Artwork for Directing I Wanna Be Yours
Oz Malik, Director Tasnim Hossain and Eleanor Barkla. Photo: Tiffany Garvie

Directing I Wanna Be Yours

Melbourne Theatre Company Resident Director Tasnim Hossain discusses her approach to directing I Wanna Be Yours by Zia Ahmed.

Melbourne Theatre Company Resident Director Tasnim Hossain discusses her approach to directing I Wanna Be Yours by Zia Ahmed.

Could you tell us what I Wanna Be Yours is about?

I Wanna Be Yours is about two young people who meet in London – Haseeb, who is of Pakistani heritage and from North London, and Ella, who is from Yorkshire and lives in South London. It's about how these two people come together and fall in love in spite of all of the differences between them and all of the things that might keep them apart.

What connected you to this story?

I loved this story when I first read it because I really responded to the language. The writer, Zia Ahmed, is a spoken word poet and the language is lyrical and muscular and robust. I could just see it bursting off the page onto a stage for a young audience to pick up and run with. I think the characters are larger than life and our ability to connect with them, to understand them and to fall in love with them as they fall in love with each other, is something pretty special.

What's unique or interesting about the way that Zia Ahmed has written this play?

Zia Ahmed is an award-winning London poet laureate. He has this incredible spoken word experience and rhythms that really come through in this work. Zia's writing is so big and visual, making this – his debut play – jump off the page and take up space in a way you wouldn't expect an intimate, two-hander love story to do.

There are many locations in this script. How do you realise that on stage?

This script is really grounded in place. We get a real sense of Ella's South London and Haseeb’s North London. And so for me, it was really important to create a space that could connect to Australian audiences as well. I worked with our Set & Costume Designer Kat Chan in realising the shapes and silhouettes of a high street in London or in Cricklewood, Haseeb’s neighbourhood in North London, or a house in Yorkshire where Ella might have grown up. We've recreated those shapes on stage for us to interact with in a much more theatrical, lyrical way. Our set design incorporates trucks, which are moving platforms, and each of them are an almost miniaturised version, made out of plywood that we're going to move around and through and over, to bring a sense of place into this work.

I_Wanna_Be_Yours_phTGarvie_3603_T.jpgTasnim Hossain (right) directing Oz Malik & Eleanor Barkla. Photo: Tiffany Garvie

What are the major themes or ideas explored in the show?

I Wanna Be Yours explores a whole range of different big and meaty themes. It looks at first love. It looks at expectations around culture and family, both for Ella and for Haseeb. It looks at what it means to belong. It looks at ideas of home and what that is. Haseeb has this beautiful line where he talks about home being the place where people understand you and he laughs it off as being a little bit pretentious. But actually I think that colours the whole script. The sense of home that these characters have both within themselves and within their geographies, but also in each other.

Can you please describe how you work with other creatives in the production to help you realise the story?

I'm working with our Set & Costume Designer Kat Chan, Sound Designer & Composer Mofiz Ul Haq and Lighting Designer Rachel Lee. When I've spoken to them about the world, I've talked about the theatrical potential of this script. I'm interested in the abstracted theatrical possibilities rather than the literal – the literal realisation of a lot of those moments. I’m interested in how we can make them bigger and make them more present. How we can shape what can be really dry into something that's elevated and theatrical. When we're in the theatre, that's what we do.

When I've been speaking with Mofiz, who is working on both original composition and sound design – which includes the background sound you might hear within scenes or in between scenes – I mention how I'm less interested in the grounded reality of where these characters are. Whether it's a cafe, club or a park, I'm more interested in their emotional worlds and where they are. So looking at the theatrical potential of that, to underscore that relationship with the story in the space and where they are in time, rather than where they are literally in space.

What do you think audiences will relate to in this story?

I think audiences will relate to these two characters. I think we love love. People know what it is to fall in love for the first time and to have to fight for the thing that they want. There's something so beautiful in specificity. These characters are so grounded in place where they're from, who they are and what they love. When we delve into that, we find our own way in as Australian audiences, as audiences here in Victoria, rather than there in London or Yorkshire. When we find characters who are real, who are fully realised, who are true, there's no way we can help but feel connected to them and the things that they want. Their struggles and their love and their hopes.

How has your other creative work as a playwright/director prepared you for directing this show?

I'm the director of this show, but I have worked as a playwright and as a dramaturg before. But actually I started off as a spoken word poet. I think for a lot of young people of colour, spoken word poetry is a much easier access point because all you need are your words and an audience, and maybe a microphone. So that was how I came into the performing arts. Realising I could get actors to perform my words was a real game changer because it meant that I didn't have to memorise anything. But what I have always been interested in throughout my career has been the power of storytelling to reach an audience. I think of the act of making theatre as an offer or a gift to an audience, and I'm really excited to be able to do that.

A few years ago, I was a participant in the Women in Theatre Program here at Melbourne Theatre Company. I actually met Kat Chan through the program, who is now my Set & Costume Designer. I think being able to meet people and work with them in various ways to bring out the best in each other is the thing that I love about directing.

It's about bringing together a team of people who are really passionate at work and good at what they do and then creating the space for them to thrive. So that's the thing that I love about directing, and that's how I ended up here.

I_Wanna_Be_Yours_phTGarvie_1969_T.jpg Director Tasnim Hossain, Stage Manager Zsuzsa Gaynor Mihaly, Eleanor Barkla & Oz Malik. Photo: Tiffany Garvie

Can you expand a little further on your involvement with other Melbourne Theatre Company programs?

I was a participant in the Women in Theatre Program in 2018. I was trained as a dramaturg in literary management, which involves bringing in all of the new work – reading scripts and working with playwrights. This is one of the things I really love doing in my job. And I've also directed a number of readings.

I came on board as Resident Director here in August last year. As part of my role, I have read so many scripts. It's the best because you get to hear what playwrights are thinking about and where the conversation is at as Australians. My role also involves programming, so we're looking at what our Season 2024 might look like, what shows we might produce and what they offer to an audience. I've also worked as Assistant Director to Anne-Louise Sarks, who is Melbourne Theatre Company's Artistic Director, on Bernhardt/Hamlet.

It's a big role and I get to be involved with almost every department, which is lovely because there are 150 people in this building who all work together to create these shows that audiences get to come and see.

Did you do theatre or drama in high school? Could you talk to us a little bit about your relationship with that?

I did a little bit of theatre in high school, a little bit of drama. I never thought I was a drama kid because I didn't fit the mould. I did a lot of drama at youth theatre as well, but it was mostly as a writer. I think things have changed a lot in the 15 years or so since I was in high school. Who we see on our stages has shifted significantly, and I'm really excited that for young people today there are options that it feels like we didn't have when I was a young person. So I'm really excited to be able to create this work and to be able to showcase this team of artists and showcase what we do. Hopefully it reminds people who might be in high school or, you know, thinking about what they might do in the future, that this is a possibility, that this is a career that they can aspire to.


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