Q&A with Zia Ahmed

We asked playwright Zia Ahmed a few questions about I Wanna Be Yours – currently touring nationwide and coming to the Bush Theatre 04 December – 18 January.

Zia

1. How did the commission of I Wanna Be Yours come about?

hello – so in 2016 i saw an open call out for paines plough’s come to where i’m from which tamasha was working with them on for the london leg

you had to write a monologue about where you’re from + read it yourself no actors

this felt like doing a spoken word piece so thought why not apply?

i got picked for the north-west london event at the kiln [ then tricycle ]

read on a cool line up with writers gabriel bisset smith che walker karla williams

+ my sister too mediah ahmed

paines plough kept in touch with me after + applied for the channel 4 playwright scheme

which we got + i spent 2017 with them + this was the play i started writing as part of it

tamasha came in looking for a play for a week long rural arts tour in 2018 around various schools + village halls in north yorkshire which they co-produced with paines plough + off the back of that tour we ended up with the current tour + bush run

2. Tell us what I Wanna Be Yours is about

i wanna be yours is about haseeb + ella going through their relationship from first meeting to the present. they tell the story to and with rachael who follows their story with them + all the people + spaces they have to navigate together + apart

3. Now tell us what it’s really about! Is it a love story or a political play or both? If both how do you achieve that balance?

Emily Stott and Ragevan Vasan in I Wanna Be Yours by Zia Ahmed. Directed by Anna Himali Howard. ©The Other Richard

it’s about haseeb + ella navigating through the world as a couple + by themselves

it’s about what home means to both of them

it’s about the things they experience on their own they bring into their relationship

+ the things they experience as a couple impact them as individuals

everything is everything

love does not exist in a vacuum

love is affected by the real world

your race your class your gender your region your faith your work

these inform how you love how you loved how you’ve been loved how you want love how you want to love

+ love includes it all

a love story can’t be apolitical

for me balance comes having everything as one

overlapping connected + not separated into

this part is love

this part is political

this part is + so on

4. How did you decide to become a poet and playwright? And which came first?

poetry is probably the path that got me to this play

but theatre led me to that path in the first place

i was part of youth theatre groups

heat&light at hampstead [ got closed down ]

then oval house drama company

at royal court i met sabrina mahfouz [ sabrinamahfouz.com ] at a writer’s group

she invited us to come to a uk slam

that was my first experience of performance poetry

saw my mate sean mahoney [ seanysense.com ] perform as part of roundhouse poetry collective

[ which is still going + open for anyone under 25 to apply to ]

off the back of seeing sean i applied for the next year

ended up going to theatre less + spoken word nights more

watching + writing + performing

i love[d] the form of it writing + performing your own work

+ the immediacy + intimacy + variety of voices within it all

then the come to where i’m from call out came

it feels like i’ve come full circle

but this time round both poems + plays are drawing at the same time

Emily Stott, Ragevan Vasan and Rachael Merry in I Wanna Be Yours by Zia Ahmed. Directed by Anna Himali Howard. ©The Other Richard

5. How does your background as a poet feed into your playwriting? You’re also a Poetry Slam champion – how does being a performer inform the way you write characters?

being part of the roundhouse poetry collective

one of the first pieces of advice from steven camden aka polarbear [ bearstories.org ] was

‘write for the sound of your own mouth’

[ maybe paraphrased but it’s how i remember it now ]

he made clear to us from the start he wasn’t trying to tell us how to write A Good Poem

but for us to write poems which were in our voice for our voice

it was always about us saying what we want to say

i’ve tried to keep that in mind when i write anything

so while this play has characters who don’t speak like i do

it will say things i want to be talked about

there are bits with are obviously rhythmic

but there’s not much punctuation in the script

cos i wanted the director + the actors work out rhythms

a rhythm that is more for themselves

+ it feels more fun that way

seeing the choices they make

6. How much of your own experience mirrors Haseeb’s?

Ragevan Vasan and Rachael Merry in I Wanna Be Yours by Zia Ahmed. Directed by Anna Himali Howard. ©The Other Richard

haseeb is a british pakistani poet from north west london

the character is me + the character is fictionalised

experiences i’ve had are fed into haseeb’s story

also experiences i’ve imagined + experiences i didn’t have

so no matter how much or how little is actual happenings

it’s all things i’ve wanted to talk about + dissect

it’s all based on real feelings + impulses for conversations

which i hope can be had with people who watch the play

7. What else are you working on right now?

working on a commission for hopefully a second play

+ i am also on tour with sarathy korwar at the moment

two poems i wrote are part of tracks he’s made

which i’m performing at his shows

he’s an amazing musician + v excited i get to be part of it


This week on the I Wanna Be Yours tour: BSL performer Rachael Merry

Rachael Merry – photo by Rebecca Need-Menear

1. Tell us what I Wanna Be Yours is about.

The play explores the relationship between Ella and Haseeb, and the obstacles that come their way as they navigate societal reaction to their perceived differences. It is a powerful and hugely pertinent story.

2. Why did you decide to work in theatre?

Theatre and performing arts is where I started, having grown up taking part in dance and musical theatre. It was therefore a natural progression to marry my work within the Deaf community with my skills as a performer. I feel incredibly lucky to be working within such a niche area of the industry.

3. What attracted you to this role?

From my first reading of the script, I was overwhelmed by the poetic beauty and richness of the language. The story itself is incredibly powerful and one that needs to be told. I am thrilled to be one of the people involved in making this piece accessible to the Deaf community. I was very aware of the challenge it posed, however was really excited by the visual possibilities within the imagery and how they could be shown through BSL.

Rachael Merry in I Wanna Be Yours by Zia Ahmed. Directed by Anna Himali Howard. ©The Other Richard

4. Talk us through the creative decision to name your character Rachael – do you feel like you are playing yourself on stage?

In my role as the interpreter within this story; I am myself. It seemed fitting for me to keep my own name as I am just another person receiving this story from Ella and Haseeb along with the audience. I think this decision has allowed my character to be integral to the piece without interrupting their journey.

5. What was the rehearsal process like?

Incredibly challenging, but also a lot of fun! As a company we have been learning together how the integration may work so in the early stages this involved a lot of play and exploration. Too often, BSL interpretation and access is a last minute thought, added on to an existing piece. It was great to be part of the story from the very beginning and explore how my character and the addition of BSL integration becomes part of the narrative. I worked with two Deaf BSL consultants for both the rehearsal and tech periods which was vital for playing with the language and achieving the correct translation. The play is heavily metaphorical and very dialogue heavy so it was extremely important to have Deaf artists involved at every stage.

6. Do you have a favourite moment in the play?

I don’t want to give too much away! But for me my favourite moments occur when I can hand over the visual storytelling to Ella and Haseeb and my role takes a back seat as their connection is beautiful to watch. There’s also physical movement and some snippets of dance which are a lot of fun!

7. Is there anything particularly special about the way BSL is integrated into I Wanna Be Yours

For me, Anna’s vision, patience and determination for this piece to be a 3-hander has made a huge difference to the connection between the three of us on stage, and I really hope this translates for the Deaf community. Both Em and Ragevan (Ella and Haseeb) have been absolutely incredible to work with and it definitely makes a difference to the final piece. The BSL access is integral to the narrative and is rooted in the telling of the story. I’m really exited to see how it is received and hope we can get as many Deaf audience members as possible to witness this story.

8. Can you tell us about the work you do outside of theatre? 

I am incredibly lucky in that most of my work is connected in some way to theatre and access. As an actor and interpreter I work within a few different areas including workshop facilitation, education and different areas of performance.

9. What do you think Theatres should be doing in order to reach more D/deaf audiences / BSL users? 

The climate is definitely changing and it is wonderful to see more and more Deaf actors and professionals working within on and offstage roles. The more the industry continues to open up to this the better; ensuring access and equality is considered from the start and no longer an afterthought.

Emily Stott and Ragevan Vasan in I Wanna Be Yours by Zia Ahmed. Directed by Anna Himali Howard. ©The Other Richard

I Wanna Be Yours is touring nationwide until December. Are we touring near you?


Decolonising History – What Does That Even Mean?

Actress, writer and singer,  Danusia Samal (Out of Sorts, Busking It), was one of five playwrights who took up residence in the History department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
Danusia’s audio drama, The Museum, is inspired by what she found, having attended classes and engaged with the students and teachers. Here, Danusia shares the experiences of her ten-day SOAS residency.  

Playwright, Danusia Samal

I was thrilled when back in 2018, Tamasha invited myself and a few other writers to SOAS University to discuss a potential new project. They wanted to create a series of short audio dramas written in collaboration with the university. The theme would be “Decolonising History”.

Having recently started exploring my own cultural history, the idea of ‘decolonising’ really gripped me. Knowing family and friends who have attended SOAS, I saw it as a place where I could learn and gain access to knowledge from all over the world, to things we don’t normally see, hear or learn in traditional British education or the media. When the project was confirmed and I was asked to join in, I was over the moon. Decolonise! Smash the patriarchy! I am going to write something revolutionary!

Having trained at drama school, I’ve never done an academic degree or been part of a university. I loved having my SOAS staff pass (“look at me mum, I’m a University professor!”) and being able to use the library, explore campus, and take in the atmosphere of what I felt was quite a unique university. This must be what it’s like to be an intellectual.

As participants in the project, we were encouraged to enrol on courses on the BA History Course. We could attend lectures, access online resources, and meet and talk to staff and students. ‘Decolonising History’ was always an interesting discussion starter: “What is it? What does it mean to you?”

I became very interested in the conflicts that arose from this question – internal university politics, the struggle of being taught Eastern history by almost entirely Caucasian staff, the inherent colonialism and discrimination in academia, and what, if anything, could be done to solve it.

I also loved being able to go to lectures on things I knew nothing about, learning something completely unfamiliar. Like the other writers on the project, I threw myself into getting everything I could out of the SOAS experience. I filled notebooks with notes, took out hundreds of books, wrote questionnaires for the students, conducted interviews…

That’s when the really big question arose: What the hell am I gonna write about? A particular period in history? My own cultural history? The experience of learning history? Where will it be set? Africa? The Middle East? East Asia? South Asia? The Carribbean? Europe? Do I set it in Britain? At SOAS? And for all my research, am I any wiser about what ‘decolonising history’ actually means and how it can be done?

Like many of the other writers on the project, (I hope they don’t mind me saying this) I fretted and fretted about all of the above. Deadlines loomed nearer and I didn’t have a single idea with dramatic potential. How could I do justice to all the brilliant conversations I’d had, the books I’d read, the lectures I’d attended?

Thankfully, inspiration came. In April, I was lucky enough to attend two one-day workshops: one on writing for radio with Tamasha, and another on story structure with John Yorke. Both of these helped me massively. I began to realise the obvious – I can’t tackle every aspect of this huge issue with one 20-minute audio play. But I can try my best to tell a good story, drawing on not just what I’ve learned at SOAS, but my emotional experiences of being there. If the biography I read on Steve Biko does not end up in my Tamasha audio play, perhaps something I took from it will. Nothing I’m learning is wasted, even if the material does not end up in the final piece. But I can only write a play about ‘decolonising’ as I understand and experience it.

I began to think about storytelling, how in many cultures this is how history is shared, whereas in Britain we preserve the past by making museums and filling them with artefacts.

I then thought about classic stories: Adventures, heists, thrillers. What about exploring how other cultures handle their artefacts through one of these mediums? This is how ‘The Museum’ came about. Set between a university like SOAS and a small village in Syria, it tells the story of Rima, who believes her father’s Museum was unjustly stolen by an English professor, and what she does to get it back.

After a cobbled together draft 1, I worked with Tamasha on honing the idea and creating a dramatic conflict that would translate to audio. We had discussions, redrafts, and I continued to visit SOAS and have chats with students. I was still keen to set some of the play in a university setting.

Then came the exciting bit. After a couple of months of redrafting, we gave our finished plays to Tamasha to be recorded as audio dramas by a group of talented actors. Sitting in the studio, I was thrilled to hear the story come to life. It seemed to make sense! It seemed to contain a lot of the debates I’d had about history without having to cite reams of research I’d done! It maybe even seemed to begin to explore the idea of ‘decolonising history’… but I’ll leave it to audiences to decide that.

 

Illustration by Erin Aniker

Danusia’s audio drama, The Museum, will be played to a live audience at a gathering listening event in Rich Mix, London on Wednesday 30 October. Book your tickets now. Part of Decolonising History – a Tamasha Digital Project for SOAS.

 


Decolonising History: A Student’s Perspective

Decolonising History, a Tamasha Digital project for SOAS, is a thrilling collection of audio dramas created to analyse the concept and viability of decolonisation, as well as SOAS’ history.
Through its efforts to decolonise its curriculum, as well as by contributing key voices in debates regarding the subject, SOAS has led the charge for decolonisation for a long time. However, this is also due to its past as a training college for officers of the British Empire – its own contribution towards colonialism. This series of plays challenges SOAS to look at its own past, so that it can look to the future. One student involved with Decolonising History is Indira Varma, who has just graduated with a BA in History and South Asian Studies. Here’s her experience of working with Tamasha on this project, as well as her time at SOAS.

Indira Varma

The narrative through which the South Asian diaspora has engaged with their history has often been deeply skewed and biased.

Often, the understanding is that the Empire enriched and benefited South Asia in the long term – something which a lot of Indians today believe. My own father even believes that without the British and their infrastructure, South Asian development would have been slowed by 100 years, even though there is significant proof to show that pre-colonial Indian legal and governing systems were much more diverse and advanced than their Western counterparts.

Media has also played an important role in this narrative; films like The Viceroy’s House and shows such as Indian Summer whitewash and glorify the history of the Empire to the general public, usually only providing one perspective on the matter and altering the stance many Brits take towards colonialism and the British Raj.

There is a lack of accountability and honesty in Britain’s mainstream representation of the Empire. This is why it is extremely important for the playwrights from Tamasha to bring historical debates outside of an academic setting – above all, to give an honest reflection on British rule. Being able to have engaging and insightful discussions with Satinder and Guleraana (Decolonising History writers Chohan and Mir) outside of a classroom setting was a very interesting way to gain new perspectives on South Asian history.

A desire to study a decolonised history is one of the main reasons why myself and so many other South Asians have chosen to study at an institution like SOAS. Honest about its own involvement in the histories of colonialism, SOAS has provided me with a multi-dimensional and intimate learning experience. Ranging from the variety of how history is taught to the perspectives from which history is seen, there is no other place that could have taught me about my own country in a more personal and honest way.

Only through the decolonisation of history and acceptance of Britain’s role in many atrocities committed throughout the colonial era, can there be a deeper understanding of the multifaceted and diverse South Asian subcontinent.

Illustration by Erin Aniker

The five audio dramas will be playing to a live audience at ‘gathered listening’ events in theatres and cultural spaces across the UK. Full dates and information

 


Full cast and creative team for nationwide tour of I WANNA BE YOURS 2019

We are delighted to announce the full cast and creative team for the nation-wide tour of Zia Ahmed’s I WANNA BE YOURS 2019.

 

THE WRITER: ZIA AHMED

Zia Ahmed is from north-west London. He is part of the London Laureates, having been shortlisted for London’s Young Poet Laureate 2015/16. He is a former Roundhouse Poetry Slam winner and writer in residence at Paines Plough as part of Channel 4’s Playwright Scheme. He is one of the Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers’ Group 2018/19.

His writing and performance credits include C11 (Bush Theatre) and FRAGMENTS (Roundhouse). His poetry has featured on BBC Radio 4, DAZED and notable gigs include performing at Kate Tempest’s collection launches at the Old Vic, Hackney Arts Centre, Boiler Room x V&A, Latitude Festival and the ICA.

 

DIRECTION: ANNA HIMALI HOWARD

Anna Himali Howard is a director and theatremaker. She was Paines Plough’s Trainee Director in 2016 and is an alumnus of the Birmingham REP Foundry. She was recently the Staff Director on SMALL ISLAND at the National Theatre.

Her work as a Director includes:

A SMALL PLACE by Jamaica Kincaid (Gate Theatre); I WANNA BE YOURS by Zia Ahmed (Paines Plough/Tamasha/Rural Arts), ALBATROSS by Isley Lynn for NEW (Paines Plough/ RWCMD/Gate Theatre).

As a theatremaker, work includes:

JANE ANGER (Yard Theatre Live Drafts), MAHABHARAT/A by Anna Himali Howard and Zarina Muhammad (Camden People’s Theatre), THE BEANFIELD by Breach Theatre (New Diorama/national tour 2016).

Anna was Associate Director on FLEABAG by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Drywrite/Soho Theatre international tour) and Assistant Director on OTHELLO, directed by Ellen McDougall (Shakespeare’s Globe) and IN THE NIGHT TIME (BEFORE THE SUN RISES) by Nina Segal, directed by Ben Kidd (Gate Theatre).

 

EMILY STOTT as ELLA

Emily trained at The Oxford School of Drama and is a founding member of the award-winning theatre company Wildcard (ELECTROLYTE, 17, AFTER PARTY)

Theatre credits include: IF NOT NOW, WHEN? (Dorfman, National Theatre); THE COMEDY ABOUT A BANK ROBBERY (Mischief Theatre/Criterion Theatre); GIFTED (Pleasance); THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (Watermill Theatre); GLITTER PUNCH (VAULT Festival); THE KITCHEN SINK (Oldham Coliseum); INSIDE PUSSY RIOT (Les Enfants Terribles/Saatchi Gallery); PANCAKE DAY (The Bunker); EARLY DOORS (Not Too Tame/UK tour); THE SELFISH GIANT (Arcola Theatre).

TV credits include: VERA (ITV).

 

RAGEVAN VASAN as HASEEB

Television credits include: SAVE ME, FORTITUDE (Sky Atlantic); THE STATE (Channel 4); CUFFS, DOCTORS (BBC).

Film credits include: DUMBO (Disney); DAPHNE (The Bureau Film Company); WALK LIKE A PANTHER (FOX Searchlight); THE LAST WITNESS (Film Polska Productions).

Stage credits include: THE VILLAGE (Theatre Royal Stratford East); HURLING RUBBLE AT THE SUN/MOON (Park Theatre); LOVE FOR LOVE, QUEEN ANNE (Royal Shakespeare Company).

 

RACHAEL MERRY as RACHAEL

Rachael is an actor and BSL/English interpreter who is delighted to be working with Paines Plough this autumn for I WANNA BE YOURS

A member and associate artist of the DH Ensemble, she is a previous resident artist with GLYPT (Donut Worry R&D) and most recently can be seen as Ellie in DeafFest UK award winning short film AVA (Grint & Ash Collaboration).

Other credits include: Librarian in ALMOST (BSLBT/Flashing Lights Media); Evil Queen in MIRROR MIRROR (Red Earth Theatre UK Tours); Shiny in SMALL WORLD (BSLBT/Mutt & Jeff Pictures); Mrs Yellow in MR RED AND MRS YELLOW (Handprint Theatre). Rachael holds a first class degree in Theatre Arts, Education & Deaf Studies from The University of Reading and recently completed her role coordinating the youth programme for Deafinitely Theatre Company.

 

THE CREATIVE TEAM:

COMPANY STAGE MANAGER: ALICE LONGSON

Studying at Salford University, Alice gained a degree in Media Performance but was always drawn to the theatre.

Post university she headed into the Manchester Fringe scene working in various stage management roles on shows including THE TRIAL (People Zoo Productions); MOTH (Ransack Productions) and HAIR THE MUSICAL (Aria Entertainment).

With a passion for driving vans Alice went on to touring, working with Theatre Hullabaloo sharing THE BEAR AND BUTTERFLY with the UK in 2016/17.

During her time working the Manchester fringe Alice grew close connections with Hope Mill Theatre and following her tour went on to become the Technical Manager of the venue. She also supported their in-house musicals and Production Manager. She found a new passion for set building and power tools.

Onto ventures new, Alice is super excited to be hitting the road with I WANNA BE YOURS and is very proud to be part of the Paines Plough team on this project.

 

DESIGN: MYDD PHARO

Mydd is an award-winning set and costume designer, director and visual dramaturg working in theatre, live art and installation. He trained in Theatre Design at Wimbledon School of Art and Fine Art (Installation) at Falmouth College of Art.

Selected work includes:

WOLF’S CHILD (WildWorks/NNF); THE BODY (Barbican); THE PASSION (WildWorks/NTW); PARTY SKILLS FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (NNF); DREAM CITY – The Tunis Biennale of Art in Public Spaces, NABLUS: CITY OF STORIES, ONCE UPON A CASTLE – Kasteel Van Gaasbeek, THE ENCHANTED PALACE (WildWorks); ARK-IVE (National Theatre).

He is founding member, production designer and visual dramaturg for NPO company WildWorks an international site-specific theatre company specialising in large-scale outdoor promenade performances in unusual locations.

He has also designed works for Kneehigh Theatre, Punchdrunk, 14-18NOW, Royal College of Music, NYT, BAC, The Eden Project and The British Council.

 

LIGHTING: MARTHA GODFREY

Martha Godfrey is a lighting designer based in London.

Recent work includes: WHITE and GREY by Koko Brown (Ovalhouse Theatre/UK tour); PINK LEMONADE and SINCE U BEEN GONE (Queer House Productions); FUCK YOU PAY ME (The Bunker); BURY THE DEAD (Finborough Theatre); HEAR ME HOWL (Old Red Lion Theatre); PECS: THE 80S SHOW (Soho Theatre).

 

COMPOSITION & SOUND: ANNA CLOCK

Anna Clock is a composer, sound designer and cellist working across theatre, film, radio and installation.

Recent projects include: PLAYING UP and EPIC STAGES (National Youth Theatre); ARMADILLO (The Yard Theatre); FIGHTER (Stratford Circus Arts Centre); LOOKING FORWARD (Battersea Arts Centre); SOFT ANIMALS (Soho); THE BUTTERFLY LION (Barn Theatre); FATTY FAT FAT (Roundhouse/Edinburgh Festival) WORK BITCH, MISS FORTUNATE, ADMIN (VAULT Festival); TWELFTH NIGHT (Southwark Playhouse); POMONA; PUNK ROCK (New Diorama); BURY THE DEAD (Finborough Theatre); FABRIC (Soho/community spaces tour); KATIE JOHNSTONE, IN THE NIGHT TIME, [BLANK] (Orange Tree Theatre); OVEREXPOSED (V&A Museum); UNCENSORED (Theatre Royal Haymarket); SONGLINES (Edinburgh Festival/HighTide Festival/regional tour); FINDING FASSBENDER (VAULT Festival/Edinburgh Festival/HighTide Festival).

In 2018 Anna was artist in residence at SPINE Festival Borough of Harrow and Sirius Arts Centre.

Anna studied Music Composition and English Literature at Trinity College Dublin, Cello performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and holds an MA in Advanced Theatre Practice from Central School of Speech and Drama. They also have extensive experience as a workshop facilitator and educator, and have run workshops in schools, youth centres and community centres. They have also worked as guest lecturer and guest sound designer for third level institutions including University of Manchester, Mountview Academy, Arts Ed and Fourth Monkey.

 

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: JANISE SADIK

Janisè Sadik is an emerging theatremaker and director. She is Paines Plough’s Trainee Director for 2019, was a part of the Young Vic Directors program, and completed the Boris Karloff Trainee Assistant Director Program in 2017. She has been a co-workshop leader at Park Theatre leading the Creative Learning Programme since 2015 directing the end of term showcase.  She has facilitated in various creative buildings such as Hoxton Hall, Lyric Hammersmith, Ovalhouse and Wimbledon College of Arts. In 2018, she set up a Youth Theatre company at We Are Spotlight working with young actors that don’t have access to training. She has worked internationally in rural parts of South India to run creative theatre projects with young children to empower and build their confidence.  She enjoys work that is experimental, devised and brings new writing to life.

Theatre credits as director include: MILK & OREOS, winner of the Pandora Award 2015, co-written by Janisè Sadik & Seraphina Beh (Melanin Box Festival); BREAKING THE INTERNET (Ovalhouse Summer School 2017); BLURRED LINES (Etcetera Theatre); US by Priscilla Lafayette Kwabi (Camden People’s Theatre); HYDRAULIC by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu (Wimbledon College of Arts).

Assistant director credits include: ROUNDABOUT Season 2019: DAUGHTERHOOD by Charley Miles, ON THE OTHER HAND, WE’RE HAPPY by Daf James and DEXTER AND WINTER’S DETECTIVE AGENCY by Nathan Bryon (Paines Plough/Theatr Clwyd).

Film credits as director include: SHE by Andrè James.

 

MOVEMENT: JENNIFER JACKSON

Jennifer trained at East 15 and is a movement director and actor.

Movement Direction credits include: AMSTERDAM (ATC/Orange Tree/ Theatre Royal Plymouth); POPS (Jake Orr Productions); THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART (New Vic Theatre); BE MY BABY, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (Leeds Playhouse); THE TRICK (Loose Tongue/Bush/High Tide); PHILOXENIA (Bush); MOUNTAINTOP UK TOUR (Desara Productions Ltd); DEATH OF A SALESMAN, QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE, OUR TOWN (Royal Exchange); PARLIAMENT SQUARE (Bush/Royal Exchange); MAYFLY, OUT OF WATER (Orange Tree Theatre); BRIGHTON ROCK (Pilot Theatre/The Lowry); ROUNDABOUT Season 2017: BLACK MOUNTAIN, HOW TO BE A KID, OUT OF LOVE (Paines Plough/Theatr Clwyd/Orange Tree Theatre); ROUNDABOUT Season 2018: ISLAND TOWN, STICKS AND STONES, HOW TO SPOT AN ALIEN (Paines Plough/Theatr Clwyd); THE MOUNTAINTOP (Young Vic); DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Royal & Derngate); THE UGLY ONE (The Park); WHY THE WHALES CAME (Southbank Centre); STONE FACE (Finborough); DEBRIS (Southwark Playhouse/Openworks Theatre); MACBETH (Passion in Practice/Sam Wanamaker Playhouse); SILENT PLANET (Finborough); PERICLES (Berwaldhallen); THE FUTURE (The Yard/Company Three); OTHER-PLEASE SPECIFY, ATOMS (Company Three); TAKEOVER 2017 (Kiln Theatre).

Assistant Movement Director credits include: ROUNDABOUT Season 2014: LUNGS, THE INITIATE, MY TEACHER’S A TROLL (Paines Plough/Sheffield Theatres).

 

I WANNA BE YOURS will tour as follows:

 

6 – 19 October: The Albany Canada Water Hub, Canada Water

21 October: Studio 3 Arts, Barking

22 October: Luton Culture, Luton

24 October: Rosehill Theatre, Whitehaven

25 October: Unity Theatre, Liverpool

28 October: Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis

29 October: Ventnor Exchange, Ventnor

30 October – The Old Market, Brighton

31 October – South Hill Park, Bracknell

01 November: Trestle Arts Centre, St Albans

02 November: The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre, Havant

04 November: The Key Theatre, Peterborough

05 November: The Marlowe, Canterbury

06 November: Phoenix Theatre and Arts Centre, Bordon

07 November: Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

08 November: Electric Theatre, Guildford

11 November: Octagon Theatre, Bolton

12 November: Middlesbrough Theatre, Middlesbrough

13 November: The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury

14 November: Artrix, Bromsgrove

15 November: Derby Theatre, Derby

16 November: East Riding Theatre, Beverley

19 November: CAST, Doncaster

20 November: Norden Farm, Maidenhead

21 November: The Garage, Norwich

22 November: Lincoln Performing Arts Centre, Lincoln

23 November: The Edge, Manchester

26 November: Preston Continental

27 November: Arts Centre Washington

28 November: Selby Town Hall, Selby

29 November: Square Chapel, Halifax

30 November: The Maltings, Berwick-upon-Tweed


“Both fascinated and alarmed by Britain’s collective historical amnesia, I had to be involved in a project that sought to ‘decolonise history’.”

Journalist turned playwright and writer of Tamasha’s Made in India (2017), Satinder Chohan was one of five playwrights who took up residence in the History department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
Satinder’s audio drama, Scar Tissue, is inspired by what she found, having attended classes and engaged with the students and teachers. Here, Satinder shares the experiences of her ten-day SOAS residency.  

Playwright, Satinder Chohan

Back in the ancient period of my University of London student days, I regularly used to retreat to Senate House to study, then occasionally hang out at SOAS, whilst sneaking in some Frantz Fanon, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Paul Gilroy as I swotted up on the Western literary canon as an English Lit student. Decades and hazy student memories later, I returned as a writer for Decolonising History, a project for SOAS by Tamasha Digital.

Five writers from diverse backgrounds were in residence at SOAS, sitting in on BA history classes of their choosing for ten days over two months to inspire ideas for five short audio dramas, seeking to interrogate the teaching of history in British schools and universities and to write untold stories from a non Western perspective.

Even in those ancient student days (and still now), I would get into heated arguments about Britishness and British history, for not supporting the English at football or cricket, for recoiling from the loaded Union Jack and Rule Britannia.

I have never felt comfortable being British in a Britain that frequently whitewashes the darker aspects of its imperial history.

Through my family and immigrant community, I learnt about the contributions of my grandfather and his generation to the British war effort, my immigrant parents’ contributions to the rebuilding of post-war Britain, about Partition and the horrors of profiteering British exploits throughout its Empire, but rarely saw these taught at school or discussed and even acknowledged in the nation at large. Both fascinated and alarmed by Britain’s collective historical amnesia, I had to be involved in a project that sought to ‘decolonise history’.

At SOAS, I took classes and lectures around Partition, including ‘Introduction to the History of South Asia’, ‘Histories of Partition: India and Pakistan 1947’ and ‘Colonialism and Nationalism’. Years ago, I read Urvashi Butalia’s The Other Side of Silence, a ground-breaking, visceral work that uses oral histories to tell the untold stories of Partition survivors, the smaller, invisible players whose experiences were largely silenced in the grander political game-playing history of Partition. Sitting in on brilliant lecturer Eleanor Newbigin’s classes, I began building on that book, learning about the subcontinental holocaust of Partition in more detail, through both its big and small players.

Rural Sikhs in a long oxcart train headed towards India. 1947. Margaret Bourke-White. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oxcart-train1947.jpg

As a 21st century university student, I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material available through Moodle! No more just taking notes with pen and paper, lugging piles of library books home. Now, instantly downloadable articles and books, video lectures, class group chats, access to archives to decolonise history at one’s fingertips. I chatted with Eleanor outside class too about Partition, Empire and Britain’s imperial legacy. I spoke to mostly female SOAS students on those courses about history as a subject and its importance and role in their own lives. Impressive and inspiring, all were balancing their studies with a desire to take their historical knowledge and work into the world, to help other women, whether pushing for more female-conscious legislation, working with abused women in their local communities, travelling to Palestine or making ethnographic films focusing on women in Pakistan.

Even though I have always been hugely political, I wasn’t very politically active at college, so it was so affirming to see such a high level of political awareness among almost all the students I encountered. Through the copious reading and stimulating conversations, I began to think about an idea and wanted to write a Partition drama from a contemporary female student perspective. Listening to Partition archives, I also thought about the urgent need to record the memories of the last of the Partition survivors, silenced too long by colonial history. I felt the drama should involve a recently deceased grandmother who leaves behind oral recordings of her life including the revelation of a terrible Partition secret. Oral recordings seemed apt for an aural medium!

As I wrote Scar Tissue, I thought a lot about history and memory (its fragility and reliability) – about the experiences we choose to remember and those we choose to bury, in both family and nation.

Colonised narratives exist and persist in families and a wider world, so that the coloniser’s dominant view overrides other ones. When colonisers bury crimes of the past, historical amnesia develops. So I wanted the audio drama to explore how one family member wants to instigate small ‘decolonising’ changes against the inherited, harmful, forgotten narratives of the past. Yet conflict arises when the rest of the family want to maintain a prevailing colonial narrative that upholds the status quo. While some want to confront and decolonise history to heal an often darker past, reveal other truths and bring a new balance to an inequitable order, others want to deny, cover up, ignore or fabricate new narratives about past events. Crimes and wrongdoings have happened within families and nations and while we can’t change them, we don’t have to turn away from ugly, violent history out of ignorance, shame, guilt or denial. Perhaps we should try to confront those events as boldly and truthfully as possible to heal the past and learn something for the future, rather than repeat colonial narratives and crimes ad nauseam, to only benefit and hear the voices of the few.

Two Muslim men (in a rural refugee train headed towards Pakistan) carrying an old woman in a makeshift Doli or palanquin. 1947. Margaret Bourke-White. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Two-men-carrying-woman1947.jpg

Decolonising History has been a vital, exciting project to be involved in, using audio drama and academia to provoke greater debate and awareness around the need for a more inclusive culturally diverse history in academic circles and public discourse. In a globally connected age, in which students are challenging Western-centric and Eurocentric world views and structures, curriculums and canons, pulling down colonial statues and relics, SOAS and Tamasha are at the very heart of a project that questions centuries long Western colonial dominance in and beyond ivory towers. Our project is a tiny contribution to all this – an attempt at a more honest, grown-up debate, so that we can learn more about who we all are and how we relate to one another, to our past and our future in 21st century Britain. This is especially so in a Brexit Britain, overshadowed by Britain’s ‘glorious’ past in an amnesiac nation that has never dealt with its loss of empire – raising pressing questions for us all about how history should live today.

Illustration by Erin Aniker

Satinder’s audio drama, Scar Tissue, is premiering at SOAS on 8 October. Book your tickets to the gathered listening event and for a chance to speak to Satinder and the four other writers. Part of Decolonising History – a Tamasha Digital Project for SOAS.

Best of British: new theatre in the age of Brexit

While 2019 might be the year of political uncertainty, one thing is for sure: Tamasha is firing on all cylinders. Our Artistic Director looks ahead to what’s in store for the company, if not the country…

2019 might have started with crisis and uncertainty at the political level, but it is a bumper year for Tamasha. It’s an odd feeling for the country to be in such dire straits while our company is booming, but if you can peel your eyes away from the political coverage, here is a good news story for a change.

Tamasha is small, we usually only produce one show per year. While we tour that show as far and wide as we can, usually for around 3 months, it’s still one show. Our current standstill funding settlement with Arts Council England, a cut in real terms, prevents us producing any more than this.

The scale of our producing arm is in contrast to our talent development arm, Tamasha Developing Artists (TDA), currently a thriving community of 2,000 (and counting) emerging artists from all walks of life. One of the perennial conundrums at Tamasha is how to cater for so many at the starts or midway points of their careers, all hungry for opportunities, when the professional employment on our own shows is necessarily limited by the scale and frequency of what we can afford to produce in any given year.

I try to be honest with our TDA artists about this. For example, at the start of each annual cohort of the Tamasha Playwrights group I am upfront about this imbalance, and that the chance of us being able to produce any one of their scripts is necessarily low. Not impossible – it does happen – but we try to manage their expectations.

Because of this, part of our training of new theatre artists includes the business of theatre, and especially how to raise their own funds to put themselves in the creative driving seat, rather than waiting for opportunities to be bestowed upon them from larger organisations. It’s an attempt to turn on its head the traditional commissioning model of theatre producing, which renders artists essentially passive. Tamasha asks instead: how can we support you to support yourselves?

Nevertheless, I’ve had an ambition for Tamasha to produce more ever since I was appointed five years ago. This is easier said than done on standstill funding, with touring costs increasing, and a climate of risk aversion around new plays. However, somehow, this year, we are producing not one but seven new shows. Seven! Plus a raft of innovative online projects via new strand Tamasha Digital. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. How have we done this?

Three ways: smart partnerships, strategic funding and by supporting independent artists. It’s taken several years for this detailed, patient work behind the scenes to really pay off, but this year it finally will.

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Nicholas Khan as Raf and Karan Gill as Shazad in Approaching Empty. Photo by Helen Murray.

Last month, we opened our latest national tour, Approaching Empty by Ishy Din, a smart, funny and ultimately tragic story about two old friends running a minicab firm, but which doubles as a subtle allegory for our times, especially the UK’s ‘left behind’ former industrial heartlands which were so gutted by Thatcherism in the 1980s. Ishy’s thesis is that this is arguably where the Brexit vote has its roots. The play has been delighting London audiences at the newly-refurbished Kiln Theatre, ahead of a three–week ‘homecoming’ run at Live Theatre Newcastle, and a national tour until mid-April. While we’ve loved the response down here, we can’t wait to get on a train and see how the play is received by northern audiences, who in a way it is written for. Ishy is firmly establishing himself as the voice of his community, and is maturing into a seriously sophisticated writer of national importance.

Ordinarily, we’d be looking ahead to the end of this tour in April and starting pre-production for 2020’s show….but 2019 is no ordinary year. There are six other shows before the year is out!

Four of them are part of IGNITE, an Associate Producer training programme funded by the Arts Council’s Sustained Theatre strategic fund, which Tamasha spearheaded, in partnership with 7 regional theatres (Belgrade, Derby, Dukes, Mercury, Luton Hat Factory, Contact and Rich Mix), aimed at diversifying the offstage workforce of British theatre. This fund was commendably an open brief to submit initiatives, shaped and led by the smaller, diverse companies who do so much behind the scenes to nurture and launch new artists of colour, and the creative teams which support their visions.

IGNITE was conceived on the back of much discussion as a company. We concluded that if we’re serious about diversifying what ends up on the nation’s stages, then as a sector we need to put more effort into two main areas: playwrights and producers. Playwrights, because they decide whose lives are worth putting on stage in the first place. And producers make it happen.

There are various initiatives for playwrights, not least our own Tamasha Playwrights group, graduates of which have gone onto great things, including most recently accounting for two of the three writers, Rabiah Hussain and Ross Willis, just announced as the inaugural recipients of a £10,000 Royal Court Theatre / Kudos TV residency. And this year, we’re grateful to receive support from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and Garfield Weston Foundation, which means we’re able to provide regional bursaries for Tamasha Playwrights as well.

For producers there is virtually nothing. To some extent this is understandable; it’s hard to teach producing as theory. Unlike playwriting, unless you have some actual money to spend you can’t really do it. The traditional way to become a producer is to borrow from the Bank of Mum and Dad to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. That necessarily imposes a filter.

Our pitch to the Arts Council’s Sustained fund was that Tamasha is going to take the place of those rich parents and raise the funds for a new generation without those means. We reached out to a consortium of seven venue partners, and together raised enough for four full-time producers to be embedded at four regional venues, with production funds attached.

Fast forward three years and a critical mass of new work around the country is the thrilling result, all hitting our stages in 2019.

At the Dukes Theatre Lancaster, Anna Nguyen is producing the world premiere of Glory by Nick Ahad – a seriously funny and timely new play set in the world of old school wrestling which, while no longer on prime time TV is, contrary to popular belief, alive and well and a thriving subculture in numerous parts of the country, especially the north-west. Set in a scruffy gym which has seen better days, Glory brings together four men at the end of the line who find solace and a newfound identity in a sport which traditionally overlooked and at worst actively caricatured non-white performers.

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Promo shot of Glory

Like Approaching Empty, Glory’s gritty world serves as a subtle state-of-the-nation allegory, though unlike Ishy Din, Nick Ahad finds reasons to be optimistic in his vision of Britain sloughing off the baggage of a racialized past to pass on the baton to a vibrant new generation who will make the sport – and by implication, the nation – their own. Catch it 21 February to 2 March at the Dukes, then on its own national tour to 13 April. (The Glory team might even be able to wave at the Approaching Empty team as they pass each other on the motorway….)

At Belgrade Coventry, longstanding collaborators of Tamasha, Lian Wilkinson has been leading on Under The Umbrella by Amy Ng, another new play, this time looking east to China, and closer to home to the Chinese student population, who are a large presence in Coventry. Under The Umbrella puts the spotlight on the phenomenon of ‘marriage markets’ – where parents of still-single children in their late 20s browse each other’s offspring’s CVs in order to find a marriage match before time runs out on a ‘leftover’ son or daughter. Set in Coventry and Guangzhou, this compelling new play by the acclaimed writer of Acceptance at Hampstead Theatre explores tradition, trauma and triumph in the art of finding love. Catch it from 2-16 March at the Belgrade before touring to 30 March.

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Promo shot of Under the Umbrella

At Derby Theatre, IGNITE producer Rafia Hussain has led on a raft of writer development initiatives while deepening the venue’s relationship with one writer in particular, Atiha Sen Gupta, with a timely revival of her 2009 debut What Fatima Did, giving the play its regional premiere. Fatima Merchant is feisty and strong-willed. At 17, she drinks, smokes and parties. On the eve of her 18th birthday, without word or warning or explanation, she adopts the hijab. Suddenly, to her friends and family she is no longer the Fatima they thought they knew. What Fatima Did is a funny and thought-provoking exploration of attitudes to identity, freedom and multiculturalism in contemporary Britain. The play has lost none of its relevance ten years on, and it’s great to see a new play having a continued afterlife. Catch it from 27 Feb-2 March at Derby Theatre.

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Promo shot of What Fatima Did…

Finally, at Mercury Colchester, producer Dilek Latif has taken on a mid-scale show with commercial potential – a long overdue revival of the Fats Waller 1920s-set jazz musical Ain’t Misbehavin’. Join extraordinary performers on a journey through an amazing period of American musical history, the Harlem Renaissance – an era where musicians were free to experiment with new styles and joints were jumping with dancers, singers and instrumentalists jamming to a new beat known as swing. The Great Depression didn’t stop them then and neither will Brexit now… Catch this feelgood musical at the Mercury from 15-30 March followed by a London run at Southwark Playhouse 19 April-1 June.

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Promo shot of Ain’t Misbehavin’

But there’s more…

After a busy spring we go straight into an early summer tour of a show by one of the independent artists we support throughout the year. Nyla Levy is an actor and writer, who you might recognise from recent roles in Diary Of A Hounslow Girl or Child of the Divide. Her first play, Does My Bomb Look Big In This? draws its inspiration from the Bethnal Green schoolgirls who left for Syria to join ISIS in 2016. During a development phase last year which Tamasha supported, Nyla conducted extensive research with young people in Luton and Tower Hamlets, and interviews with numerous experts including Tasnime Akunjee, the lawyer who represented the Bethnal Green girls and their families. The result is a fast-paced, nuanced and surprisingly funny new play about the psychological impact of alienation from modern Britain, which renders some young Muslim girls especially vulnerable to online grooming. Does My Bomb Look Big In This? is a witty drama that exposes the fragmented nature of our society and how far we are from the myth of multicultural harmony. Tour dates are still being finalised but will include a rural touring week in north Yorkshire and a three-week run at Soho Theatre in early summer….

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Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Last up is a full production of a play we co-produced with Paines Plough last year in a stripped down R&D version, I Wanna Be Yours, the debut play by slam poet champion Zia Ahmed. After an ecstatic response from rural audiences last year, Zia has been putting the finishing touches to his quietly masterful two-hander about a Pakistani Londoner and a white girl from Yorkshire who fall in love and try to make things work against the odds. It’s one of the most subtle and sophisticated mappings of internal emotional worlds I’ve been involved with, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, with some gorgeous touches of magical realism from a thrilling new voice in British theatre. We can’t wait to show it off to a wider audience on Paines Plough’s small scale touring circuit in the autumn.

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I Wanna Be Yours

So that’s our plucky brood of seven – look out for them at a theatre near you.

But believe it or not, these are just our theatre productions. 2019 will also see the launch of Tamasha Digital, piloting a new strand of online-only work. Planned projects include a new theatre industry magazine show, Tell Dem, presented by rising star and founder of the Black Ticket Project Tobi Kyeremateng, featuring a panel of guests from across art forms discussing shows, news and trends within the UK theatre scene from the perspective of artists of colour.

We’re also piloting an experimental new audio walking tour, in which inner city communities are supported to give visitors to their area a personalised – and occasionally fantastical – walking tour experience to get them off the beaten track. First up is The Bengali Guide To Brick Lane in which we will revisit our old friends at Mulberry School and work with creative producer and former Tamasha Associate Company Afsana Begum to work up a trial episode. If we can crack the format, it could pave the way for other communities in other areas – The Pakistani Guide to Luton or The Punjabi Guide to Southall, anyone? After trialling it on our doorstep in London we could also start to look further afield to the places we tour.

As if this wasn’t enough, we’re also piloting a new viral video project via Whatsapp, testing out whether or not existing social media platforms can be harnessed to tell dramatic narratives.

We have five new audio dramas in development created by five Tamasha Playwrights graduates doing a residency in the History department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

There’s also a partnership with HighTide coming up, involving an exciting new project from actress Taj Atwal, and a schools project Re-Fuel in which young people perform their own short plays on top of the Approaching Empty set.

Finally, hot on the heels of the success of 2018’s Hear Me Now compilation with Oberon, we have a new publication from Methuen, Migration Plays, making available for the first time some new plays for young people developed in collaboration with our friends at the Migration Museum.

Plus of course there’s our usual year-round roster of masterclasses and scratch nights...

Why have we gone all out across all our platforms in this way? Partly, the right partners, funding pots and opportunities have come along at the right time. But there is more to it than this. Tamasha has always had an important function over and above just our own touring productions – we are also a stepping stone into the industry for new talent. The roll call of names who have had their first break via Tamasha is impressive and growing with every passing year – Parminder Nagra, Jimi Mistry, Ayub Khan-Din, Chris Bisson, Raza Jaffrey, Sunetra Sarkar, Krupa Pattani, Ishy Din, Pooja Ghai, Iman Qureshi, Ross Willis, Rabiah Hussain, Danusia Samal… the list goes on. Tamasha isn’t just a theatre company, it’s a pipeline for the whole theatre industry. Yes, we do a lot of training, but in our experience the best way to train artists is to employ them, and produce their work.

We can’t do this on our own of course, and we owe big shout outs to our valued collaborators across the UK, as well as the dedicated Tamasha office team who work so hard to deliver all this behind the scenes.

As national political events continue to cast a shadow, and with the future less predictable than ever, it’s only by working collaboratively in this way that, as a sector, we can continue to keep the door open for the next generation, and to make drama which truly reflects the society in which we live.

Whatever else 2019 holds, it will be a good year for Tamasha, and a good year for the next generation in British theatre. We hope that you can join us to celebrate these achievements, and the values which underpin them, whatever rocky times lie ahead.


Fin Kennedy, Artistic Director – Tamasha


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