14 Apr 2021

New theatre show brings south Asian voices to the stage

From First Up, 5:11 am on 14 April 2021

A new show written during lockdown explores familiar relationships, gender norms and intergenerational conflict, bringing south Asian stories to the stage.

Sananda Chatterjee

Director and curator Sananda Chatterjee. Photo: supplied by ATC

First World Problems 3.0  is showing for two weeks at the Basement theatre in Tāmaki Makaurau. It has been produced by Prayas Theatre, New Zealand's largest south Asian theatre collective.

Prayas Theatre has been bringing south Asian shows to New Zealand for 16 years, but this time south Asian Kiwis have been enlisted to tell their stories.

First World Problems 3.0 is four newly-scripted, bite-sized plays and two new short devised works. This is the third iteration of the play, which had two sold-out seasons in 2018 and 2019. 

Director and curator Sananda Chatterjee said the local voices and stories were much needed. 

"We were only telling stories that were written elsewhere and not covering the aspect that was home grown, more and more of us who were in the spaces who were coming back to Prayas - like myself - were not being reflected in those stories and it was just that simple.

"The local flavour was missing."

All the plays were written during lockdown, Chatterjee said it brought out common themes. 

"The four-scripted works all but one - I want to say because that's the disrupter - are about memory, are about reflection."

"And you can imagine everybody sitting in lockdown over zoom, you know, just like having so much time and space. For some people it's fine. Like for myself I just baked, and I watched TV and for others their creative minds went to dark places."

"A lot of our writers are also migrants you know [their] families [are in] far flung places. India, which we haven't be able to go to... There's all that stuff, so when you sit with that in a space where there's a lot of nothing I assume that, that's why they all veer towards a certain sort of stylistic content."

She said it's all about making space for the south Asian community.

"Prayas is important because we make the room to tell those south Asian stories. And over the recent past we've also started collaborating with other groups who sit in the margins. I love the idea of the margins just shaking into the centre of the book."

Many of the cast members aren't formally trained or professional actors. 

Sananda Chatterjee said there is a lot of room for learning and development.

"This is what First World Problems is about you know, we train, there's development for everybody. We have internships going in the production side of things.

"If somebody came through the door at the auditions, we tried to fit them in, that's the idea. There's no like 'oh you're not trained.' "

Actor Jehangir Homavazir spent the past three years studying acting at Toi Whakaari and this was his first project since graduating last year. He said the cast of the show was like a family.  

"I think my favourite part is being surrounded in a community of other brown faces and with brown people backing you as well because the writers are also all South Asian and Pacific artists, so it's wonderful being in that environment and seeing how we're pushing this out more and more into the world."

Actor and founding member Sudeepta Vyas said this show and the work that Prayas does is incredibly important for their community.

"We just felt there wasn't enough cultural performing arts representation, you know what usually goes for Indian culture so we wanted to bring quality work to New Zealand and share it with the wider audience and that's why we perform only in English, so we can get to every single person in this country."

"We are New Zealanders too, we all share a similar culture which has evolved over the years, so I think it's nice to know about each other and it's very important for us to be able to express without any fear or worrying about what the reactions are going to be. And also, we need that space to perform."

She said the upcoming show was unique.

"The whole thing is a bit serious a bit emotional, somewhat risqué and a little bit funny so there's something for everyone in this show."

First World Problems 3.0 is running from the 13 - 24 April at the Basement theatre in Tāmaki Makaurau.