Khalida 2008

A play by David Fancy

Winner of the 2008 Enbridge
Emerging PlayRites Award

Designated an Outstanding New Play 
by the 2008 Summerworks Jury.

Featured at the Lincoln Centre for the Arts International Directors' Lab 2009

Theatre Theatrical produced the original hour-long version of Khalida in 2008 at the Toronto Summerworks Festival. neXt Company Theatre is developing the full version of the show for its 2012-13 season.

The following interview occured during the 2008 Summerworks Festival.

Set & costume design by LINDSAY ANNE BLACK
Lighting design MICHELLE RAMSAY
Stage managed by ISAAC THOMAS


Indrit Kasapi of The Red Devil interviews Roxanne Duncan and Alexandra Seay of KHALIDA:
Why Khalida? How did you become involved with the production? What led you to that decision?
AS: Actually, Khalida found me about a year and a half ago while I was reading scripts for Iris Turcott at CanStage. The play embraces the kind of theatricality that I have wanted to inc
orporate into my work as a director for a long time. The movement aesthetic, poetry and political guts of the story are equally attractive to me. When my report to Iris glowed about the poetry, the formal innovation and the political relevance, she suggested I meet with playwright David Fancy and ask to direct the play. So now here I am directing this play that is everything I’ve been waiting for (thank you, Iris!).
RD: Khalida found Alexandra, and she found me. She was sooo excited about this play that it was impossible not to get caught up in it. I was pretty much sold before I even read the script, and then David’s work was the clincher. It’s really a beautifully written piece.
What is the process of putting on stage a one-man show? Does that scare you at all?
RD: A cast of one is a dream on one hand because it’s really manageable, but it’s also pretty nerve racking to place so much into the hands of one artist. Casting the piece was really challenging because we had to find someone who could handle the physicality and the poetry of the text – not to mention the volume of it! – and who had the acting chops to deal with the subject matter. We had a lot of criteria and no margin for error, because there’s no one to pick up any slack.
AS: It was important to us that the role went to someone who truly wanted it, for whom playing it would be significant. I was surprised by how difficult it was to find a middle aged Arab actor who was not busy being type cast as a terr
orist in Vancouver or otherwise engaged in endeavours of their own. We cast Jason Jazrawy who, as I later found out, is a half Iraqi. One of the first things Jason told us after accepting the role was that his middle name is Khalid.
RD: Clearly, it was meant to be.
AS: Once the piece was cast we organized a week long training session with Kathleen Baum, a biomechanics specialist from
the U.S.. Learning side by side, Jason and I effectively became partners and I think we’ve maintained that sense of partnership throughout this process which was important.
The set has been in rehearsal since day one to allow Jason to develop a level of intimacy with the space. It has also been important that he not feel alone on stage, so in each scene I’ve provided him with a partner – be it part of our set, or a light, or a sound.
What does Theatre Theatrical consist of artistically and physically?

RD: We’re are an ad hoc collective of three emerging artists – myself, Alexandra and playwright David Fancy – who’ve come together specifically to produce this piece.
Our goal is to continue develop the show by fleshing out some of the scenes and the technical components – there’s only so much you can do with one special, even with Michelle Ramsay on board. Alexandra has always imagined that projections would work their way into the piece as well.
Once we feel like it’s ready, we’ll start touring it. I think Khalida will resonate with a lot of people, both in Canada and abroad. We’re all really excited for the show to interact with a broad audience.
AS: The name Theatre Theatrical is derived from an essay written about Meyerhold, who placed a great emphasis on theatricality in his work. In many ways Khalida is a response to Meyerhold’s desire to create theatre rooted in form.
What can we expect out of Khalida?
AS: Hmm. Well, it depends what you’re looking for. But generally you can expect, a non-linear, poetic narrative punctuated by moments of stylized physicality. You can expect to laugh, cringe and maybe even cry.
RD: Basically, it will knock your socks off – so go see it!!
What has been the most difficult part of the process of bringing the play on the stage?
AS: Finding the simplicity and stillness in it. Figuring out how to get out of the way and let the story tell itself without unnecessary clutter or activity. Finding and allowing moments of suspension to exist without feeling rushed. We recently decided to cut a few scenes in the interest of time management. My consolation is that they’re not gone forever – just gone until next time!
Do you think Khalida defies any traditional theatrical rules? If, yes in what way? If not, why not? If maybe, no explanation needed.

AS: For me there are no rules when it comes to theatre. That’s why I do it – because I can create anything I want (whether or not people will come see it or funders will fund it is another story). Khalida on the page and in performance doesn’t so much defy a tradition as it re-introduces a dormant one. David incorporates the principles of biomechanics, specifically the etudes – theatrical equivalent of a ballet barre or piano scales. In doing so, he allows us as creators to explore a wide range of theatrical possibilities and provides the audience with an experience of theatre which privileges stylization and economy of gesture in the name of theatricality.
RD: While there aren’t hard and fast “rules” in theatre, I think there are certainly very strong preferences – even biases – in contemporary Canadian theatre for naturalistic storytelling. Khalida is a very refreshing change of pace in that respect.
“…one man’s flight from a war-torn homeland”. Who is this man?
AS: For me, the character of Said speaks for a large number of individuals who experience the post 9/11 suspicions and hostilities of our privileged and often complacent North American society. Said’s experience is not radically different from that of any other marginalized group of new comers – but it is a timely one. Part of the appeal of this play for me is that it speaks beyond the specificity of nationality because Said is not from a particular country. The frustrations of an engineer driving a taxi, or a doctor waiting tables, or an actor making deliveries are things that many immigrants, citizens and permanent residents can identify with. As a nation of immigrants I feel this story is particularly relevant in Canada.
RD: David wrote this play for an Iraqi friend, Addil Hussain, who was himself an actor in Iraq before coming to Canada. Addil was initially set to play the role of Said, but unfortunately the necessity of making enough money to help get his family out of Iraq has prevented him from participating in this production. He’s still with us though, I think. His experiences, past and present, have certainly stayed with me throughout this process.
Where would Khalida be performed best?
RD: MagNorth 2009. Any takers?
AS: I would like to see the show tour to communities for whom Said’s story would be of particular relevance – communities not likely to attend SummerWorks or any other independent theatre venue. Taking theatre outside of traditional theatre spaces is a particular interest of mine and so I would very much like to see Khalida performed in different spaces, for different audiences.
One of the many appeals for me about this piece is that it’s very adaptable. It could be performed in a site-specific context (warehouse, oil refinery etc.), a lecture hall, a community centre, art gallery or in a theatre without loosing any of its theatricality or potency.
If you could choose one line from the play that would describe it best what would it be?
AS: 'Unbound by the laws of the real.' This describes why I was attracted to the play as a reader, why I continue to be attracted as a director and what I would be attracted to as a spectator.
RD: Yeah, that’s a really good one. I’m also a fan of How does a person come to be from here? I think it’s one of the most interesting questions the play poses.
What do you think makes a theatrical experience a truly Canadian one? Do you think there are elements of that in your production?
AS: Khalida can be seen to engage with Canadian politics from a human perspective – specifically our treatment of immigrants and, despite an international advertising campaign stating the contrary, our indifference to difference. Moreover, it also forces us to admit our complicity in the geopolitical interests and struggles that we too often shrug off on our neighbours to the south.
Khalida, in its current incarnation, is a product of what is possible in Canada. It is possible for a white male playwright born and raised in Canada to write a play about the experience of a middle aged Arabic immigrant and then for a young female director to direct it.
Some people might see this as Canadian. Others might see it as appropriation. I feel lucky that as an artist and as a woman I live in a country which allows me to tell stories, period. Beyond that, I can tell stories which are not specific to my own experience. I can tell stories which speak on a broader level of understanding to a vast number of people. Does that make my experience working on this play a uniquely Canadian one? I like to think not, but I’m sure each reader will have a different response.
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