I had tea the other day with a wonderful playwright who is also, a dear friend. A Pakistani-American writer. A Muslim. She was going on a trip and I wanted to speak to her before she left. We sat in a little cafe and over a Blueberry tart with two forks and steamed soy lattes, we talked. She was not writing about the things that she was really thinking about. I felt they were terrifying things and that she had moved away from them and was therefore in a depressed state. Her last two plays were about lost or un-acted moments, and t hen one in which there was no play at all.
"Where's the Play?" asks one character.
"In my pocket." says another.
"But you have no pockets," says the first, "so where's the play?"
"There is no play"
"But you said you want to ready your play. So where is it?"
Now, this writer is really good and anything she writes is of interest. But I intuitively felt that her running from her own thoughts, that certainly, in today's climate of racism and general hostility toward immigrants, particularly Muslims, must have had some effect on her writing. I could feel that her next play might not even be there at all.
I approached the subject with trepidation because I don't want to interfere with a writer's creativity. At TNC there is no censorship. My own history in the Theater includes a number of moments when a Producer laid their heavy hands on a piece of artistic work, and cut out the soft and beautiful center of the play, in their efforts to make it a more sell-able product. In a writer's development, this bodes Evil. In my memory, as well, these actions did not make the play better. It made it Stupid. TNC is a place of freedom for a writer.
However, this was to me, a time in which I must speak out! And I did! I told her that writing is a risk taken. That without that risk, the baring of one's soul, the the nakedness of one's vision. There is a cloud that will descend on your work and Block your path. I told her that I am taking a risk in writing a Blog, and that I too am afraid of repercussions, criticism, anger and even hatred, as a result. I told her I was gearing up for this year's Street Theater, and I had plenty to say. Worrying that I might offend her, I waited for her reply. And what a reply it was!
She told me that she indeed had decided not to write about Muslims in America, or the trials and tribulations of a woman Muslim, or about the United States invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, or the horror and terror that the Drone attacks are causing in the country (Pakistan) where her family still lives.
Then, she told me, in a torrent of words, that ever since 9/11, she has had fear of reprisal for being a South Asian. And, even more, for being Muslim.
I told her I understood completely since I once wore a hood and scarf combination in Winter and someone spat at me, thinking I was a Muslim. She told me that after 9/11, she wrote plays that dealt with issues that were indeed Socio-Political. But the dirty looks and sometime actual verbal and even semi-physical assaults from strangers after seeing her plays, had had an effect on her. She told me also of the great applause and sometimes standing ovations she received, and that they only exacerbated her fear. And now she found herself in the middle of a standing Political fight that she could not actually participate in, for she is "Just a writer and not an activist." Wow! What could I say?!
I told her that we must be brave and that I, as well as she, must write our Hearts out, because that is what were put on this earth to do, and lo and behold, she thanked me! It was as though I had somehow, given her permission to go ahead! She smiled--she laughed! we drank our tea and shared our Blueberry tart,, and I wished her a safe and happy journey. We had actually given each other courage. We had laid bare our fears and understood what we had to do. We knew our fate as writers was to write--about whatever--and come what may. That was, and is, and will be our salvation.