BWW Interview: Sudha Bhuchar Talks RETRACING OUR FOOTSTEPS
Actress, playwright, and founder of Bhuchar Boulevard Sudha Bhuchar is curating three nights of play readings with her sister Suman at the Royal Court.
A celebration of British/South Asian playwrights, the three nights see Partap Sharma's A Touch of Brightness, Hanif Kureishi's Borderline, and Harwarnt Bains' Blood presented, along with panel discussions.
What was the biggest challenge you met when you first started out?
I think the biggest challenge when I started out professionally remains a challenge now. It's this whole thing: you're there because of who you are. I got into the theatre as a young Asian person, not because I always wanted to be a famous actress, you know? I think the challenges are that you do significant things, but you have to be in charge of forging your own future.
Nothing launches you to the next level. You've got to just keep on keeping on yourself. I think being a person of colour is also the biggest challenge. Because you can't say, "Oh, I'm here, something else will come next!", because when the next thing doesn't come, then you're back to square one. It's that feeling of coming back to the same place.
You're the founder of two theatre companies, Tamasha and Bhuchar Boulevard - what would you say is the main difference between them?
When I started Tamasha, my friendship with Kristine Landon-Smith was sort of at the heart of it. Slowly, it organically grew and it became this huge movement, like a pipeline of talent. We sort of changed people's lives - inadvertent pioneers, all of that. Then when I left after so many years, there was a sense of finding myself again.
I did Child of the Divide last year, which launched Bhuchar Boulevard. I want it to have a sense of renewal for myself as an artist and not to feel as if I've got the whole of the next generation of artists on my back that I need to look after. I want to give myself a chance to renew myself.
There's a lot of talk right now about the difference between diversity, representation, and inclusion. What's your opinion?
I think representation and inclusion can often be a reduced way of looking at things. I'd include diversity in there. It's for people to recognise that we are out there, we are complex people. Our voices reflect that. It's not just a case of colour and numbers.
Tell us about Retracing Our Footsteps
Basically, my sister Suman Bhuchar and I - partially because of our age now - have always been very aware of the plays that have been there before we started, that have been sort of landmark pieces. You know, a couple of the plays in the readings are plays we've seen the first time around.
A Touch of Brightness is a play that was done 50 years ago. To find out that it was on at the Royal Court and nobody really knows about it felt too urgent. I also mentor and act as a dramaturge to younger writers, and I'm always amazed by the fact that they don't know what's happened before.
You keep hearing people say "Oh, isn't this great, it's the first time an Asian play's been on there, the first time this has happened" and you find yourself saying "Well, no, it's not the first time". It just felt really urgent.
We also know that there was a great movement and there is now the existence of the Black Plays Archive. It's really important that people know about these works and their significance. We're interested in seeing how the new millennial audience responds to them being read out now in 2018. That's the impetus behind it.
How did you choose the pieces?
One of the things that happened was that my sister and I realised that it was the 50th anniversary of Partap Sharma's play. So we talked to the Royal Court and they became interested in being our partners. Then we looked into their archive of plays that had been on at the Royal Court and through that we found more.
We already knew of the existence of Hanif Kureishi's Borderline and Harwant Bains' Blood and it just felt appropriate to put them together, because they each represent a period of time. That's how we did it. It's not exhaustive by any means; it just happened that they're three plays connected with the Royal Court.
In what way is the heritage of British Asian theatre different?
In a sense, what we're trying to celebrate is the individual voices, but through them we're obviously celebrating British Asian theatre. It's always interesting to read the preface of the plays.
For instance, Hanif Kureishi in Borderline says that the immigrant is a modern-day everyman, a representative movement and aspirations. It talks about the ubiquitous immigrants of the 20th century he's writing about, and it's easy to connect it to the ubiquitous immigrants of the 21st century.
Those things really resonate. Harwant Bains talks about writing as a Punjabi, the legacy, the things that have happened to your family, their connection to the land. He's writing a hard-hitting play and what he's navigating is the representation of a particular community. How do you feel free as a playwright? How can you be part of, and yet apart from, the people you're writing about? I think all those things resonate.
Do you think the plays are going to be received differently in 2018?
Yes, inevitably. Inevitably they're going to be received without their memory. I mean, some people in the audience, my generation, might be people who remember them. I don't think there will be people who witnessed A Touch of Brightness the first time around 50 years ago, but you never know, there might be!
But there will be people who witnessed Borderline and Blood the first time. Indeed there are actors who were in the original version who will be there in other roles.
I think those kinds of perspectives will be really interesting. Hanif Kureishi is going to be talking after the show and it'll be very interesting for him to see his play being performed by someone else. I think it's all going to be quite visceral and emotional for people. I hope so.
More than anything, the fact that these plays exist and we can be in conversation with them is the most important thing. And I can't predict what that conversation is going to be. But I do know that only reading the author's notes, they resonate 30 years later.
What kind of audience would you like to see at these readings?
Obviously, we'd like the younger Asian artists to come along, we'd love other writers, people who are making theatre. But also people who are booking theatre, general theatre-going audiences...
What can the audience expect from the shows?
For people who come all three nights, they'll see a range of voices. They'll hear the play and there are going to be platform events every night. We're looking at what young artists navigate and what the audience is interested in. For instance, the first night we're looking at authenticity and representation, and so on.
I would also like to celebrate the voices of the original authors; some people will have insights on that. On the two other nights, the playwrights will be there. I think we'll cover a wide range of issues, and mostly I hope it will be a chance to talk about art and what inspires people.