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PREVIEW: Pooja Prema’s solo performance ‘A Lot to Ask’ explores personal politics

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By Wednesday, Jul 20, 2016 Arts & Entertainment

Housatonic — For Berkshires-based artist Pooja Prema, artistic director of Rogue Angel Theatre, art is an instrument of storytelling. Prema graduated from Bard College at Simon’s Rock in 2003, and has since found her niche as an artist in all senses of the word, producing works from poetry and music to theatrical performances. In her latest solo performance, “A Lot to Ask: A Poem of politics, love, and resistance” Prema marries her passions for anthropology and activism with art by infusing Indian storytelling traditions with her own artistic inspiration. “I make theater and invite people to come in hopes that they will leave feeling more connected to the community,” Prema said.

Pooja Prema, at the entrance to her home in Housatonic. Photo: Isa Goldberg

Pooja Prema, at the entrance to her home in Housatonic. Photo: Isa Goldberg

Prema was born in Zambia, Africa, but grew up in Kerala, India until she immigrated to the U.S. Her experiences attending Indian ritualistic opportunities for communities to come together profoundly influenced her medium of storytelling. “In India, theater means everything; dance, ritual, music. Here, dance, music, and theater are separate,” Prema said. By combining multiple artistic modes like in Indian performances, Prema is able to engage her audiences through a variety of meaningful channels. “I couldn’t do it any other way,” she said.

Prema’s status as an immigrant has also colored her narrative as an artist. Through her next performance, Prema seeks to inspire a global sense of community in her audience by emphasizing humanity as our common denominator. “We hear about the news, but we don’t have a direct link. I want to encourage people to go to that place of discomfort,” Prema said. She understands the human story to be one of migration and of being uprooted, the results of which have caused fear of the “other.” She hopes that the performance will address those broader questions, and that it will lessen the audience’s sense of isolation from current events affecting humanity. “Modern life is less connected — that’s why ritual theater is so important,” she said.

973049_origThis Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night (July 22, 23 and 24), Prema will continue her fifth season of Rogue Angel Theater with a solo-performance in Housatonic. As for the performance’s contents, Prema is ambitious. “I can’t address everything in this play, but I will try my best to include issues sometimes overtly, sometimes suggestively,” she said. Prema hopes that by coming to her performance, audience members will have a chance to engage with universal human issues from which the community is likely isolated. Prema adds that in a modern world where technology has replaced many face-to-face interactions, bringing people together to engage in a reflective, artistic performance has the power to recreate a lost sense of human togetherness. “This is community-based activism addressing local and global issues in a way that’s not just talking,” Prema said.

In all of Prema’s works, she includes a piece of her own ancestral history. When Prema conjures up ideas for new performances, the thoughts come in pieces, she says. The location where the performance takes place is also deliberate and meaningful. “This is a lot to ask, to ask people to think about things,” Prema said. “You are being asked to be present in a way that you are not normally asked to in Western theater, but you are in Indian theater.” The ultimate location for this weekend’s performance is a secret, but Prema will meet her audience at Housie Corner Market, 226 Pleasant Street, at 8 p.m. each night before the performance and escort them to the location.

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