it’s been a big week for me.
After over 12 months of work behind the scenes, I officially launched, with my brilliant producers DepArts, a new theatre company for Yorkshire.
WhereYouFrom will, according to the mission statement we spent months trying to nail down, ‘tell stories about life in the North of England for South East Asian second and third generation immigrants’.
Which, now that I write it down for a newspaper column, I realise is a bit of a mouthful – and appears to be concentrating on really quite a small, focused group.
Perhaps it is, but I argue it is also entirely necessary.
An article in 2007 in the UK Press Gazette, the trade magazine for my industry, revealed that 91 percent of the time UK media printed a story that year about Muslims, the story was negative. I expect little has changed.
When you read Muslims, I imagine – and this is not least the fault of our media – that you have a specific sort of person in mind. Not one of the millions of white or black muslims, but a young Asian man.
How disillusioning do you think that might be? To look like that and know that 91 percent of those negative stories are demonising you, personally?
Our company will tell stories of Asian people born in this country, whose forebears were born elsewhere – generally, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India. We will also concentrate on telling stories based in the North – I believe the experience of life as a British Asian living north of Sheffield is different to that of those who live further down the M1.
Why such a seemingly concentrated group?
There are other companies that tell the experience of Black Britain, there are others who tell the story of being Asian in Britain – I know, I’ve trained as a director with some of them – but I see a widening gap down which some stories might fall. Stories specifically of being northern, British and Asian. And if those stories do fall down those gaps, we might lose them forever – and stories are how we understand ourselves and each other.
Right now, we need to understand groups different to us more than ever. I also believe, passionately, entirely, that theatre is where we tell stories, learn about our shared humanity and have difficult conversations.
Our first show is in November in Bradford and a second is already in the pipeline. I’m really proud and excited that WhereYouFrom is a thing, real and in the world. I am also looking forward to sharing stories – telling them and hearing them. You can follow the company on twitter – you’ll find us on @WhereYouFromUK and it’s going to be quite an adventure.
Just a couple of other things: do I feel compromised as a theatre critic/arts journalist now that I lead a theatre company? Nope.
Also, no, I won’t be giving up the day job.