Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 409: Anu Yadav
photo by Walter Dallas
Hometown: Cedar Rapids, IA
Current Town: Washington, DC
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on a solo play called Meena's Dream. I'm performing a work-in-progress of it at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center December 3 & 4, 2011 as part of a showcase of solo plays being developed by 5 other artists in the University of Maryland's MFA in Performance program.
It follows the journey of an 8 year-old Hindu Indian American girl named Meena. Every night she has the same dream. Lord Krishna is pleading with her to help him battle the Worry Machine and thereby save the earth from destruction. It's a fantastical tale, weaving in and out of Meena's everyday world, a child's attempt to cope with things in her real life that she can't control. But it's also about a vulnerable God who must realize he needs help and learns from a young child's courage.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Growing up in Iowa, I thought I was invisible. I saw my world as divided into roughly two categories, 'Indian' (which, to me, meant regular people) and 'American' (which meant white people). I saw 'Americans' as these strange people with strange ways I just didn't understand. Indian people were home to me, people who didn't look at me funny, or go uncomfortably silent when I entered a room. I remember going to a white neighborhood family's house, and as soon as it was dinnertime, my friend told me I had to leave, since they weren't expecting me. It shocked me, because it was assumed in my family and community that guests were always welcome at the dinner table. In fact they were encouraged to stay. I automatically attributed it to some aspect of American culture I would never understand. I think experiencing this kind of 'unbelonging' really shaped my desire and commitment to theater that represents voices that aren't listened to, but should be -- working class people, women, young people, people of color and varying ability.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would drastically reduce the cost of living, and in doing so, dramatically change the economy of theater. Housing prices drop, and suddenly rehearsal space is easier to secure, as well as performance venues. If people didn't need to work so much, then we could have more time to actually create together, get to know each other through artistic collaboration, and use art as a set of creative processes to help solve many thorny problems. It could help open up the field for who gets to write, produce and perform theater work. There would be more time for relationships across a lot of divides to occur and wonderful things could happen like improv on every street corner. Theater is very segregated as an art form in the sense of who sees theater (not very many people), and who gets to afford to create and produce it, and how. I think a lot of that is driven by the history of patronage -- the economy of theater. Artists historically had patrons, and created work based on what their patrons wanted to fund. That's a very limited audience to serve. That hasn't really changed much, as far as grant funding replacing the patron of yesterday. It's the reality, and yes, it's more complicated than the black and white portrait I'm laying out. But funding massively shapes the limits of what can happen creatively -- how long people can work together, who, content, etc. Most artists I know today have more than one job, don't have healthcare, and just struggle to survive economically. Yet at the same time, artists are held up as the darlings of cultural development in newly gentrifying areas, to attract economic investment. It's a set up in a way. If I could change cost of living, art would thrive in an entirely different way. Of course, there are a lot of other things I'd like to change after that, but that's where I'd start.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Mala Hashmi, Chen Alon, Marty Pottenger, Dael Orlandersmith, Jana Natya Manch Theatre Company, Appalshop, Living Stage Theatre Company.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater about people whose voices are not represented on the stage. Theater that shatters stereotypes by creating indepth characters I can empathize with, root for, and who are flawed too. Because after all, stereotyping is simply lack of character development. Theater that doesn't leave me feeling hopeless about humanity, but infuses beauty, life and an authentic sense of hope, while not shying away from the hardship.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Just write, write write. Value every idea you have, and carry a notepad (or smartphone) around with you to jot down any seemingly random bits of story throughout the day. It can be like an 'Ideas Vessel' that you can look to when you feel stuck in a particular piece you're working on. And don't wait for people to take you seriously. Produce your own stuff if you need to, assemble your team and play! People will notice you the more you value your own creativity and share it.
A: If you are in DC Dec 3 & 4 come to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and see my solo work-in-progress. On Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/events/128524267253323/