Just as we identify, demarcate and understand physical spaces by the boundaries that divide them, SPACES as a play explores ‘how boundaries affect the ways in which we understand each other’. Raniyah Qureshi, the play’s producer, elaborates on this:
SPACES arose from an 11-year friendship. Tallulah [the director] and I are in sync, we’re two peas in a pod, and understand all of each other’s cultural references, and can fill in memories, or relate each other’s stories: no fact is unknown. However, we realised very early on in our friendship that there are some fundamental differences, even if your friend is your soul-sister. We will always have different racial backgrounds, different belief systems, and our experience with mental health is wildly different. There’s a certain space when we’re navigating the fact that one of us is white, and the other one most definitely isn’t, or the fact that one of us has suffered from anxiety, and the other one hasn’t. We soon realised that those differences, those subtle invisible boundaries inform every relationship, and so set out to devise a performance that within an hour truthfully attempts to capture exactly how those boundaries emerge in real life.
In anticipation of the Fringe preview of SPACES (ticket link here), I talked to Raniyah about the play, balancing art and life, and navigating the infamous Cambridge theatre scene:
LB: As the origins of Spaces are very firmly embedded in such a personal friendship, what has it been like to step into the role of producer and hand over that narrative in a sense to the actors?
RQ: I think it’s very important to state off-the-bat that whilst the play emerged from what we noticed in our friendship, our friendship or that story is not evident in the narratives displayed on stage themselves. We went through an intense process of interviewing various individuals, some strangers and some friends, or even sending out surveys to understand how exactly different individuals view boundaries as affecting their relationships. After collating that information, we formulated four different storylines that highlight what we thought were pertinent boundaries and used the actors’ personal experiences to flesh out scenes. It was very important to us that the actors love and appreciate their characters, and that the scenes felt honest – so it’s been an organic process (if that makes sense?). Producing with Tallulah, and bringing her vision to light, is a lovely process because I just know where she’s coming from almost before she articulates the thought. When you understand someone so well, it’s easy to translate that ease of communication and understanding into creating something that you love and want to share with others – it’s like a nugget of your friendship, even if the actual friendship isn’t evident in the piece itself.
LB: Do you have a favourite moment in the play?
RQ: So many favourite moments, some of the moments are taken verbatim from different interviews, and I love how we’ve played with the original discussion to create something new and weight someone else’s words in a new way. I particularly love the off-kilter moments when all the four characters are on stage, and perform this physical theatre scene, spilling out this internal monologue. All four actors onstage reel off this list of phrases or sentences, that had been said to different self-identifying women or non-binary individuals that we had got in touch with. All the phrases are uniquely gut-punching but none of them are surprising and I just love that scene, because it’s so obvious when you see it, that boundaries are present, that there are certain barriers that just seem to be this eternal sticking point, or cumbersome to work around.
LB: Theatre in Cambridge is time and time again criticised for its inaccessibility/lack of inclusivity and diversity – do you have any words for any women/non-binary poc especially who are looking to get involved in the theatre scene?
RQ: Oh gosh I have so many words, but most importantly my words are persevere, persevere and persevere and use your BME community! If you’re writing a play, give roles to fresh talent and take chances, people can surprise you, and often when someone connects with a piece that’s when the magic really happens. Get involved in all kinds of ways, I have so much awe and appreciation for the silent heroes of theatre, the techies, the set designers, and the crew, they work so hard, and really what’s onstage could never be as dream-like or as awe-inspiring without them. Mostly just do what you love, I genuinely think if you care enough, it works – good people create good content. (I am sorry I am so, so, so soppy!)
LB: I really loved your gal-dem article on radical softness (if you haven’t read it, check it out here) !! Can we expect to see some of these politicised moments of emotional vulnerability in Spaces?
RQ: (Why thank you, this makes me shy and blushy!!!) I think because so many boundaries are invisible it’s almost quite hard to stage them. We have one storyline that depicts a girl suffering with anxiety and coming to terms with accepting that she does indeed suffer from anxiety. I think that really struck home for Tallulah as that’s something that she has personal experience with, but also it’s such a difficult thing to stage because it’s a totally internal and alienating experience. Figuring out how to encapsulate those feelings onstage in a way that wasn’t uncomfortable, but also fully captured the difficulty, how exhausting anxiety is took a while and also relied a huge deal of trust between us and the cast. We’ve become this very loving and supportive family unit because with that level of emotional exposure you have to be.
LB: A problem I encounter a lot is finding Cambridge such an exhausting environment that it completely drains me of my creative energy – how do you balance harnessing your creativity alongside life/stressful adult stuff?
RQ: Learning balance is really hard. I think the key is to know your limits and surround yourself with an understanding team. I think I always need some kind of creative outlet and I thrive when I’m busy, but it’s so important to take time for yourself even in the smallest ways. The little things like knowing that an email can be replied to later or taking time to detox from your phone can do wonders for sleep and energy, and it’s something that is so important to learn for life. The key to maintaining creative energy is knowing when to say no, and prioritizing quality over quantity. If something is a labour of love, you have to love the labour!
SPACES will be performing at Sweet Venues, Grassmarket 2 at 2.25pm from 2nd-26thAugust (every day except the 7th, 14thand 21st). Tickets can be found at: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/spaces. Tickets for the London preview, at Drayton Arms Theatre on 27thJuly at 9pm can be found at: https://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/spaces