"What does it mean to be human?
Ellandar Productions & The Rogue Playwrights presents ONLY HUMAN: a micro-festival of new writing. For five nights 15 playwrights muse on what it is that make us human. At a time where there is a global conversation around identity and belonging, we look at what unites us and what divides us.
Is it the end of the world, is it capitalism, is it shared trauma, is it our history, or is it love that binds us together? Or is it indefinable?
15 plays that explore the foibles, fault lines, and fallibility of human beings. 15 plays that recognise when it comes down to it, all we really are is flesh, bones, minds, hearts, and maybe something elusive called a soul."
This is the first performance work I've done since graduating from drama school, where I played two different parts in two different plays as part of the night called SOUL at The White Bear Theatre.
It is a bit strange to write about performance work. I wasn't drawn to acting during my undergraduate years, not really, although arguably I have been acting since I was four years old. Yet, in an academic context, I found myself primarily drawn to direction. It was only once I entered formal training that I began focussing more on performance, so that's where this documentation begins: at drama school.
Acting is innate to my very sense of being. So, in my case, at this point in time, I don't exactly strive to be the best actor ever.
I strive to do my best whenever I do find myself acting.
This is four year old me back in New Delhi, India, taking the stage for what I think might have been my first time. I played a dancer girl in some South Indian story, although I'm dressed in Rajasthani clothing, and I'm also missing a tooth. Anyway, I took the stage back in 1997, and haven't really stopped since.
As part of the performance focus of the interdisciplinary unit at RCSSD, I was required to create and perform a solo piece. I was drawn to the mask work that we went through in Lecoq training, and my piece emerged as a dance-like movement sequence to "Marche du Funebre" by Chopin. As the music itself evokes a dark, if not morbid theme, I played with mirrors and the concept of entrapment. A woman, figure, marionette, awakes from slumber and begins exploring her surroundings, suddenly seeing her face in the mirror, which is masked. She struggles fiercely to remove the mask, but is defeated at every attempt. She goes back to sleep, and awakes once more, but this time with a half-covered commedia dell'arte mask. I wanted to show that even when we try to reveal our true selves, there's an element of performance in everyday social life. This was the very basic premise, although I found myself absorbed in the work of Edward Gordon Craig and fascinated by the different directions I could develop the piece. Maybe one day I will return to this as a motif in my work, or work on this piece once again. I definitely don't want to sit in a room alone with half a mask on for hours on end again though.
"In Transit" is a piece of new writing by Molly Sweeney which I had the pleasure to perform on two occasions: at RCSSD for New Writing Night, and at The Duchess Theatre as part of the London Student Drama Festival. The piece was originally directed by Tom Luke and we maintained that direction for both performances. The show is essentially a one-woman monologue and deals with sexual assault. I played a war journalist who meets a man at the transit station, recounting my story and struggle to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. The entire time this man sits and listens and says nothing. The actor playing the role of transit man changed characters several times, as there were no clear scenes, but rather a change in situation or atmosphere, indicated by my on-going monologue. I recounted losing my son, how I traded a sexual favour for shelter and safety, and how it all doesn't matter in the end, because as a journalist, I want to tell a bloody good story. I thoroughly enjoyed this part, as it was text-based and women speaking uninterrupted is always great. I also think supporting new-writing is incredibly important to do as an artist. I've also always toyed with the idea of becoming a journalist, so, it was illuminating to have the chance to pretend to be one.
"Reach Zero" is a play about the aftermath of the false missile alert to Hawaii on the 13th of January, 2018. The play is made of a series of sketches with the characters all facing a variety of situations in which they receive the news, and react to it. I played several characters: a drunk person laughing at the panic, an angry politician furious at her brother for not trying hard enough and wasting their father's money, a person stuck behind a door, a girl in a car who realises she is going to die a virgin, a stuck up hotel guest who wants a refund now that her holiday looks like it will end sooner than expected, and a lesbian lover who finally admits to her partner that she doesn't know how to swim and is terrified of the water, but moved to Hawaii anyway, for her. Putting on a play in a short amount of time is stressful but working with new writing is always exciting as both the performance and the material are being tried and tested for the first time. I enjoyed being able to shift through a range of scenes.
the forbidden fruit
"The Forbidden Fruit" by Ayesha Saad is a story about Sophia who has a condition called vaginismus, which is the fear of penetration, and the problems this causes in her marriage with Jameel. I played Sophia, and it was deeply personal to me, because firstly I learnt about the condition vaginismus, which I didn't know existed, but I am a survivor of sexual assault and there's a correlation there. It's a kind of fear that I have not experienced pathologically, but have understood in other ways, like feeling unsafe in one's own body. Sophia questions her inability, what it means for her to be a woman unable to have sex, implying that it means she isn't a woman at all. Rebellion and fear are often thought to be opposing forces, in that you overcome fear to then fight, or rebel, for your cause. I find most feminisms to be read in that light. However, the fear of penetration, and the perplexity this caused for Sophia and her questioning her ability to be a woman at all, made me wonder whether or not fear in itself can be a form of rebellion. Sophia sees her fear as weakness, but her question is directed towards the very purpose of a woman, or rather, what a woman is expected to be. These questions are all very close to my heart, and I return to them often. It was an honour to play Sophia, and represent a misunderstood minority amidst womankind.
"Small Picture" by Farah Najib was based on her residency in Oldham, Manchester, where she interviewed women of all backgrounds, Black, Asian, Middle Eastern, and assembled what they had to say about the everlasting and evergreen white heteronormative patriarchy that seems to be a gloomy, grey cloud that won't go away. Well, if it won't go away, I'll continue to support writing like this. This play treaded the line between verbatim theatre and drama without losing the truth behind the dialogue. I didn't so much feel that I was playing a character, but rather I was telling someone's truth for more people to hear and understand. That's one of the most basic things I love about theatre, and it's capacity to move beyond the purposes of entertainment or high art. This play also reminded me of what it feels like to be a refugee in the United Kingdom, which is something I understand in a different sense. Refugees are at times the only people in the world that make any sense to me. I'm aware that can be misconstrued, but what I mean is, I have the highest empathy for them.
"Purple Onions" by Pedro Rothstein Perez is set in a post-apocalyptical dystopian world, where an independent woman (X) without a past, seizes her present every day seeking for onions. A frightened man (Y) emerges from nowhere looking for shelter. Will they be able to trust each other and defeat a greater menace (W) that is bound to arrive? How does one cope with an awful truth and take responsibility for ones own actions? Purple Onions is the tale of two, or three, lonely characters finding hope together in a hopeless world. I played frightened man (Y) who is in fact a nuclear physicist, who built highly sophisticated robots, which destroyed human kind. It was a lot of fun to play a man, and that, too, a nuclear physicist, since physics is a subject that I am fascinated by, and also I love to switch gender roles. Playing a mad, confused, seemingly evil character, full of guilt and defiance, gave me lots to work with and the sense of doom we all feel today about an imminent apocalypse resonated within me. It was a very intense play at the Arcola Theatre, and I hope it will be developed further by the talented playwright who managed to put as many themes in the writing as onions have layers. That is what the play is all about, "we are onions." Not sure I believe it, but it works for the play.
"Infomania" by Nikki Acquah is a response piece to Caryl Churchill's "Love and Information" and deals with the subject of how technology has separated couples, and people have increasingly lost interest in sex. This show was performed at The Vaults festival and presented by the Miniaturists who are strong advocates for the short play format. I played a woman in disbelief that someone could be celibate, a socially irrational half of a couple that is about to fall apart, and a seemingly alcoholic art enthusiast, amongst other parts. I like working in the short play format as it weaves stories together in a creative manner that truly exploits the art of theatre by making it challenging for the actors, but also immediate in a way that film could attempt to do, but would lack in liveness. The poster advertising the show, which reads, "see both shows" has a personal meaning for me. I'll look back and laugh at it years later. I wish I could tell you what it is but I'll probably make art about it, so not now. Instead, I'll tell you one of my favourite lines from the play. After a thorough interrogation about how and why someone could be celibate, the woman who is asking the celibate guy all the questions concludes with an exasperated, "Wow, it's like you're immune to advertising... cool." Love it.