Taking American novelist Henry David Thoreau’s provocation ‘We are not where we are, but in a false position’ as a central theme, Theatre Absolute are commissioning personal and political stories to reflect that. Rabiah Hussain is a playwright, poet, performer and storyteller and has written a powerful, thought-provoking monologue Where I Live And What I Live For.
“When I heard Henry Thoreau’s quote, what really resonated for me was the recent huge political changes in our history reflecting what I’ve felt for a long time,” Rabiah told me. “That in terms of race relations we haven’t actually come as far as we thought we had.” Rabiah delved into her experiences and others close to her to form a monologue that shines a light on the issues we have with racism.
Growing up as a second generation British Pakistani, both of Rabiah’s parents came from Pakistan. Her mum and dad faced a lot of racism when they moved to Britain, and her dad received a lot of racist violence towards him. “Alongside my own experience, I have researched into stories that people share, and great books with essays that really highlight what it’s like to be an immigrant, or the child of an immigrant in the UK today,” she said.
Rabiah’s monologue discusses the open racism of the 1970s and 80s through to the casual covert racism of 21st Century Britain from the perspective of Saleeha, a young British Pakistani woman, and her friend Sarah. “The things that the main character hears are the things I hear on a daily basis and it’s the same for everyone that I know who is from a similar background to me,” she explained. “The main issue is that I don’t think people realise the kind of effect they have. It’s very easy to read newspapers, watch the news and build a stereotype in your mind, so when you talk to someone, what you think is an innocent comment can have a real effect on someone.”
Translating her ideas on stage, Rabiah said: “Because it is a monologue, that gives me a good scope to really explore the emotional side of things as well, and I guess what I try to do was initially build a character, who this character is and what this character wants and how this character’s background feeds into that.” Rabiah expressed that she wanted to move away from any kind of stereotypical traits and just create a person who has desires, wishes and clear aspirations.
“I wanted to build it around the narrative of the political changes that are taking place at the moment.”
Rabiah’s aim for the piece is to get people to look at race in a different way. “Yes when you’re walking down the street and someone shouts the P word at you that’s racism, but racism comes in all sorts of forms,” she said. “If we are to go somewhere and move forward building on these race relations, we need to really need to understand how day to day words, the way we speak to people and the way we understand and misunderstand life are what can affect race relations.”
Opening in Coventry at the Shop Front Theatre, Rabiah wants her audience to leave having seen a different side to the whole narrative around race. “People see the violence that goes on, but don’t see how people react to stereotypes which they are fed through the media due to lack of representation,” Rabiah expressed. “I am pretty sure there will be people in the audience that hear some of the stuff the main character says and understand that they’ve probably spoken like that to someone as well. The point of the piece isn’t to say that these people are bad, it is to say that we have to think about this differently, so we are actively thinking about what we say and what we do and how we think of people of minority background.”
Growing up with a love for writing, Rabiah left university and entered the world of work to realise that her true passion lies in storytelling. After dipping in and out of it for a while, it felt natural to push forward with her writing. “It’s important for many reasons, not just for me and my sanity but it is an important medium to talk about the wider narrative of what is going on, whether it is the theatre, books, stories or poetry.”
As part of Theatre Absolute’s project, Rabiah feels strongly and passionately about what her monologue is portraying. “It really gets to the heart of this idea of change or the lack of change,” she said. “It is directly responding to the political situation at the moment, I try to always write about social and political issues, but this is going to be a really direct response.”
Don’t miss Rabiah Hussain’s Where I Live And What I Live For’ at the Shop Front Theatre from Tuesday 10th October – Saturday 14th October, details found on the website.