Mindy Kaling lit up the stage at the Bing Theatre Saturday during the kick-off event for a School of Dramatic Arts masterclass series, which was moderated by 2022 Emmy Award winner and SDA professor Colman Domingo.
Kaling received the inaugural Multihyphenate Award at the event, which was titled, “Inclusion Playbook: A Masterclass” and was the first of a series of 10 masterclasses designed to help SDA students become “media-agile, multihyphenate dramatic artists,” according to an SDA press release.
At the start of her Q&A, Kaling was greeted with an uproar of applause and a standing ovation from the audience. In her introduction, SCA Dean Emily Roxworthy enumerated Kaling’s many accomplishments and projects. At the mentions of “Never Have I Ever,” “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” and of course, “The Office,” the crowd brought Roxworthy to a halt with the sheer volume of their cheers.
“All of these projects have changed the face of entertainment and created opportunities for artists and stories for which the industry needed to make room,” Roxworthy said.
At the start of her discussion with Domingo, the event’s moderator and host, Kaling noted that Domingo’s work on “Euphoria” was “just incredible,” as she cracked jokes about the series being reflective of her time in high school, saying that she “feels seen” by watching it. She also spoke about her career path and the many roles she assumes in television and film production.
“I think of all of my jobs as one job – it’s an expression of what’s interesting to me,” Kaling said. “I think of it as though I have this voice, and whether I express it through performance or through writing, I like to focus on what women are interested in.”
At the heart of Kaling’s comments throughout the discussion was her passion for creating and circulating feminist stories.
“I feel like people lower their standards when they’re watching a ‘chick show,’ where it doesn’t have to be as funny, it can just be kind of cute, and the thing that I’m trying to do is take the hard comedy of ‘The Office,’ and put that into communities and people that don’t usually get to have that,” Kaling said.
The panel members discussed the trajectories of their careers and why they each dabble in various roles in the entertainment industry. They also used their extensive experience to reflect on what they want for the future of the industry.
“I’m interested in building a meritocracy in Hollywood – period, full stop – because I know that a more meritocratic business is a more diverse business, is a more financially successful business, is an industry that makes more interesting movies, television and theater,” Leonard said.
The lively Q&A portion of the event entertained questions from the audience, which consisted mostly of SDA students, and offered them advice as they navigate their own careers.
“I think you need a little bit of terror, to be honest, to be an artist. You need a little fear in you. If you feel like you’ve got it, I think you shouldn’t do it,” Domingo said. “Go for something that scares you a little bit because it’s going to teach you and you’re going to have to learn some superhuman skills to achieve that. It’s going to push you out of your comfort zone in many ways.”
The students and community members in the audience hung onto each speaker’s every word. As SDA theater major Sarisha Sabhlok said, the event was “eye-opening” and sparked excitement for the rest of the masterclasses in the series.
“I’ve always thought of acting, directing and producing as different things and I didn’t really see how you could do them all at once. I made my own short film before and I really struggled with doing all of that together, but just seeing these people from the panel and how they built a career off of it and how they’re able to mesh all of them together and be so successful is really amazing,” Sabhlok said. “And seeing Mindy – I’m a first-generation Indian American, too, and just seeing the process of how she got to where she is today was just so inspiring.”