision and you kind of have to figure out your own circumstances. But I think that's why we love it because it doesn't give us a clear answer at the end. Because everyone's situation is so different.
Kevin Sturmer 19:26
Yeah, and they are, they are all different. I know you also do, and I haven't seen him in a while recently, but you also do some fantastic interviews on Instagram Live. You elevate voices that really need to be shared with a lot of people. When we talk about diversity, we talk about inclusion. How does that connect to the kinds of stories you want to see on stage in the future and the kinds of people you want to see telling those stories?
Anant Das 19:56
One of my favorite parts of Broadway boxtop is we get to do these very events, and we get to interview actors of different backgrounds. And we've brought transactors to learns about issues in the trans Theatre World, we've brought actors who stutter, to learn about the issues they face. We've brought deaf and hard of hearing actors, we've brought other bipoc actors, and it's been phenomenal to hear people's stories, and then realize that their stories aren't actually represented on the stage. Because most often, more often than not, people have not had the opportunity to share their own unique story. Oftentimes, the stories are written by mostly white cisgendered men. And so we're not getting authentic trans stories in theater, we're not getting authentic, deaf and hard of hearing stories on theater that often. And so it's made me realize that it's so important to have authenticity behind who's creating and telling the story, and giving them the opportunity to share their voice and share what they know to be true. Because when you do that people and audience members really relate to that. And they can connect to that. And whether we realize it or not, when they're watching a show we know when something's authentic and real and doesn't feel forced on stage. And whether we realize it or not, that's because the storyteller actually experienced those things, the storyteller actually has the background to share those things. And that's not to say that people who don't have the background can't write a story about something. But there's that there's that authenticity piece that I think, especially Broadway has been lacking for so long, that if we bring in these diverse storytellers, and give them that platform, people will be able to learn things and really resonate with that. So to me, it's all about authenticity. And that authenticity is why stories can come to life, and that people on Broadway will be able to learn new things and experience new things. Because right now they haven't been able to.
Kevin Sturmer 21:50
There's so much truth to what you just said, when it comes to telling a story, we you know, you keep it simple, you have the twists and the turns, and you make it interesting. But there's an emotional element, you can analyze how you are feeling and see the 360 picture of it. And that is why these voices are so important to be shared on the Broadway stage and to tell their story as nobody else can. I love that absolutely love that.
Anant Das 22:21
There's this movement in theater, I think about you know, people say, you know, part of being an actor is you play things that aren't yourself. And I agree with that statement that is part of being an actor. However, I think there's this movement in theater where we want to see people portray things about themselves that no one else can. And I think audiences can connect to that so much more. And because we haven't seen that many truly authentic stories in theatre. We don't even know what that looks like yet. And it's because people haven't had the opportunity to share their authentic stories. But I think once you start seeing the trans story being performed and written by the trans character, the deaf and hard of hearing story written and performed by the deaf and hard of hearing character, then people will understand, oh, this is what we've been missing out on. This is the world of theater that we have not had the fortune to have access to because of the gatekeepers who won't produce these shows, or put these shows in front of us. And so I think fans are slowly starting to realize this and demanding more from our industry.
Kevin Sturmer 23:22
And the gates are coming down, it is becoming easier to produce your show is becoming easier to get something out and share your voice. And I love that. Let's talk a little bit more about Broadway boxed up, where can people connect with you, and also what is coming up that sort of exciting on your end in the near future as well.
Anant Das 23:44
So probably boxed up, you can find us on Instagram and on Facebook at Broadway boxed up and our website www.BroadwayBoxedUp.com. There you can learn all about our virtual events or subscription options, our standalone products and these special boxes. And you know, our goal really for the next year would probably backup is to start creating more educational materials, breaking down those barriers around theater, lingo, theater language, and what sort of jobs are in theater outside of being a director, producer and actor, what's available for people to do and sort of breaking down those barriers and educating people on what they can do. And we're excited for some partnerships coming up now that live theaters coming back. You know, people are ready to have that conversation like how can we partner with this box and how can we partner with this great connector. And beyond that we're really excited to announce that we're part of a first ever Broadway pop up shop in New York City. It'll be in the Columbus Circle turnstile. More details will definitely be available soon. But it's going to be this shopping experience like no other and I emphasis on the experience because we're bringing together Broadway vendors and makers into one place and you You can really experience the greatness that comes with Broadway related makers and vendors and see these professionals come together and with their craft, and how they want to interact with audiences in a New York City space that hasn't been done before. So we're really excited for this opportunity. And we can't wait to share that with everyone.
Kevin Sturmer 25:17
I love it. And that brings us to this fun little game we play at the end of every episode, it's called Full Out Facts. It's sponsored by Full Out Creative, a small company with a big heart. They do live streaming, producing videography, photography, and so much more. For details. Check out FullOutCreative.com. This is a game where I scour the internet to uncover fun and random facts about my guests and find out if they are true. It's time, Anant, to get the Full Out Facts. Are you ready?
Anant Das 25:48
Kevin Sturmer 25:49
Here we go. True or false? Your bucket list includes a deep desire to compete in a Tough Mudder
Anant Das 25:54
It's true. Absolutely true. I am in so such awe of people who can run and who can do these cool 5k, 10k races and the Tough Mudder is so cool. It's that you go through mud, you have these obstacle courses and that just feels like that would be the height of my own personal athletic career if I could do that.
Kevin Sturmer 26:18
I love it. I love it. You know you've always been somewhat athletic. I think I read somewhere that you did like beach volleyball for a while.
Anant Das 26:24
Beach volleyball, I rode crew, so yeah, no, definitely anything to do near the water on the water. I can do it. When it comes to running. I can get there. I just need to train a little bit more.
Kevin Sturmer 26:33
You've got this. You've got this. Okay, true or false - you once raised over $1,000 by riding a bike.
Anant Das 26:40
True. Yes. So one of my favorite events in New York City is cycle for survival, which is raising money for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which actually a lot of Broadway actors have utilized those funds and gone to that Cancer Center for things that they need. And so it's been amazing to actually have that connection with the Broadway community and be able to support them as well. And it's just this great cycle-thon, where we just cycle and we raise money, and it's so much fun, I absolutely love it.
Kevin Sturmer 27:09
And for a good cause a wonderful cause. All right, next one, true or false. You used to compete on a national level giving orations in Latin.
Anant Das 27:18
This is true. This is true. So there's something called national Latin convention every summer and at a different university and the 1000s of Latin geeks, we call ourselves come together. And we do academic tests we do dramatic interpretations in Latin I used to give speeches and Latin needs to be a competition. And that was one of my expertise is and I think that came from my theater background being able to memorize things and perform it and I love doing that and I love performing all through high school.
Kevin Sturmer 27:48
Is there a show a theatrical show a Broadway show musical that you would love to see in Latin?
Anant Das 27:54
This sounds so so obvious now but I would love to see Hadestown and Latin or Greek I feel like that would just add a little bit of an element that the show could expand upon I think it's just so it's theme so perfectly
Kevin Sturmer 28:07
Let's just also not blow by the fact that in addition to Latin you picked up American Sign Language you also speak English and Hindi you are incredibly talented and multilingual. Last one true or false - loosely translated, you once referred to yourself as aging like a fine pickle.
Anant Das 28:27
Yes, that is true. I think that might still be my current Instagram bio. So the full one is aging like a fine achar, and achar is it's a South Asian pickle. And I just loved the alliteration there and I thought I was just so clever and I was like, Oh, I love pickles. And you know, I think that's my motto. to age like a fine pickle.
Kevin Sturmer 28:55
I love it. I would say you are aging. As far as I'm concerned you are aging like a fine wine you are absolutely getting better with age so Anant Das, thank you for giving all of us A Moving Tale.
Anant Das 29:08
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Kevin Sturmer 29:10
Thank you again. So for show notes and links from today's show including information on Broadway boxtop and so much more visit AMovingTale.com. If you enjoyed today's episode, head over to your favorite podcast platform and leave a review subscribe, download, do all of those good things. And finally I want to say thank you. Thank you for taking the time to listen. Time is such a precious gift and I appreciated that you wanted to spend a little of your time with us. This has been A Moving Tale. My name is Kevin and you are on the Outermost Ring.