This October/November will see the critically-acclaimed spoken word artist and proud Indian woman Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa take to the stage with her fleshed-out theatre debut ‘Fully Sikh’.
Sukhjit has been steadily gaining notoriety since her audition for 'Australia’s Got Talent', which saw the entire audience and judging panel captivated with her unique flavour of beat poetry. Eventually, Sukhjit’s politically-charged and personal poems launched a wave of national and international tours, making her name canonical with Australia’s spoken word legends. Now, with less than a month before the curtain rises in her hometown of Perth, Sukhjit is bubbling away with anticipation. “[I’m] bloody nervous, but excited to share the history of my family, my culture, and my childhood!”
As a human rights reformer, Sukhjit strives to push for visibility and diversity in the performing arts sector through drawing on her unique experience growing up in a Sikh household. ‘Fully Sikh’ will be the first time that Sukhjit will transform what is usually a stripped-back, relatively short monologue with just her and her microphone stand on stage, into a full-scale 75-minute theatre production – complete with an original score, props and set.
“I’ve never written anything that’s long form. Usually with spoken word, it's three to five minutes. . . So it’s very new and epic to write something that you can create a story arc with and explore these new characters.”
‘Fully Sikh’ will encapsulate more of Sukhjit’s personal family life and complex upbringing as a first generation Australian. “The themes include growing up, racism, being a third culture kid and not really knowing what world to choose. . . It’s about this female character finding her voice through poetry and creativity. Most importantly, it’s about love and family.”
Making the jump between spoken word and the theatre is no small shift in performance mode. Sukhjit and her dedicated team of creatives have been fine-tuning ‘Fully Sikh’ through different creative development processes. Dedicating a week to each stage of creative development, Sukhjit would explore how far to delve and stretch the work in its state. With each development, the production team would expand, as Sukhjit recruited more people to add their own area of expertise and authenticity to the show’s foundations. As the show builds and each creative development is solidified, Sukhjit brings in a different sample audience to preview the performance.
Putting her feelers out to gauge how different demographics will interpret her show.
“I feel like, with spoken word, it’s such an interactive process. . . It’s all about interacting with the audience. We have very emotive audiences. I wanted to bring that same concept into the theatre, because I feel like when I go see a theatre production it is very polite. There is certain rules of the theatre, which prevents audiences from being involved in the performance.
“We want to create a safe space for the show. We’re bringing people on to the stage to interact with a culture they may not be used to, so it’s about doing it in a very comfy environment.” One of the creative development processes included Sukhjit’s mother cooking a Punjabi meal on stage, flooding the theatre with the heady aromas of traditional Indian cooking. Another, and arguably one of the most poignant additions to the development process, is the addition of Pavan Kumar Hari’s original score accompanying the show.
“It’s so incredible!” Sukhjit exclaims.
“Having music created exactly how you imagined it to be in your mind. When I do poetry I have no props, but amplifying this poetry by bringing in music and our set design is just so epic.
“It truly feels as though it's based on the most authentic experience of a Sikh household.”
‘Fully Sikh’ will be running from 10 October-3 November at State Theatre Centre Of WA's Studio Underground.