I’ve never seen plays about people like me on Australian stages.  Writing my own has shown me that a good story connects with everyone

I’ve never seen plays about people like me on Australian stages. Writing my own has shown me that a good story connects with everyone

I’ve never seen plays about people like me on Australian stages.  Writing my own has shown me that a good story connects with everyone

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There’s a moment in my play when one of the characters Bill tries to convince the main character Nas to go away on vacation with his wife so he can make her fall in love with him again.

“Just the two of you,” Bill says.

“Why do you keep saying ‘just the two of you’? What does that even mean? It would be too quiet. I don’t know if I’d like that,” Nas replies.

When I first saw my act in front of a live audience, this line got a lot of reactions from the Desi community that I wrote about. I heard murmurs of approval and thankfully lots of laughter too. Going away as a couple we all knew was a strange concept in a society where family was at the heart of everything. In the past, couples actually spent “just the two of them” on their honeymoon before the kids arrived.

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The realization that her father had never spent significant amounts of time alone with her mother leaves Nas’ daughter Salima brooding. “Are you telling me you and mom never had time alone as a couple? Is that why both of you are having problems? Because I was always in the way?” Salima exclaims before having a minor existential crisis.

This is a play about different generations of immigrants – the first generation like Nas, and the second generation like Salima – and their attitudes towards life. But they are also just an average family. And that’s what I wanted to see. Ordinary families like the one I grew up in that faced generational and relationship problems like everyone else, but also happened to be from India or Pakistan.

Mostly I wrote this play because I never saw plays about people like me on our stages here in Australia.

The whole concept of becoming a playwright never actually occurred to me growing up in this country. It was only after I moved to London and I saw that playwrights didn’t have to be old white men, that they could look like me, that I even considered it as an option.

I had some success getting my work screened in UK cinemas on main stages such as the Hampstead Theater and the Soho Theatre. But when I came here to Australia, I heard that the kind of stories I wanted to tell were relegated to “community theatre,” a label that seemed to have all sorts of connotations, including that the work didn’t guarantee the same level of profit as, say, a shows that were staged on our main stages.

Community theater was for specific communities I was told, not mainstream audiences. It was a claim that really stung. And that may be why we see so little diversity on our main stages – although that may be slowly changing.

One thing I’ve learned over the many years I’ve been writing is that no one knows what mainstream audiences want—they’re just guessing. And when works for the stage in this country are primarily programmed by people who come from a similar background, many stories that deserve mainstream attention are sidelined when they shouldn’t be.

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My piece is currently showing because we are doing it independently. Everyone involved in the production does it for the love of it, as there is little or no money involved. With a cast and crew that is 80% POC, we all know the importance of making shows like ours part of the cultural canon in this country.

As someone who grew up having to put myself in the shoes of countless white characters just to see an aspect of myself represented on stage or screen, I can tell you that if you give audiences the chance they will lose themselves in the story. In fact, many may even appreciate seeing a part of life they hadn’t seen before.

When I write about a South Asian family, arranged marriages, having different generational perspectives, I am not only highlighting aspects of a community that many consider a small minority (when in fact Indians now make up the largest migrant group to Australia) – I m also bringing visibility to a significant part of the population whose voices need to be heard.

And I can tell you wholeheartedly, there’s nothing like seeing yourself represented to make you feel like you belong in a country you’ve made home.

When I see audiences from a similar cultural background to mine get the inside jokes, I feel great joy, not only because I’m highlighting a cultural aspect that only we know about, but because I’m also telling the world – this is who we are.

• Saman Shad is a writer based in Sydney. The Marriage Agency plays on KXT in Kings Cross until October 1st

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