Nick Ahad: Telling the stories that have been too long absent from our stages

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It’s difficult to describe the exact feeling: it’s nerves, for sure, but there’s excitement as well.

A sense of real terror at what people might think, but at the same time a sense of being eager to see how people will respond.

It’s a sense of feeling incredibly exposed, but at the same time knowing that what you want to

say, you want to be heard. This time next week my latest play will be put before an audience.

Second Gen has been living in my head for at least five years and next week the slow, and sometimes painful, journey of taking an idea to the stage will begin in earnest.

The play is about the dynamics of an Asian family who run a business together. It explores the tensions that exist between the men like my dad, who came to Britain from the Asian subcontinent, and their children who were born here. Second Gen is my third full length play and the second I have made under the badge of my theatre company WhereYouFrom, which I run with producers DepArts. The reason I wanted WhereYouFrom to exist was because of a serious lack I witnessed on our stages. Our raison d’etre is to tell stories that are Northern, British and Asian.

These stories have too long been absent from our stages. That East is East is being revived in London right now is great, but has there not been a play about our lives in the 18 years since it was first staged that might be more worthy of revival?

I believe – and this is anecdotal, but based on 15 years of being a theatre critic covering the whole of Yorkshire – the people in charge of our stages are getting better. Slowly.

Asian actors I know are still dealing with the same frustrations they have always faced, at being cast as only shopkeepers or terrorists, but colourblind casting is starting to happen. Northern Broadsides, I was delighted to see, cast an Asian actor as a character called Frank this year. Yet still. Our stories, the ones that deserve to be told, are still too absent. Artists like Javaad Alipoor, Shazia Ashraf, my own sister theatre director Shakera Ahad, the collective Tribe Arts, writer Aisha Zia and others are all making strides, but we still have a way to go.

I will face some criticism because my piece, Second Gen, will seem more like a traditional ‘well made play’ as opposed to something as theatrically inventive as, say, a Paper Birds show, but that is because British Asian artists have not had as long to play in British theatre as our white counterparts. In order to get to Punch Drunk, white British Theatre had to go through The Mousetrap. My own influences with Second Gen are plays like Death of a Salesman and Alan Ayckbourn’s A Small Family Business. It has always struck me that Arthur Miller’s play about the patriarch Willy Loman could, with very little adapting, be about an Asian family. With Second Gen I have lots to say and the stage, for me, is one of the most powerful places some of those things can be said.