May 2018

By Sydney Bozeman

Something that remains difficult for playwrights is to write a storyline that directly relates to current events. However, James Anthony Tyler’s Pranayama candidly grasps the emotions leading up to the 2016 presidential election among a diverse class of individuals. With this performance being based around such a monumental point in our history, viewers can expect to resonate with these distinct, familiar characters.

A selection of the 2018 Ingram New Works Festival, Pranayama is the story of how a Bikram Yoga Studio in reawakened Harlem, New York City becomes the surprising location for neighborhood community. As these various personalities come together, they learn to work through their struggles while pursuing peace in their own lives. Simultaneously, they must deal with the impending presidential election and the racial/social contentions that accompany it.

I was given the opportunity to interview James Anthony Tyler about key points from his production.

Why did you decide on a Bikram Yoga Studio to be the center setting of your story?

I’ve been going to Bikram on and off for 13 years, and I’ve always thought it would be an interesting setting for a play. For a while, I went to a studio that was located on 116th Street in Harlem, so that is why that is the exact location for the studio in the play. I also thought it would be the perfect setting to really get inside of the heads of a group of diverse characters, because I have never taken a class where I was able to completely shut off my mind when I’m in class. So, by setting this play in a Bikram Yoga Studio I was really able to explore both conflicts that people have with other people, and conflicts that people have within themselves.  

Did the results of the 2016 presidential election influence you in your decision to write this play?

Yes, very much so. I really was determined to capture the feeling of New York City on the day after the election. It was one of the most eerie feeling days that I’ve ever experienced in the city. I had class at Juilliard on the Wednesday after the election, and I remember how quiet it was while I waited on the platform for the train. It was also quiet once I was sitting on the train heading to class. New York City is never quiet. The scene after the election is an amalgamation of that feeling and various things that I heard people say the day after, the week after, etc.

Your characters felt very life-like. Were they based off of anybody that you knew in real life?

All of the characters are based off of people that I know, and they’re also all based off of me. I always put a piece of myself into every single character that I write. It’s my attempt to make sure that I’m showing the full humanity of all of the characters and my way of trying to be fair to everyone’s humanity.

Pranayama was performed for the first time on Saturday, May 12th, 2018 through the Ingram New Works Festival. This play will continue to be in development for the foreseeable future.

The 2018 Ingram New Works Festival is still available through May 19th at Nashville State Community College. For more information, visit http://ingramnewworks.com/

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