Ahon Gooptu ’21

Staging a life in theatre.

Ahon Gooptu ’21

Ahon Gooptu ’21 uses theatre as a device for political and sociological conversations.

Ahon Gooptu ’21, intended to make the most of his four years at Grinnell College by learning as much as he could about all the different ways to make theatre and tell stories.

He’s accomplished this objective by taking part in 10 Grinnell productions (including a virtual performance of Eurydice in November) and embarking on internships with two prestigious theatre companies. Along with acting, Gooptu has tried his hand at directing, writing, stage management, and set design.

“I don’t think I ever felt compelled to do this and that; it all came natural to me,” he says. “I wanted to learn everything there is to learn and doing so has definitely informed my consequent projects. After I did directing and stage managing and then went back to acting, I knew what the director was feeling and what the stage manager was thinking about. Knowing what every person on the team does and what they bring to the show has been helpful.”

Ahon Gooptu ’21 rehearses a musical number during his 2019 off-campus study with the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.
Ahon Gooptu ’21 rehearses a musical number during his 2019 off-campus study with the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.

What Gooptu discovered he is at his best when doing collaborative work.

“I like to work on projects where I’m part of a team of thinkers and collaborators, where we tap into our collective creative energy and strengths to make something that is representative of all of our thinking,” he says.

A native of Kolkata, India, Gooptu first got interested in acting in sixth grade and continued to be in shows during middle school and high school. He started doing his own production writing in high school, bringing up subjects that were not usually talked about.

“This is when I realized that I could use theatre as a device for political and sociological conversation,” he says. “And it’s when I knew it had to be part of my life no matter where I was.”

One of the reasons Gooptu decided the “where” should be Grinnell, was that he had heard from students that faculty and staff go out of their way to help and make students feel at home. An important example came after one of Gooptu’s performances. Rachel Edwards Harvith ’00, director of the Arts, Media, and Communications Career Community in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), approached Gooptu to talk about his future.

“When someone takes an interest in you, it’s hard to say no,” Gooptu says while laughing. “Over the years, Rachel and I have worked and strategized about what would be the ideal things for me to do so I could perform in theatre and do so legally in the U.S. Even if she didn’t have advice about what to do, she had information to tell me what I could do. That was helpful because no one was telling me those things.”

Gooptu, an English and Theatre & Dance double major who also has a concentration in technological studies, says the CLS has played an important role in getting from Place A to Place B. He found two internships with the Taproot Theatre Company in Seattle and the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago through resources that Harvith generated, and he received CLS funding.

“Through helping me with cover letters, writing samples, and funding summer plans, the CLS has supported my pursuit of opportunities practically and financially,” he says. “Since internships are unpaid, I’m grateful to the CLS for letting me take them on with a worry-free mind.”

Gooptu calls Steppenwolf his dream theatre. An artist-driven company, Steppenwolf has drawn acclaim in the Chicago theatre world for decades. Gooptu applied in 2019 for an internship but was not chosen. He could hardly believe it when he was selected in early 2020. But the pandemic drew some doubt about whether Steppenwolf could host interns.

“Thankfully they chose to keep a few interns and offered us work over the summer,” he says. “It was such a cool experience. I learned how the theatre industry was shifting gears and dealing with the crisis. I also learned through intern seminars how they work in a normal year and how they were preparing for things once they can go back to being in-person.”

After graduation, Gooptu plans to pursue a master’s in theatre studies. A Ph. D could be a goal down the road. He’s interested in studying more about immigrant theatre and post-colonial theatre. He’s taken on several research projects while at Grinnell including one called Mapping Absence in Shakespeare. Gooptu worked with English professor John Garrison to develop a web-based tool that charts absent elements in Shakespeare’s plays.

“My research has been both academic and performance-related, and it’s fun to see how one bleeds into another,” he says. “This project was the culmination of my interest in Shakespeare as well as newfound passion for digital humanities, which I didn’t know existed before I took an English class at Grinnell. I’m super grateful for support of my peers and professors for facilitating my research interests.”

The seven CLS Career Communities provide specialized advising and programming as students focus and connect their values, strengths, and interests to particular post-graduate goals and ambitions.

— by Jeremy Shapiro

At Grinnell, each student explores and connects their personal, civic, and professional interests to their studies and to their purpose in life, so they can map a career pathway that’s meaningful to them. Rexford Essilfie ’22 is pursuing his passion for computers and music while Marianna Cota ’22 plans to launch a public health career at the Urban Indian Health Institute or at a tribal epidemiology center.