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Who We Are Now

A global pandemic, a national reckoning with systemic racism, and a contentious and violent election coalesced in one volatile year to test the viability of our health and welfare, shared humanity, and democracy. While the losses were devastating, adversity proved a potent litmus test for our creative and scholarly community, resulting in new work, new missions, and new breakthroughs. Learn more about how some of our faculty, students, and alumni have adapted and thrived in a world turned upside down.

A Wild and Creative Ride

Rishi Mahesh (C21) remembers writing a paper in high school about math in music. It described harmony as conflicting motion and posited that the contrary motion of motion is built into every function of the universe. Mahesh didn’t anticipate this lesson to pop up again his senior year of college. 

“In the last year of swinging so hard in one direction, the only possible response was to swing hard in the other direction,” the theatre major from Michigan reflected. “I think that’s the reason we as students made such good stuff—that’s what makes things resolve.” Mahesh spent much of the last year not only riding that swinging pendulum but finding that it allowed him the space to create at his own pace—lightning fast.

When March 2020 left him with a lead role in a canceled show, a gaggle of sketches for a shuttered comedy group, and an original play that would go unproduced, Mahesh learned quickly that boredom didn’t become him. Facing the end of his junior year in the bedroom of his childhood home, the actor-writer-comedian did the only thing for which he was wired: create, create, create.

He bought a green screen and created content for The Blackout, a student comedy group. He was admitted into the advanced playwriting sequence and an adaptation festival. He created an original sketch on video every day for over a month. He exploded online. Fall 2020 didn’t slow him down.

“The insanity of the last year has really made me throw out the rule book,” he says. “I’ve been embracing that.”

One of Mahesh’s videos went viral on Twitter, and he was thrust into the complicated world of internet celebrity. This raised his profile enough to involve him in some exciting projects, including a comedy fundraiser for Indian comic Munawar Faruqui, who spent 35 days in jail for a joke he told about Hinduism. This appealed to Mahesh’s desire to use entertainment as a form of protest—and forged another tie to the entertainment industry. Mahesh plans to move to Los Angeles this fall.

“I look to absurdity as a way to understand life and the world,” he says, “and so much of that understanding has happened in the last year—because of the last year.”