Meena’s Dream closed two weeks ago at Forum Theatre at Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland, but the artistic team and D.C. audiences want the dream to live on. The Meena’s Dream team (Anu, Anjna, Rajna, Sam, Ronee, and more) are raising money to take Meena’s Dream on tour. The funds will go toward recording a music album of the musicians’ work as well as a soundtrack for performer and playwright Anu Yadav to perform to, a full-length video, and travel, housing, and publicity for the first touring production.
Meena’s Dream is a one-woman play about a nine-year-old girl named Meena whose mother is sick and struggling to pay rent and bills. She tells Meena stories of the Hindu God Lord Krishna to stop her from worrying. Throughout Meena’s Dream, Meena struggles to conquer her fears and insecurities and banish the voice in her head saying, “You are not enough.”
“What’s next?” I asked Yadav over coffee, “I’d love to make it a film,” she said. She joked about making it animated, but I wouldn’t dismiss the idea.
Anu Yadav: Artist, Activist and Human Being
The Forensics Team in high school opened up the world of solo performance for Yadav. At a competition with two solo performance categories, comedy and drama, she wondered, “How is someone going to be serious playing two people?” (Yadav plays a dozen or so in Meena’s Dream.)
“I started thinking that I wanted to see people like me onstage.” She participated in a three-week autobiographical performance workshop with the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia because the description said, “You don’t have to be an artist.” “I always thought of ‘artist’ as a privileged word. I thought, ‘Who am I to claim that title?’”
Yadav went to India, Brazil, and South Africa on a Watson Fellowship to study theatre for social change before getting her M.F.A. in Performance from the University of Maryland at College Park where Meena’s Dream was developed.
“How do you handle being so vulnerable onstage?” I asked. “I wouldn’t have been able to write a piece like this a few years back,” she said, “but after years of self-reflection, I can now ask myself ‘Where do my fears come from?’” A recurring theme in Meena’s Dream is battling internal before external demons. Putting yourself out there as an artist takes strength and emotional security. “The artist’s ultimate fear is that you don’t have your mind,”says Yadav. “Your art can’t be the only signifier of your worth as a person.”
Yadav’s life parallels Meena’s in many ways: A moving scene in Meena’s Dream involves a pharmacist giving Meena’s mother medication for just a few dollars. After once rushing to the ER for problems with her vision, Yadav was told she had bronchitis and an eye infection in both eyes. She walked to CVS in tears and was endlessly questioned by the pharmacist about her health insurance and financial situation – each question brought on more tears. Finally realizing how dire the situation was, the pharmacist gave her medication for just a few dollars.
Yadav once viewed herself as an ally for those in need before realizing her connection ran deeper than she thought – her father died when she was 12, leaving her family to survive on Social Security. Audience members frequently tell her that Meena’s Dream “made them realize things about their parents,” says Yadav, “Parents tell us things to protect us.”
“Do artists have an obligation to take a stance?” I asked. “Yes. Taking a stance takes courage. You have to be ready when the day comes.” Here Yadav pauses – “But maybe it’s not one day.” Speaking up in the face of seemingly small injustices every day turns an ordinary individual into an activist. “When you do it, you realize ‘I didn’t die!’ I feel like people sometimes think they’re going to die if they do it.”
Who could benefit from seeing a touring production of Meena’s Dream?
“Children and children within adults,” says Anjna Swaminathan, Musician, Composer, Music Director, and Dramaturg of Meena’s Dream, adding that kids from privileged backgrounds are often unaware that situations like Meena’s even exist.
Swaminathan worked with fellow musicians and composers Rajna Swaminathan and Sam McCormally to compose the score. “Our hardest challenge was figuring out a language to speak in,” says Swaminathan. The three musicians come from vastly different backgrounds: Anjna was trained in South Indian Carnatic classical and Western classical violin, Sam performs in indie rock band Ugly Purple Sweater and frequently writes for films, and Rajna (who acted as the “musical liaison”) is experienced in South Indian and Western music and intercultural and cross-over work.
Their work began with a three-hour improvisational rehearsal – the three pieces they composed at this rehearsal remain integral parts of the score. “Mere collaboration is a cultural and political statement,” says Swaminathan. Yadav, who describes their sound as feeling like “home,” often worked on the script or performed excerpts in the corner of the room while they composed.
What can we do?
“Stop putting down people who are in the arts,” says Swaminathan, “It’s great to appreciate the arts and have the arts as a hobby, but we can appreciate the arts and realize that they’re not just entertainment. We’re not Miley Cyrus or Robin Thicke. There are artists out there who are trying to change the world.”
“Support local artists who are doing original work. Affordable housing and basic human rights,” says Yadav. Living without basic necessities, let alone the funds to buy a theatre ticket, make the arts the very elitist space that made Yadav reluctant to claim the term “artist” in the first place. Why are there empty homes and people who are homeless? Why are there sick people without medicine and medicine in the dumpster? How can the arts be a tool for social change if only the wealthy can afford tickets? (For Meena’s Dream and every production this season, Forum Theatre sets aside half of its tickets as ‘Pay What You Want’ at the door.)
Do you have a dream?
We live in a world where most dreams bubble up but never burst to the surface of their makers’ minds. “Accept things the way they are,” we’re told. Numbers and history tie us down – things have always been this way and so they must go on.
But “This is my dream. I can do anything I want,” says Yadav as Meena’s mother telling Meena a story of commanding the lion in her nightmare away. Perhaps we need to start treating our lives more like our dreams.
Help fund the national tour and future life of Meena’s Dream. The campaign on Indigogo ends Tuesday, February 4 at 11:59pm.