Mental health, performance, & not giving a fuck.
Deepali Gupta (she/her) is a composer-lyricist, playwright & performer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work ranges from existential choral music to morbid pop songs to freaky little musicals.
What does “raise the female voice” mean to you?
I think it’s about amplification. I want to amplify the voices of the women around me—whether that means sharing their work with my networks, helping them make their work, or affirming and supporting them as a friend. It’s volume, and dynamics—I want us to get louder and louder over time.
There was chatter about inequality in pop music after the Grammys. How level is the playing field in musical theatre?
I know so many brilliant composers, lyricists, and bookwriters who aren’t men, who are making careers for themselves. And yet—the male gaze and the male imagination still dominate the broader landscape. Also, whiteness. Maybe musical theatre is inherently nostalgic. Maybe it’s a matter of extremes—I have to admit, I don’t pay too much attention to Broadway. Where I am, there’s a sea change happening, and I’m happy about it. I hope it reaches Broadway.
Has being a woman of color during this, ahem, “cultural moment” influenced how you sing or what you sing about?
It has definitely influenced how I sing. I used to struggle with singing in public—I stopped for a few years. It hurt. Not physically, but I would sing and then cry, or I would have to stop singing in order to go cry. I didn’t feel capable of entertaining anyone. Now, I don’t need to be entertaining. I can feel whatever pain I’m feeling and place it in my voice. I can’t hide, and I don’t want to.
Last year, you began documenting your experience with bipolar I disorder on Facebook & Instagram, posting beautifully raw poems, songs & prose. What made you decide to go radically public with your experience?
It’s strange to look back on the choices I made when I was deep into my episode. I had some weird experiences, and did some experimenting. I was reckless. I think that my recklessness gave me the momentum I needed? I also blocked and removed someone from my social media who I really needed to block and remove—finally! And then, ultimately, it was about inspiration. I felt prolific. I felt like I was discovering a new world. There was recklessness, but also a stability I had never known.
Has the process of sharing changed your relationship to mental health?
I’ve learned that keeping secrets can be dangerous. If I let a self-destructive impulse linger in my mind, it will get stronger. So instead, I let it out. It’s as easy as saying what I’m thinking out loud.
Half your playlist is for the morning, half is for the night, and every artist has one song on each. Is this a story about exploring the different sides of ourselves?
Early morning and late night are my favorite hours. They have so much potential, anything can happen, there’s a sense of discovery...so, yes! It’s about exploration! I chose two songs from each artist because I think you could spend a whole day and all night with each of their discographies, and never get bored.
How do you weave between genres of musical theatre, performance poetry, and your self-proclaimed “morbid pop”?
I try to be as unconscious of genre as possible when I start writing. I’ve ingested and absorbed so much craft in my life so far—rhyme schemes and song forms, chords and modes! All kinds of structures. I geek out about that stuff in my spare time. And then I forget it. I like following my instincts a little blindly, and having the craft be kinesthetic. The same applies to performance.
You took a chorus of volunteers into the woods and recorded an original song. What’s your advice for indie artists looking to lead collaborations like that?
That project came from this unrelenting image I had—of performers being their own audiences. I remembered playing the violin in a full orchestra, and how it felt to be inside the music—as if my head were being flooded. And how it felt to be making music that was so much larger than myself. I wanted to share in that feeling. So advice, advice! Don’t forget that you are sharing an experience. You are inviting someone else into your head. Maybe they haven’t been there before. Take care of them.
What’s your favorite writing exercise?
I like to write longhand, whatever comes to mind, without reading what I’m writing. I let myself look at things slightly out of focus, so I don’t veer off the page—but the idea is that I’m not guiding myself into a sentence, or any kind of complete thought. My hands are telling me where my mind is! It’s like playing an instrument.
Who’s one artist on your playlist we need to start following immediately, and why?
Princess Nokia. She’s perverse, in the best way. She’s virtuosic. She has range. I want to memorize her lyrics! The way she raps sounds physical, and athletic—like she’s climbing through her verse.
Deepali's Charity of the Week
The Audre Lorde Project is a community organizing center for QPOC focusing on the New York City area. They work towards social and economic justice through mobilization, education, and capacity-building efforts.