My Life as a Teaching Artist
18 Oct 2018
How did you become involved in theatre? What drew you to this career?
I received the first offer to join a theatre group when I was fifteen, when attending ‘Nima Poetry Nights’ in Kerman, Iran. I was the youngest member of both groups at that time, for both poetry and theatre. In less than two years, I acted my first leading role in a mainstage production. Though exciting, appearing on stage was very challenging as a woman from both a conservative city and traditional family. My parents also had to deal with the same social pressure I faced, as I was challenging the stereotype of women involved in the arts, in particular performing arts. However, those days made me stronger and helped me in standing up and fighting for my dreams. In 2001, I moved to Tehran, the capital city of Iran, to study theatre in Tehran University’s Faculty of Art. From the beginning, I was mesmerised by the experience of living my whole life every day in theatre, experiencing death every night and being present every moment on stage. Theatre was also a way to challenge my surroundings. It was part of my struggle to shape the world – I was dreaming. After two decades, it is still my most joyful challenge! For me, theatre is a way to form the world into a different shape – a better shape.
What was your journey to working in Australia and establishing Baran Theatre Group?
When I migrated to Australia, I thought I had to kiss this fantasy world goodbye. I started studying Media (film and TV) to continue my career as a filmmaker. However, meeting Theatre Diversity Associate in 2013 and the inviting kindness of Metro Arts was a miraculous elixir which changed this belief and brought me back to the world I loved. I started shaping my group immediately, attempting to exhaust all the opportunities and possibilities I had. I could develop a creative team with my wonderful artist friends, classmates and my brother. However, as the work was a bilingual performance, I needed a bilingual cast! After conducting several workshops for Persian speakers at Metro Arts, I casted Baran’s first performers, among many of whom had never acted before, but had a passion and talent for acting. The commitment, love, and determination of all these beautiful people – creative and cast – shaped Baran Theatre.
How did you become involved with Bell Shakespeare?
I joined the rehearsals of The 39 Steps at Queensland Theatre (QT) earlier this year. The first connection was made through the wonderful producer at QT, I guess! So, I received an email from Bell Shakespeare. During a phone conversation with Director James Evans, I discovered my own common interests and artistic approaches with this production of Julius Caesar. It was wonderful! I enjoyed everything from the first phone call to all the other communication with the company. I feel honoured and I am glad I became involved with Bell Shakespeare.
What has your experience working with Bell Shakespeare and James Evans been like?
It’s been amazing! Bell Shakespeare is a leading Australian theatre company with a lovely, great work culture and friendly environment. During my contribution, I had a chance to get familiar with the other brilliant aspects of the company, like ‘In-School Performances’ by The Players and ‘Mind’s Eye’ as well. I have learned a lot and enjoyed this new experience.
Working with James Evans has been an absolute pleasure because he is creative, intelligent, open-minded and humble. He knows the art of listening and selecting the best ideas. As a result of his approach, everyone had a voice in the room. It’s been a fantastic experience of looking, listening and sharing in a very friendly environment. I have also been so impressed by his non-traditional, gender blind and diverse casting.
This play – Julius Caesar – is more than 400 years old. Why do you think it is still relevant today? What messages do you think it brings to audiences?
It is enough to have a quick look over the world news! We will find a long list of issues that define the relevance today. Sadly, history is repeating itself over and over again. This bitter world is congested with violence, conflict, ignorance and the tragic loss of the lives of countless innocents. Charismatic leaders are manipulating people and the power game repeats again. Julius Caesar is relevant considering the prominent news of the refugee and immigration crisis – we are displacing! It’s enough looking at today’s tyrants and dictators; those leaders enjoy devastating other countries with their selfishness and narcissism, adding such destruction to their glorious conquest list! The message I think it brings to the audience is the famous simple saying: ‘violence creates greater violence.’
Julius Caesar is traditionally a very male-driven play. What do you think about how this production portrays women?
There is no doubt James Evans and Bell Shakespeare took a big step in empowering the female characters and portraying women in the play differently. Sara Zwangobani playing Mark Antony, Emily Havea playing Octavius Caesar, and casting Ghenoa Gela and Neveen Hanna in traditionally male roles is highly appreciable. However, in my point of view, sexism is woven into the language and actions of the play. On the other hand, changing the gender of a character doesn’t necessarily reduce the masculinity of the context.
Born in the south of Iran, Nasim is a Brisbane based writer, director and performance maker investigating the potential for cross-cultural fusion and possible ways for interactive theatre keeping a poetic tone. This is her first production with Bell Shakespeare. Her other theatre credits include No Swinging Allowed, which was banned after its first show in Tehran; Vis and Ramin for Baran Theatre/Metro Arts/FCAC Melbourne; and Thin Air Brush for Metro Arts Theatre. Her activism includes cooperating with the One Million Signatures Campaign for the Repeal of Discriminator Laws in Iran; organising and offering several workshops for playwriting with feminist approaches; and contributing in raising awareness for Women’s Rights by directing several street theatres. Nasim is also the founder of Iranian-Australian theatre group, Baran.