BWW Interview: Aya Aziz on the Personal Story Told in EH DAH? QUESTIONS FOR MY FATHER
Writing the book, music, lyrics of a show seems a daunting task, but Aya Aziz knows how to do it, as well as star in the show herself.
Aya Aziz, a recent graduate of Hunter College, stars in Eh Dah? Questions for my Father, a show she wrote that is based on her life and family.
Her show first began at the New York Musical Festival, better known as NYMF, as a solo show starring Aziz. She and the show received Best Book and Outstanding Individual Performance Awards.
Eh Dah? Questions for my Father has now gone from one person with minimal sets, costumes, and lighting to a fleshed out production with a full ensemble at New York Theatre Workshop.
Aziz sat down with BroadwayWorld to talk about the show she has created and the message she hopes audiences leave with.
To start off, what is Eh Dah? Questions for my Father about?
It's a semi-autobiographical show about family and what happens eventually to a family and a generation of people when a country they belong to can not support them. It essentially examines immigration and the failed promises and dreams. What happens when people aren't in a space where they have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. The show really looks at that across three generations within my family. It looks at my grandfather's time versus my father and his generation, then landing on the question of what is the future? What is the future of Egypt, what does the future look like for the Arab world, which are complicated questions that are almost unanswerable, but ones that we have to ask as we lose more and more of the Arab world.
You not only star in the show, you also wrote the lyrics, music and book! How is it wearing all those different hats?
Way more difficult that I anticipated to be honest (laughter). It's been an exercise in building my skills because it was a one woman show and turning it into a full cast musical. I surprised myself, I will say that, and I'm proud of the work. It's also been maybe the hardest time of my life creatively. It's hard, while I'm in the show, to put down the writer's cap because I'll want to fix little moments when those moment could be solved through wearing another hat, through acting and direction. It's been confusing and challenging, but also a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
You've been developing this piece over many years, how has it changed and evolved?
It was a one woman show three years ago and the writing and the music has become more complex, as has the story and what the piece explores. We've discovered in writing a one person show, if there's only one person on stage, the characters and the people who's stories I'm sharing can only be caricatured because they don't have people behind them. That was the main indicate for expanding the show. The actors always bring so much to the characters in a way that I can't. Also through the writing I can expand the story, I can complicate it and ask questions that couldn't work in a solo show. These questions are both so pertinent and important to the moment we are in our current history today and it didn't feel right to simplify and dumb down things that are complex and need to be looked at through varied lenses.
When this started at NYMF as a solo show, did you ever expect it to become what it has now with a whole production team, cast, crew in an off-Broadway theatre?
Not at all! It's a true blessing. It felt like it might have a life after because there was so much more development to be had, but it's very through the vision of my director, Arpita Mukherjee, that this show has grown in the way that it has. Arpita Mukherjee and Rachel Sussman together have blessed me in their vision of what this show can be and I'm in awe of their vision and their work. They really led the way of developing it.
Next Door at NYTW is such a great and intimate space! What's it like getting to perform your show in that setting?
It's so fascinating because it's not normal proscenium theatre, it's almost like a cabaret space. It's my favorite type of theatre. I love being with people and close to audience members, it feels like it involves them. All of my work as a performance artist before this has been in rooted in my closeness to the audience. It's the vulnerability that theatre demands, that has allowed us to find truth and it's the truth I'm interested in reflecting on. It almost seems crucial, the intimacy.
You've had your hands full I'm sure with this show, but do you have any other projects on the horizon?
I do! I'm working on releasing my EP as a musician, but also I'm very interested in developing a show that I premiered in development at NYMF this past summer. I was commissioned to write 15 to 20 minute segments on a musical concert inspired by the constitution. It led me to write a musical in development about New York State prisons and the people in them. That's what I look in to develop for my next project. I showcased that this past summer and it went really well.
What do you hope audience members walk away with after seeing the show?
I want audiences to walk away inspired to think about their own stories and feel empowered. I want them to be empowered to share their own stories and think about their own future and their place in it, in a world that is increasingly xenophobic. I want them to walk away with a reflection on global community and the future posed by climate change. What is the global community, what is the future of that community and what are our stories and how can we use them to bridge cultural, geographic, class and language divides, how can stories cross areas.