Monthly Archives: December 2019

Q&A with Ragevan Vasan (I WANNA BE YOURS)

Ragevan Vasan

What is I WANNA BE YOURS about?

RV: Ella and Haseeb. They recount their relationship and personal experiences with the help of Rachael (and sometimes to her).

How did you get into theatre?

My parents forced me into elocution classes as a kid (their experience as immigrants made them think that speaking well could give you confidence and a better chance in life). I’m not sure if it’s still a thing but it was quite popular in the British Sri-Lankan community during the late 90s-early 00s.

But actually, those classes taught me how to read and introduced me to drama, which became my favourite subject at school. I wasn’t a popular kid but when it came to Drama, people would tackle me to the floor to shotgun pairing up with me. Fights would break out, the teacher wouldn’t know what to do. It was havoc, but I was low-key gassed (with bruised ribs).

I didn’t know much about theatre until I was 15. My art teacher gave me a free ticket to see a play which an ex-student of hers was in. It was Danny Mays and the play was upstairs at the Royal Court; they had transformed the space into a dingy hotel room. My mind was blown, I was like ‘rah wow this is a thing? Look at how real it all is. People actually do this for a job? I’m in!’

Saying that, I resisted the theatre for a bit, I thought it was risky. I came back round though cos it made me feel good.

How did you get involved with Tamasha?

RV: When I was around 15 and discovering theatre for the first time I decided one day to google ‘asian theatre company’. ‘Tamasha’ came up and I was like ‘cool- I want to work with these guys. This is the kind of theatre I could take my family too, they’d love it!’

I owe a lot to Tamasha. They were kind of my first ventures into the industry. The company has so many opportunities which I constantly signed up for. I remember taking part in some acting workshop (with directors Iqbal Khan and Kristine Landon-Smith). They were both very encouraging and those sessions were always inspiring. I also signed up to be an ‘observer’ in the development of a Tamasha play. I got to sit in the room and watch the writer, director and some actors develop the play and pitch in my own ideas/thoughts as well. It was such a brilliant way of dismantling the alienation which you can sometimes feel when you don’t know anything about the process of putting on a professional play.  I feel very fortunate to finally be in a Tamasha play, my 15 year old self would be psyched.

What attracted you to the role of HASEEB?

RV: When I read race specific parts, a lot of the time I come away thinking, ‘yeah that didn’t make me feel good about being brown’. But Haseeb is the most emotionally complex character I’ve had the chance to play. He gets to fall in love and the love is reciprocated (also refreshing), and he experiences all the nuance that comes with being in love. It’s also so honest about how we experience race. I remember reading it thinking ‘er this Zia is a brave brother, can you really say this? Have they actually given you the green light on this one?’

What has working alongside Rachael been like?

RV: It’s the first time I’ve been involved in integrated BSL and it’s been flippin wicked. Rachael’s mesmerising to watch. She was there from the start of rehearsals. It was challenging at first because we could see the potential. We weren’t interested in her sole purpose being interpreting, it felt detached from us. We wanted to all tell this story together and once we truly surrendered to that, we found flo.

Ragevan as Haseeb with BSL Performer, Rachael Merry. I WANNA BE YOURS. Photo: The Other Richard

We were also lead by Anna Himali Howard (our director) who is a brilliant collaborator; she understands actors and we created a working language very quickly. It was a very open room where we could communicate any difficulties about the BSL process with ease. I hope all actors get an opportunity to work with BSL because so much of drama is about the difficulty of communicating one’s truth. Having Rachael there makes it so much richer (and easier; she does half my job for me). I’ve probably forgotten how to act without it.

Do you ha​ve a favourite moment in the play?

RV: Nah, too hard to pick.

What was touring I WANNA BE YOURS like for you?

RV: A blur. But a great blur. Performing in a different city everyday for 6 weeks isn’t as tough as I thought it would be (but a lot of that is down to Alice; big up our company manager). The venues were welcoming and excited to have us.

We rehearsed and opened in London and I was nervous about going to cities around the country which were predominately white and saying some of the things my character says. ​To be made aware of your race, to be called ‘white’- it can be quite confronting if you haven’t experienced that before.

A lot of the play speaks directly to the audience and I don’t buy it when people say ‘you never know what the audiences are thinking’. When you look at someone directly in the eye, you can tell whether they’re vibe-ing you or not, and it can completely shift your energy in how you tell that story. And that can feel problematic. Sometimes there would be an underlying feeling of ‘ok, maybe I have to explain myself here’ but that instinctively felt wrong. Like, why am I apologising through these lines? Why am I feeling like I have to re-interpret this text? Ok, there’s one person here who gets it so I’m gravitating towards you but now I’m feeling like I’m not sharing the story. I don’t want to be a spokesperson and the play doesn’t want me to do that either so why am I suddenly feeling that now I’m in an environment which feels a bit detached?

Anna really helped me with that and it always came back to the character’s truth. Getting to make direct connections with audience members is a massive gift. That’s why this show has never once felt the same, which keeps me sane and constantly inspired.

I WANNA BE YOURS. Photo: The Other Richard

I also learnt a lot from conversations we would have with people after the show. Something which came up a lot (and continues to) is how refreshing it is to see the play tackling race and discrimination without anger and with subtlety, tenderness (those kind of words). I sort of get it and I’d think ‘ok, let’s not challenge that because that is your experience’ but ultimately, I think it reveals more about the person and how they want race to be portrayed. Like it is only palatable when communicated in a certain way? What does that say about the way we choose to listen to and interpret ideas surrounding race?

I will admit I absolutely loved being out of London for a bit though. It was calm. I think I might need to move by the sea or into the woods.

Did you have a favourite venue on tour?

RV: Remember that blur I told you about…We did perform in a record-shop-by-day-theatre-by-night in Ventor, Isle of Wight. That place was sick. The audience were sitting on sofas and arm-chairs; it kind of blended into our set seamlessly. It felt very communal.

How does it feel to be bringing the play to the Bush?

RV: For me, it feels like a homecoming. A lot of this play speaks about London and living in this city so if you know, you know (however, I’ve discovered that north-south wars exist in all cities. People are fierce over their territories. We are animals). The Bush studio is very intimate and we’re in thrust; I can see everyone in most directions, there’s no hiding, but that’s completely right for this story. The play feels very clear in this space.

Sam’s or Morley’s?

RV: Sam’s. Morley’s lack spice. Come at me.

 

And ICYMI: Ragevan has just been nominated for an Offie for his performance in I WANNA BE YOURS as Haseeb. We wish him the best of luck and our fingers are crossed! You got this 🙏🏾

I WANNA BE YOURS is playing at the Bush Theatre until 18 January 2020. Tickets are still available, but you gotta run.


“In a post-Brexit world, it could be argued that the country has become less tolerant of minorities – would this be reflected in the stands at football stadiums?”

Adam Kotwal, winner of the first ever Lancaster Playwriting Prize and Tamasha Playwright (2018/19) tells us why he wrote Brownballed – one of five plays scratching later this month at Curve Theatre, Leicester.

Brownballed‘s origins came from a short Copa90 documentary by Adam McKola called Why do British Asian’s Never Make It Pro? There were some startling facts that as a football fan I have never really thought about, such as, there are over 3700 professional footballers in the UK, currently only 12 come from South Asian heritage and only two of them play in the premier league; Neil Taylor of Aston Villa and Hamza Choudhary of Leicester City. Coupled with the fact that a player of South Asian heritage has never capped for the English National Team gave me a reason to research further to understand this phenomenon, or lack of.

After speaking to Dr Stefan Lawrence of Newman University, he discussed the idea that the barriers one would assume that cause this failure in making it as a professional, such as culture and family, are not the barriers people perceive to be and are overstated. His research led to me to the work of Professor Scott Fleming and his seminal work Home and Away, where research found sport participation in South Asian schoolchildren was influenced by personal racisms in daily experiences, and Dr Dan Kilverton’s more recent work, British Asian’s, Exclusions and the Football Industry, which looks at how race has been a factor of exclusion in football.

The writing process was multi phased – initial work looked to debunk the idea that the game is made up of seemingly meritocratic institutions. This is in large part a myth and a number of factors could be thought of as contributing factors as to why players make it professional and more importantly, in this case, why they don’t.

After a period of review, I thought about what if a player from South Asian heritage did make it, to the point of being on the cusp of superstardom? How would they deal with it and interestingly how would the world around them deal with it? You only have to look at the tabloids to see how the media can treat our Black footballers, would our South Asian footballers be treated the same? In a post-Brexit world, it could be argued that the country has become less tolerant of minorities – would this be reflected in the stands at football stadiums? The proliferation of social media has meant that the fan and the athlete have no barriers, meaning that a small, but growing part of the internet community is now gamifying this as a way to direct criticism. Is this likely to affect the mental health of the athlete?

In a game where the athletes are prized commodities, playing for clubs who are valued higher than the GDP of a small country and watched by billions around the world, is being a footballer actually even worth it?

***

Brownballed by Adam Kotwal 

Part of The Playwrights 2019 (A Tamasha Scratch Night)

A Teenage British Asian Footballer, on the verge of greatness suddenly questions the moral ambiguity of the fame, wealth and glory that lie ahead.

Directed by Beth Kapila

Featuring: Hareet Deol, Annice Boparai and Alan Suri.

Book tickets here.


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