The Playwright’s Playground: Part 1: ‘Meena’s Dream – Process and Performance: An Interview with Anu Yadav’ by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins

Female theatre artists make up more than 50 percent of those involved in the theatre, yet the number of female playwrights being produced is dramatically lower. Welcome back to the conversation, and The Playwright’s Playground – an in-depth Playwright interview series with female playwrights in the D.C. theatre community.

In this continuing Series, I will interview and introduce DC Metro Theater Arts readers to the many talented playwrights in the DC/MD/VA area to learn about their writing process, their inspirations, their motivations, and struggles to write and produce their art.

Anu Yadav. Photo courtesy of Forum Theatre.

Anu Yadav. Photo courtesy of Jati Lindsay.

This month it is a joy to share an interview with Anu Yadav, the award-winning playwright and solo performer of Meena’s Dream.  Anu holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Performance from University of Maryland, College Park, and she is an 11-time recipient of a DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities grant.  Anu has performed nationally and internationally, including Studio Safdar in Delhi and the National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Beijing and is a Forum Ensemble Member. This is the closing weekend of Meenas’s Dream, a Forum Theatre production at Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, MD, that runs until Sunday.

Part 1: Anu Yadav discusses the inspiration, music, and creative motivations for Meena’s Dream, and she shares the challenges of performing an energetic, multi-character, one-woman show.

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Sydney-Chanele: You teach. You act. You write. What skilled talent gives you the most pleasure?

Anu: What gives me most pleasure is moments from a number of these. I really enjoy acting onstage when the writing is something I connect to, whether it’s my words or someone else’s. I don’t really enjoy the process of writing so much as the product. I find the writing process difficult and isolating, but sometimes there are incredible highs of feeling very free and unimpeded. And with teaching, when I can tell that I am making a positive impact, it gives me more motivation and pride that my students and I are making connections together.

Is there a skill that comes more easily, most naturally for you?

Acting comes more easily to me. I just naturally, instinctively tell stories and take on characters.

Did you write this play originally as a vehicle to perform in, or did it evolve into that over time? Why did you want to star in Meena’s Dream?

I originally envisioned this as a film. I do want to adapt it to a play that multiple actors can perform in as well. I chose the solo format because it’s what I have been trained in, what I know how to do, and it’s also a simpler vehicle that can travel on the road more easily. My hope is that it can be performed in a variety of ways, me with the musicians live, or me with the soundtrack, and I’d like to use that as a way to gather resource around taking Meena’s Dream into other forms. I like acting too much to not want to be in it this first go around.

Meena’s Dream is an imaginative, evocative adventure that has been embraced by great audience reception and strong reviews in its limited run. Your performance is extraordinary. Please explain for our DCMTA readers the story of Meena’s Dream.

Meena’s Dream is about a nine-year-old girl whose mother is sick and can’t afford the medicine she needs. Meena has nightmares, but she also has dreams that Hindu God Lord Krishna seeks her help to fight the evil ‘Worry Machine,’ a mysterious force that threatens to destroy the universe. She has to face her fears, and use her imagination not just to cope or escape, but to bravely keep envisioning a world where all of us can have enough.

How long was the entire playwriting process, and how many drafts did it take for this play to come together?

So all in all, I worked on it for three years, starting officially the summer of 2011, and the musicians joined a little less than a year later.  I’ve gone through countless drafts, but presenting them as staged readings really helped sharpen and shape it, involving a larger community, as well as the particular guidance of such people as Caleen Jennings, Walter Dallas, Faedra Carpenter, Ashley Smith, Paige Hernandez, Anjna Swaminathan, and Patrick Crowley – in addition to my good-natured friends who humored my obsession.

What is the role and importance of music in this production?

How did the collaboration with the musicians (Anjna Swaminathan [violin], Rajna Swaminathan [piano/percussion] and Sam McCormally [piano and guitar/vocals]) come about?

Music is so important to this. What’s interesting is that this play, in a way, is a nod to Bharatanatyam, a classical dance form originating in India, in that it is solo, I embody all the characters. Both Anjna and Rajna perform regularly for Indian dance companies such as Ragamala, based in Minneapolis, and Sam has scored films by our mutual good friend and filmmaker Ellie Walton, so all three musicians are used to connecting their music to a narrative in another medium.

I invited all three of them together, because I respected their work, and I wanted to see if they would be willing to collaborate on this project. All three bring a vast experience and different skills and styles that I thought would complement the hybrid cultural nature of this piece – about an Indian heritage girl growing up in the United States. I grew up in the Midwest, and my childhood musically was informed by the sounds they specifically bring. The music each of them play feels very much like home to me.

The text and story very much drives and informs the music. But what is fascinating is how  the process became more like a conversation between me as actor/mover and them as musicians. They are listening very intently to me and watching the timing of what I do onstage. And what has been great is how I also started to listen to the rhythm, timing of their music, and allowed that to inform my own acting and movement. It’s been a new exploration for me.

How autobiographical are the characters and situations in Meena’s Dream?

It’s definitely informed by my own experiences, but really my own life served more as a point of departure for this fictional story. I definitely relate to Meena’s fears and childhood. I got made fun of as a child for being different, I also had friends who loved me but didn’t understand that I was Hindu and not Christian like them. My father passed away when I was 12, and that definitely affected me. I had a recurring dream that Lord Krishna sat on my bookshelf watching me sleep. But everything else I made up.  That was great to do, because I had for so long done nonfiction-based writing and performance, that it was nice to remember that I do actually have an imagination!

Why a nine year-old girl?

I chose the number 9 because it’s a powerful and divine number in Hinduism, but also because it makes sense that the main character is a young person.  She is young enough to still hold onto a big picture of what the world should be like, and old enough to verbally question it and interact with adults on her own. As we grow older, I think it’s too easy to just be complacent and give up our hopes and dreams about how our society should be organized. To just say “that’s the way it is,” or to fight rigidly for what it should be losing sight of our own joy and celebration for how we want it to be. It’s important the main hero is a young person exactly for this reason.

Talk to me about the challenges as an actor performing night after night?

I have to remember to take care of myself, to rest. It’s a very emotionally and physically demanding play, to be on stage jumping around, balancing on one foot sometimes, questioning the existence of God, for nearly 90 minutes. The characters all go through a lot of highs and lows, and I have to be present with all of it, while still be released and relaxed in my voice.

Anu Yadav in ‘Meena’s Dream.’ Photo by Forum Theatre.

Anu Yadav in ‘Meena’s Dream.’ Photo by Jahi Lindsay.

Your head (and your heart) must be full. How do you decompress after a show and ready yourself for the next day?

Still working on that! I am both exhausted but can’t really sleep immediately, after I perform. So I end up on Facebook, and then sleep a lot. But I’d like to do more self-care routines around stretching,  breathing, and exercise.

Why do you write? What inspires you?

I write to remember myself, and refine my thinking. A lot of things and people inspire me. Authenticity in people, vulnerability in people inspires me.

Why should people buy tickets to Meena’s Dream, and what do you hope they take away from the journey?

People should buy a ticket because it’s awesome theatre, and everything in this play has been made with a lot of love and courage, starting from the work I began three years ago, extending all the way to the compelling music, lighting, set, costume, direction, dramaturgy and choreography. I really believe that when a process is filled with love and hope, it emanates in the product. I hope that people come and take away from this the powerful reminder of our own significance as individuals to effect positive change in our own lives and that of the people around us. We were all born beautiful dreamers, despite any harshness that came at us as young people, and acting on that can only lead to a continued transformation of our society where everyone has their basic needs.

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On Monday, In Part 2, Anu Yadev talks in depth about her playwriting and creative journey with Meena’s Dream, discovering her playwright’s voice, and offers her thoughts on what Theatres can do to nurture and increase diversity.

Meena’s Dream plays through January 18th, 2014 at Forum Theatre— Round House Theatre Silver Spring— 8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD 20910,  to purchase tickets call Brown Paper Tickets (800) 838-3006, or buy online.

There are three remaining performances of Meena’s Dream:
Tonight, Friday, 1/17 @ 8 pm
Tomorrow, Saturday, 1/18 @ 2 pm
Tomorrow, Saturday, 1/18 @ 8 pm

LINKS

The Playwright’s Playground: Part II: ‘Creative Consciousness: An Interview with – Anu Yadav’ by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins.

Help Fund Meena’s Dream.
Socialize Meena’s Dream.

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