Prayas: Indian theatre in English for all New Zealanders
New cultures on stage brings audiences together in the communities they share.
Just as Bollywood movies are increasingly reaching more diverse audiences, the Prayas Theatre Group in Auckland, New Zealand, is sharing the work of Indian playwrights with a broader audience.
The Prayas Theatre Group is a not-for-profit organization formed by Indians living in Auckland. The word ‘prayas’ literally means “an attempt” in Hindi and the group represents an attempt to reach out, share and integrate with the wider local population through theatre, music, song and dance.
Since 2005, Prayas has produced one show per year. The shows are all based on the works of noted Indian authors and playwrights but performed in English. Bringing together talent from across the diverse Indian population in Auckland, the plays discuss a range of social issues – a thief with principles, institutional double standards, meaningful yet forbidden relationships – with liberal lacings of humour and a few surprises.
Prayas has also developed its own work based on the experiences from within the community. In 2009, they created, Khoj – The Search, the story of the 12,000 kilometre journey of a young man from Colaba, Mumbai to Sandringham in Auckland. Using Canadian author Rohinton Mistry’s debut collection of stories, Tales from Firozsha Baag as their inspiration, they held a series of theatre workshops with community members to incorporate local migration stories into the script. Says one character, “New Zealand has embraced us with open arms, given us our home. But it is a pity that that we still feel we are outsiders.”
A changing city…
About two thirds of all migrants from Asia to New Zealand settle in the greater Auckland area. Between 1986 and 2006, the Asian-born population in the Auckland region increased by about 50%. In the 2006 census, there were more than 75,000 people of Indian origin in the city of Auckland.
“At Prayas we believe that initiatives have to be taken by minority communities to integrate. [With Prayas] “…our aim is to build and enhance the community’s image and to engage the wider New Zealand society,” says Amit Ohdedar, the group’s Founder-President.
The first play performed by Prayas was Habib Tanvir’s Charandas Chor, the story of a thief with principles. The show brought out more than 550 people (largely from the wider New Zealand community) for the performance. By the third production, a play called Our Street, the audience turn out had exceeded a thousand.
“The biggest success of Prayas is how it has managed to integrate with various community groups across New Zealand through the language of theatre. Emotions are universal, and Prayas and its theatre group portrayed this convincingly to an audience.” says Sudeepta Vyas, General Secretary and Producer of The Terrace (2007).
Prayas is also actively working to extend its reach and impact. The troupe itself now includes New Zealanders of various ethnicities, from South Asians, Pacific Islanders, Maori and Europeans. It is supported by numerous organizations, including the ASB Community Trust, the Asia New Zealand Foundation, Auckland City Council and Creative New Zealand.
In 2008, the Auckland City Council invited Prayas to join other ethnic arts groups to develop a play called Our Street, showcasing the city’s diversity. The Prayas contribution involved a story where two families, a North Indian and a Samoan, separately prepare for the weddings of their eldest daughters and the ensuing complications. The performance, held in the Auckland Town Hall, introduced multi-ethnic audiences to new cultures and music.
Prayas has also been recognized by the larger artistic community. In December 2010, the group was invited to perform as part of Random Acts of Christmas, an Auckland street theatre festival that included other companies from around the world. It gave Prayas the opportunity to perform for audiences that were more mainstream than their usual mix. It also allowed them to follow through on their initial inspiration: to reach out, share and integrate with the wider local population through theatre, music, song and dance.
Upcoming plays include Rabindranath Tagore’s Rakta Karabi (Red Oleander) in November 2011 and Mahasweta Devi’s Rudali in May 2012 at The Auckland Performing Centre.
Related Good Ideas:
- Leicester (United Kingdom): Asylum Dialogues
- Chicago (United States): Youth on Stage: Real People, Real Stories, Real Community
- The Hague (Netherlands): City Mondial: Looking Forward from the Past
- Oakland (United States): A Soap Opera For Success: The Grand Cafe Telenovela
- Paris (France): Narratives of Belonging
- Toronto (Canada): Diaspora Dialogues: Writing the New City
Making it Work for You:
- Theatre, music and other forms of art are all an excellent medium for diverse cultures to share stories and common themes as well as integrate with the wider community.
- Find ways to promote your events to the broader community who may may be interested but unaware of culturally specific events.
- Join larger city-wide artistic initiatives as another way to widen your audience, and bring your work into the mainstream.
For this Good Idea contact:
Amit Ohdedar, Prayas
P.O. Box 57054
Owairaka, Auckland, New Zealand,