GREAT BARRINGTON — It wasn’t your typical evening of theater in the Berkshires. The instructions on the play’s flier sounded almost like those of a 1990s-era outlaw rave: Assemble in a certain parking lot, where organizers will appear and lead you, on foot, to the undisclosed location of the festivities. On the third and final night of producer-director Pooja Prema’s “Isis-Chernobyl,” about 100 theatergoers assembled in that Housatonic parking lot. Guides appeared and walked them over to a nearby warehouse, where each attendee signed a liability waiver before strolling through the first floor to the outdoor site of the play, beneath a railroad overpass.
Based on ancient Egyptian myths and a vision of the end of the world, the show was part theater, part dance, with an improvised cello accompaniment thrown in for good measure. “When people come to one of my things they don’t know what the hell they’re getting into,” admits Prema, 30, reflecting on the 2012 production. “It strikes a chord and it has a niche here, but at the same time it’s not the standard. People are expecting a much more comfortable experience than what I give them.” This ethos was reflected in the one amenity offered. At intermission, audience members were poured hot cups of “uncertain-tea.”
-from The Boston Globe, Jeremy Goodwin (Isis-Chernobyl '12)
Haven't been to a show this original in a long time! The use of space, actors and story were truly refreshing and it managed to pull off that almost impossible task of being both serious and fun! I can't wait for the next production. 'll be in the front row. -Nicki Wilson, theater director (Isis-Chernobyl '12)
I enjoyed the whole event of it, from waiting in the parking lot to watching the actors run up the path with their piece of cloth, to walking through the village back to my car. And great, sumptuous language - a feast. It was also wonderfully well-carried by all those who shared in creating it – an inspiring spirit of collaboration and participation and carrying.
- David Anderson, artistic director of WTD Theatre, Hudson NY (Isis-Chernobyl '12)
Isis-Chernobyl was a remarkably original shared experience that magically transformed our everyday surroundings into theatre that awed and inspired. The Berkshires is home to a lot of creative expression but this raw, homespun courageous endeavor took our breath away on a summer eve. -Denise Barack (Isis-Chernobyl '12)
Pooja Prema brings a certain raw, ritualistic and magical perspective to her theatrical work. They are alchemical experiences in which the audience is transformed by the unexpected, the fantastical, the mythical and the sacred - all held within the crucible of her extraordinary creativity and imagination. She challenges her audiences to take a risk, to step into the unfamiliar and unexpected, and to intimately engage with the performance as an enlivening experience. I am captivated by the rich depths of her work. -Amber Chand
I wanted to thank you for a most wondrous experience saturday! I really enjoyed the play on every level, it has been in my thoughts, waking and dreaming, since. I thought the location was superb, and it was brilliant to have the audience shift perspectives, not only for the logistical necessity but also i thought it was a great way to keep everyone fully engaged and wondering what happens next! The poetic monologues were captivating, everyone did a great job with their characters, and the subject matter, delicate as it was, delivered passionately and with humor and joy. Bravo! -Tim M (Isis-Chernobyl '12)
I was taken to another dimension last night...one of beauty, grief, aloneness, joy, life and death. Thank you for the journey. I am of Irish background and so much of the universality of your work made me remember Synge and women waiting for the return of family from the sea on the Aran Islands. Traveled to isolated seaside in Japan too. It opened my thoughts to past connections. So very powerful. Thank you from my heart. -Gail Ryan (Solidão '13)
Enchanted by the masks, how they were animated by the way you moved. Trickster, magician, crone. The gift of a seed...what kind of seed? Pouring water as a mythic act, with such presence, intention. Water, fresh and salt, the ocean itself... the fire, the door. The cloths and clothes. The whispering of secrets. Your body, gestures, masks all spoke so eloquently. I felt that I was admitted to another world.
- Billie C. (Solidão) -
The old woman: so filled with love of life she lights the fires, gives seeds of hope to all present, offers kisses, jests, compassion, love, a little lusty at times, teasing. She has lived her long life and held onto the magic of the experiences she has journeyed through. Is she the same woman as the youthful protagonist? The mask was delightful and your elderly moves artistic.
The ritual mask. To me the water, it echoes of the Itza of the Maya -- blood, sweat, tears, menses, semen, saliva all the bodily fluids - sacrificing some as a bridge between mortals and the god (goddess).
The dreams: whispers are dealing with the sacrifice she has made to stay behind, keep a safe haven, light the fire. It is the fire within her that is the haven. Waiting, watching, hoping, despairing. Dreaming of her husband's struggle in the sea. You portrayed it as a vertical dance, so beautiful, so delicately encompassing. Solitude is not for everyone, but can bring an inner strength as we see in the third dream. With the experience of surrender embedded within she can let go. -Patricia Parkins (Solidão '13)
Prema's production last month, was a fanatically detailed performance/installation at an 1865 Pittsfield mansion, the longtime site of a women’s club. Audience members wandered through a celebration of the female stages of life, observing vignettes like a pair of young lovers teasingly exchanging each other’s clothing in a stairwell, and an elderly foursome playing cards.
-from The Boston Globe, Jeremy Goodwin (Rites of Passage '13)
Thank you for creating a space to feel vulnerable & be deliberate with each emotion & experience.
(Rites of Passage: 20/20 Vision '21)
The abundance, voluptuous spirit of healing, self-hood, sisterhood- so generous, healed + healing OUR FUTURE + OUR PAST + OUR PRESENT. Thank you each deeply for your Love. (Rites of Passage: 20/20 Vision '21)
I took my 8 year old daughter and it (Rites of Passage: 20/20 Vision) was probably the most powerful experience we’ve ever shared together.
We left feeling inspired, empowered, connected, in a trance-like state of deep reverence and gratitude. Thank you for nourishing us with this indescribably beautiful and sacred experience. (Rites of Passage: 20/20 Vision '21)
Working with Pooja was a pure act of ArtLove; a journey both deeply Personal and generously Universal. Pooja gave my words and actions a context, a life of their own, a necessary reason to be in the world and the world will never be the same again.
Transformation. Sacred. Necessary. -Meg Agnew
Working with Rogue Angel allowed me to tap into cerebral and physical territory that I had long forgotten or had never known.
It was truly a thrilling and enlightening experience. - Rob Allen
When you work with Pooja, you will not receive a script at the beginning and begin working scenes. Pooja devises her magical ensemble work in large part from the material her actors bring her in improvisations and personal writings. When I worked with her it felt like equal parts difficult, intimate theater work, the best therapy I could ask for, and a deepening of my own spiritual practice. Working with Pooja is kind of like the final verse of the Hokey Pokey: You put your whole self in and you shake it all about! -Sarah Hardcastle
Collaborating with Pooja on Isis - Chernobyl was a powerful, challenging trip; a wildly satisfying adventure stream that I stepped into, an artistic cliff that I agreed to leap from at a time of political disaffection, worldwide anxiety and profound personal crisis. A group of us - strangers, really - hip- deep in our own private struggles and losses, agreed to meet in the warm light of Pooja's encouraging presence to piece together silken scraps of memory, poetry, bloodstains, mythology, movement, dreams, time, breath, love, power, fear, sex, grief, family, heartache and hope...to see if we could collectively take wing. We did!!! - Nancy Rothman
I am eternally grateful for such a vast and profound window into the collective experience that is womanhood. The effects of this project, both personally and collectively, have continued to reverberate long after its completion."
-Kristin Grippo, Rites of Passage 2013 Cure-ator & Performer
Rites of Passage was exactly that for me. I came in knowing that I was in a deep healing process and that this project was going to push me forward in it, but I had no idea how or what that really meant. While at Rites of Passage I felt like my truest self; stepping into roles and holding space in ways that called me forward and required me to stretch. I know I am different now, and the energy around me in my life is different too. I really do feel like I stepped through a portal and came out with a new sense of myself and this next chapter of my life. The sharing, the witnessing, the profoundly powerful rituals, the sisterhood I didn’t even know I had been missing, these things have changed me in the most beautiful and heart-wrenching ways, just as a rite of passage should.
- Amy Alaman, Rites of Passage: 20/20 Vision Cure-ator & Artist Support Person
I had the opportunity to see myself very clearly through the community. We worked as a mirror for each other, we saw our strengths, wounds and gifts. I was able to understand that I am whole - that my love for art, music and healing have the same mission in my life, and that they are tools to achieve my purpose. I found the community that I always dreamt about - full of empathy and unconditional love. The environment was perfect to heal, rediscover myself and open myself even more to the gifts of life. I am a different woman after this experience. I am very grateful for having been part of this beautiful project. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
-Marina Dominguez, Rites of Passage: 20/20 Vision Pro-Creative Team
Rites of Passage reminded me that it's possible to have a liberated community where we can be open, vulnerable, and witnessed with love. I am forever grateful the healing experience and the community I now have!"
-Devyn Harris, 20/20 Vision Intern Support Person & Performer