Interview: Mother Tongues from Farther Lands

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This month, British theatre producer Dawinder Bansal launches brand new theatre show Mother Tongues from Father Lands. The uplifting, inspiring and emotion-filled show has real stories of South Asian women relayed by female celebrities in a series of gripping monologues. The four-city show was produced after speaking to women of all ages and sheds light on hidden stories within the Asian community. Dawinder shares her journey of making this unique new show for a national UK tour as part of Southbank Centre’s Alchemy On Tour.

 

What is Alchemy On Tour?

Alchemy On Tour is part of Southbank Centre’s international multi-arts festival, Alchemy that showcases contemporary artistic work from seven countries. The festival explores the dynamic cultural connections between South Asia and the UK and promotes innovative British and international artists.

Alchemy presents exciting collaborations and new works from emerging and legendary artists across dance, music, theatre, spoken word, fashion, visual art, comedy and literature, including a packed programme of inspiring workshops and talks.

Alchemy presents…artists across dance, music, theatre, spoken word, fashion, visual art, comedy and literature

Tell us about Mother Tongues from Father Lands and how it came about?

I was invited to join the Southbank Centre as producer to lead on a national participation project for Alchemy On Tour. The aim of the project was to create a brand new theatre show, rooted in the heart of South Asian communities in the Black Country, Doncaster, Oldham and London.

My specialty is capturing real life stories from diverse communities

My specialty is capturing real life stories from diverse communities and using these to inspire the creation of original contemporary theatre shows, which are relevant and topical. I wanted to work with Sajeela Kershi ever since I saw her award winning show, Immigrant Diaries in 2015 and also because she champions women’s rights.

When we met, our values chimed so I knew we’d make a great team for this project. We had a blank canvas and decided to place women’s stories at the heart of the show.

 

Tell us about the production process of Mother Tongues from Farther Lands?

An important part of my artistic philosophy is spending time with communities and recording their stories. The process for this show began in the same way, by developing a bond with participants of Aksa Homes Asian Women’s Group and Chai Ladies Group in Oldham, Conversation Café in Doncaster, Feltham Asian Women’s Group in London and HumJoli in Wolverhampton.

Sajeela Kershi and I began capturing their real life stories to make the new show. After each of the workshops, we would discuss the remarkable stories we were told. These stories, songs, anecdotes, words of wisdom and poems have inspired the written monologues performed in this show.

 

What was challenge of putting it together?

Working with real stories is both a privilege and a great responsibility. The process requires time to thoughtfully interview people and revisit the audio once it’s recorded. We’ve managed to record so many stories through the workshops that Sajeela decided to fuse all the stories together. The challenge now is to ensure all the participants see a part of themselves reflected in the piece.

 

Why is this project important? 

This year commemorates the 70th anniversary of India and Pakistan being partitioned. We wanted to make a show that didn’t directly tackle partition, but focussed on uniting communities divided in 1947.

This year commemorates the 70th anniversary of India and Pakistan being partitioned. We wanted to make a show that didn’t directly tackle partition, but focussed on uniting communities divided in 1947

Too often, the every day stories of South Asian women go unheard. Some don’t think they have anything important to contribute while others, particularly elder Asian women, are largely isolated and ignored, even by their own families.

And with this project, we want to celebrate the unheard voices of strong women across the generations and unify the stories of women from the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim faiths. The idea was not to revisit any of the past tragedies during partition but to celebrate our rich and multi-cultural Britain.

 

Why do you work with community groups in your work?

The UK arts sector is largely funded by Arts Council England. People pay their taxes to subsidise theatres, arts centres and artists to make new work, which doesn’t often get seen. So I feel it is my absolute responsibility to engage those people who don’t ordinarily interact with art and become that bridge.

Getting into the heart of different communities allows me to understand what motivates people to engage with art

I work with grass roots communities because it keeps me grounded and it enables me to give a voice to marginalised people from society. Ensuring their experiences and lives are valued through an artistic vehicle. I am quite an observant person and fascinated by language.

Getting into the heart of different communities allows me to understand what motivates people to engage with art. Creativity and curiosity go hand in hand and this is what always leads me to my next piece of work.

 

What do you look for in projects?

I am naturally drawn to history, social history as well as hearing about incredible human-interest stories. I pay attention to the news and listen to Radio 4 quite a lot to cross-fertilise ideas. I like work that entertains, provokes and takes audiences on a memorable journey.

 

Last words

The show Mother Tongues from Father Lands is very special. I only work on projects that have a social and artistic impact. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been visiting groups of Asian women to record their stories of strength, solidarity and humour. It’s been a pleasure to meet 120 South Asian women from multi-faith backgrounds who have all contributed to the creation of this new piece commissioned by the Alchemy On Tour national partnership.

 

 

Mother Tongues from Farther Lands is a commission by Southbank Centre’s Alchemy and supported by Arts Council England.  Taking inspiration from communities across the UK, professional performers bring fascinating, fearless and funny monologues to life. It is being staged at Oldham Coliseum Theatre (May 11), Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall (May 20), Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton (May 23) and Cast in Doncaster (June 3). Follow Dawinder Bansal on Twitter: @DawinderBansal and Facebook: @DawinderBansal1

 

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