What does Shrek do from 9-5? Did you know Pippin also bakes a mean pie? With this series I aim to answer those questions and more as I peek behind the curtain and learn all about our participants’ experience with AWT and take a glimpse into their robust lives outside of theater. It’s time for AWTea with Mary!
In this episode, we get the AWTea from Farhin Lilywala!
MARY: Hello, and Welcome to AWTea with Mary, I’m excited to get to talk to you today. I hope we can learn a lot about you as a person inside and out of AWT. Please introduce yourself to our readers!
Farhin: I’m Farhin Lilywala my pronouns are she/her/hers
Mary: We’ll begin at the beginning, the questions that starts off most AWT conversations, especially when people are just getting to know one another. Please tell us how you came to learn about AWT and what made you sign up?
F: I joined AWT in January 2018. I was having dinner with a friend (Holly Pate) who was part of AWT and currently doing Dance Breaks. She had also been in Footloose and was sharing her experience with me. Personally, I had just started a new job and was looking for something to do on the extracurricular front and a way to make new friends. I had always been fond of dancing, so I said why not? That dinner with her was on Monday, and I was at rehearsal that Wednesday!
M: Ah yes, recruiting friends, another pillar of the AWT pyramid scheme. 😉 So glad she brought you in. What shows have you done since then?
F: My first show was the Sing Out Dance Breaks, shout out to some of the early friends I remember meeting Olivia, Elise, Richelle, Allison (Marra) Smith, Amy Spies, Christine, & Jordan Silverman! Since then I’ve been in 8 main stages, two Dance Outs and a Sing-a-ling. Some of my parts include “hot box girl” in Guys & Dolls, train conductor in Cabaret and a theater kid in High School Musical. All have been so much fun!
M: Wow! 8 shows! What an epic legacy you have here! Any super memorable moments from any of those shows you’d like to share?
F: Well, honestly, there are too many moments to count, but my most memorable show I think will always be Newsies. We were heartbroken when it was canceled (due to the pandemic), and then when we got to rehearse again, we were scared, but it happened! After two years, we got to put the show on, and at a time when everything was uncertain, we held onto each other and the show for dear life. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to think about that show without getting teary-eyed.
M: I can only imagine what that must have been like for all of you on stage! Can you tell me a little more about the experience of the show having to be canceled?
F: March 2020, the show was done. We had done all of our rehearsals. We had our costume parade. We were going into tech week, and the world shut down. At first, it was a canceled rehearsal and next, it was a canceled show. Starting up again in November 2021, my role didn’t change, but a lot of things around me did. For one, we went from two casts to just one cast. Suddenly, we had masks at every rehearsal. Also, we were on an accelerated schedule. We rehearsed around four days a week for three to four weeks. We basically had a residency (lol) with six shows and two dress rehearsals.
The lyrics of the show were so meaningful to everything we had been through, so performing the show was a release of sorts. The show itself was so relevant, and on top of that, you added on our fear, hope, helplessness, joy, community, pride, responsibility and love. That’s what Newsies was all about.
I’ll share with you an excerpt from our letter to the creative team. We wrote,
Just be real is all we’re askin’ not some paintin’ in our heads cause we’re dead if we can’t count on you today.
This is the story we needed to write that’s been kept out of sight, but no more.
We say to the others that did not follow through, you’re still our castmates and we will fight for you.”
M: That’s beautiful. While it was so chaotic and uncertain for a while I’m glad it ended up being such a beautiful experience. Had you had any theater experience prior to your first Sing Out?
F: I didn’t really do theater before coming to AWT. I had a few brushes in high school, but I’d always loved performing and dancing. I used to take Bollywood dance classes and loved feeling so free.
M: Bollywood dancing sounds like a lot of fun! So if you weren’t obsessed with theater when you were younger, what were you focusing on? What did you want to be when you were little?
F: I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was 15, but before that, there were many other things I would add to my MASH card such as teacher, mathematician, author, lawyer, dancer and other things I’m sure I’m forgetting.
M: And journalism is what you are doing now?
F: Yes! I work for the website Inside P&C. Most of the stories are behind a paywall, but you can check it out at insidepandc.com. I am an associate editor and financial journalist, covering insurance. I cover areas like medical malpractice, homeowners’ insurance, commercial auto and InsurTechs. In the past, I covered debt and capital markets as well as distressed companies and bankruptcies.
M: That’s cool! How did you come to this particular career path?
F: I really just stumbled onto financial journalism. Funnily enough, I landed my last position at a company called Debtwire in a very roundabout way. I applied for a position but didn’t get the job. They said they would keep my resume on file and then nearly six months later, someone from the company reached out to me because they were forming a new team. I interviewed and got it. For the position I’m currently in, someone from the company reached out to me on LinkedIn. I interviewed and got it.
I like talking to people, and I like writing, so I think I found my calling. I like the excitement of reporting something that isn’t out there. I like feeling like an expert in a field and being able to really know something inside out. I like that I learn something every day.
M: Wow, I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but that’s awesome. Does that mean you also studied journalism in school?
F: Yes, I have a BA in Journalism and Anthropology from NYU and an associate’s degree from Georgia Perimeter College in Journalism/Professional Writing. I went to a community college for my first two years in college and then transferred to NYU. I would like to get a master’s degree. In what? We’ll see.
M: Ok, so I’m seeing Georgia, I’m seeing NYU. Where did you grow up and what brought you to NYC and where you are now?
F: Well, I was born in India and I was four when my family moved from India to Atlanta. I honestly don’t remember much from that time, just that we lived with extended family for a short period while my parents got settled. I have an older sister and a younger brother. I remember that my house was never quiet growing up. It still isn’t when I go home every now and then. My family is still in Atlanta. I try to go back home several times a year, usually for a weekend, but with hybrid work, sometimes for a week or so.
Then I moved to New York for college almost eight years ago. I’ve lived in Chinatown, Kips Bay, Upper West Side and now I live alone in Brooklyn, Prospect Park South.
M: Ooooh! I love that area! What are some of your favorite things about the neighborhood?
F: My favorite spot in my neighborhood is probably the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It’s beautiful and a really great place to just walk around. Second to that is probably my rooftop, so peaceful and serene.
M: That sounds lovely. So what are some things you like to do outside of theater?
F: I love Bollywood dancing! I’ve taken a couple of Bollywood classes. A few of my favorite instructors in New York to take class with are Rohit Gijare, Tushita Shrivastav and Vini Hazari.
I’m also a big fan of rom-com books (shoutout Emma Lord because I always read her books in a day). I am also a habitual TV show binger? I have a few shows that I know all of the lines by heart such as Friends and Gilmore Girls.
M: I hear good things about Gilmore Girls. Is there a favorite episode of Gilmore Girls that you recommend?
F: Hmmm…I don’t think I could choose just one. Some of my favorite Gilmore Girls episodes are “Those Are Strings, Pinocchio”, “Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “You Jump, I Jump, Jack”.
M: I love dedication to a passion! Even (or especially) if it’s for Gilmore Girls!
Ok, to wrap up, I have some rapid fire questions. Try not to overthink these too much!
- What is something you’ve done recently for the first time?
I’ve been doing personal training for the last few months and really enjoy it.
- What makes you happiest right now?
To be honest, I loved being at the Dance Out rehearsal. It just makes me happy being there.
- What superpower would you want if you could have any super power?
I would want the power to teleport. How amazing would it be to travel without flying and jet lag.
- What’s your favorite stage show?
My all-time favorite might be To Kill a Mockingbird. I think it was a beautiful adaptation. Favorite musical is Wicked. I always cry.
- What’s your favorite food?
Indian food is my ultimate comfort food, but outside of that noodles and potatoes. The kind of each depends on the day.
- What’s your favorite karaoke song?
Anything BTS, Empire State of Mind or anything else nostalgic
- What’s your dream role?
Elphaba (Wicked) or Angelica (Hamilton)
- What’s your favorite way to spend a sunday? (when there is no rehearsal 🙂
Walking around the city, hanging out with friends. If I’m feeling like more of a recharge day, then staying home and binging TV and cooking.
- What’s your zodiac sign and what’s the most “sign” thing about you?
Leo, and I love performing, shocking right? Also, I’m loyal to a fault.
- What is a piece of advice you’d give to an AWT Newbie?
This is unlike any other group you’ll find. There is always someone who is feeling what you’re feeling. You’re not alone.