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It takes a village to raise a play

March 16, 2015

By Tasnim Hossain

When we sat down last year with the producers of You Are Here to pitch our play, we came armed with a rough-as-guts-script, a hastily-thought out twist and a desperate desire to share our work with our hometown.

The script was Zak and Reefa’s Bollywood Funeral, a one-woman show that we had written to take to Perth’s Fringe World in February.

The twist was that we would take this play, which was complete in itself, and split it in half, bringing it out of the theatre into lived spaces.

And the desperate desire, well, that was because everyone involved in this play is a diehard Canberra fan who loves this city and loves its work.

Chris Brain, designer/dramaturg extraordinare, and I met up last July during his uni break. We were both looking for something to do next. Putting on a play was definitely Chris’s idea. Zak and Reefa were mine.

Zak and Reefa’s Bollywood Funeral is the story of a brother and sister, Zakariah and Sherifa, who are dealing with growing up and finding their way. They just so happen to be Muslim Australians of Bangladeshi heritage, with very traditional “aunties”.

The two characters came about from the kinds of pressures that I had had as a young person, and in my head, it totally made sense for it to be a solo show; for me, Zak and Reefa were two halves of the same whole.

We added a Bollywood dance (all mine), an atrocious rap (all Chris’s), much more swearing, a Manila folder full of wedding CVs and one very red sari, and ended up with what had started to look suspiciously like a play.

We were lucky enough to have a whole lot of support getting the show ready. Everyone says that it takes a village to raise a child. I don’t know about children, but it feels like it definitely takes a village (or at least an amazingly supportive arts community) to put on a play.

I had help from Playwriting Australia’s Lotus Program for Asian-Australian Writers with workshopping the script from its infancy. Both The Street Theatre and Canberra Youth Theatre gave us space to rehearse. The Bangladeshi-Australian Association of Western Australia flew me over to Perth and somehow we were up and running.

The Zak and Reefa script for You Are Here is considerably different from the script for Fringe World in Perth. In fact, it has been completely split in half, between Zak and Reefa, with several new scenes written.

For You Are Here, we brought in an actor to play Zak, the extremely talented Vivek Sharma, and Casey Elder to direct, who I had worked with on the play before going to Perth.

And so now the two halves have almost become wholes in themselves, although I would still absolutely recommend watching both.

On Wednesday night, at Landspeed Records in Garema Place, Zak will take the audience through the pressures of following the path set out for him, when really, all he wants to do is rap and play bass in his band, Pug Rock.

Then, on Thursday night, at 21 Barry Drive, Reefa will share how she deals with unemployment after uni, by exploring the possibilities of an arranged marriage.

The aunties have a lot to answer for.

Zak and Reefa’s Bollywood Funeral will be showing as part of the Dangerous Territory stream at You Are Here. The first performance, from Zak’s perspective, is on Wednesday 18 march, 6.30pm at Landspeed Records and the second, from Reefa’s perspective, is on Thursday 19 March, 6.30pm at 21 Barry Drive.