Part two of this interview is here
You have now written plays which have been produced locally?
I wrote a play which actually came out of a workshop put on by Accidental Theatre. They asked me to write something and I had been thinking about a particular form of selling products using motivational speakers.
The process, which comes with late stage capitalism, prays on people’s insecurities, needs them to feel insecure about themselves, in order to sell people products to make them attractive or get them the beautiful body. This came about after I had seen some pop-up ads on my computer which looked to use this particular technique.
I wrote up a character, I showcased the early draft, and from there the play, “Hey You, Yes You” was produced. The aim was to investigate the processes of this particular form of sales, particularly, in this case, around the question of masculinity.
Did you perform the lead character?
I think I showcased it first and then I hired a young actor Aaron Hickland to play Brad Peelawn and he did a great job.
You then wrote “Fake ID”. How did that come about?
I lost my father and it took many years for me to come to terms with that loss. I was angry at the state of where we are now. I think we live in an extremely febrile and hostile environment for people who would be described as “the other” and this is being exploited by various demagogues, people who are extremely duplicitous.
My father in many ways represented one of the people who was in the early vanguard of immigration here. I recognise now how difficult it was for my mother and father to live here.
You are talking about racism?
Yes. My father was a very brave man to live here, raise a family here in the middle of the white heat of The Troubles, he would be heckled out of pubs, he wouldn’t be served in places and he stuck out because he was one of the few immigrants living in Northern Ireland.
You were also trying to come to terms with the relationship you had with your father?
In some ways growing up here in a homogeneously white environment my father stood out and for me that was very difficult. As a child I wanted to fit in, to be part of here, and I didn’t want, just like most children, to have something which drew attention to me.
I didn’t want that attention but everywhere we went my father drew attention to our “otherness”. I wanted to blend in but that wasn’t possible.
That created all sorts of tensions, and my father and I did have personality clashes as well, which increased the fractious nature of our relationship as well. The play goes through that as much as the underlying themes of identity and racism.
Was it a cathartic experience, writing this play about issues which are highly personal?
When I was writing the play I didn’t feel that. I was simply working on the words, the language, getting the narrative down, conveying what is in my brain and getting that on the page. I was in the zone so to speak working on this play.
It was only after I saw the reaction when I was presenting the work that it became something more than just the words.
I feel in some ways it allowed me to come to terms with the relationship I had with my father, there are of course many unanswered questions, a lot of regrets, and I think it is worth acknowledging that you always feel that you have enough time especially with people with whom you have unresolved issues.
I do feel immensely proud of what my father brought to me and to Northern Ireland. I am very proud to be half Pakistani, to such an extent that I am almost enraged which I could express it more.
The play was very successful locally?
It was and a lot of people came to see it and it was very well received although I didn’t perform the play for very long. The critical response was very good and there is a book deal which came out of that production.
Where to now?
I have a book deal and I am writing a memoir, which is taking forever and the publishers have been very patient and accommodating. I am writing other works and have showcased some new material at the Strand Arts Centre.
I have a new work which is me talking about other people’s views, stories or anecdotes that I have picked up while I have lived here. So plenty of work coming and plenty to keep me busy.
Theatre to me is visceral, there is something about people experiencing a narrative created by other people from the writers to the actors’ right in front of them. You can hear the people breathing, you can see the tension right in front of you. Now, maybe it is a dying art form because of the expense to put it on and the lack of reward, but for me when it works, it really works and it is vital.
For more of Joe’s thoughts see the following link – nawazknowsnowt.wordpress.com/
Part one of this interview is here