While Shehzad Ghias prepares to put up Peter and the Starcatcher at the Lyceum in Karachi later this month, his script American Insecurity is getting a production at The Bridge Theatre in New York City this weekend.
He won’t fly out for the opening performance on Saturday afternoon, but he’s plenty excited about the achievement nonetheless.
“One of the reasons I wrote the play was that there is no talk about airport security. It’s like no man’s land. The airport is not really considered the United States, so anything can be done to you,” said Ghias to Images.
The two-act play is initially set in an airport waiting lounge and later moves to an interrogation room.
In the lounge, a young Muslim man and black teenager swap stories about their experience of racism. Their conversation wanders over themes like ‘brown is the new black’ and ‘whose worse: the NYPD or airport security’.
At the end of Act 1, an explosion occurs and the two characters find themselves separately interrogated by an unseen investigator who employs the prisoner’s dilemma tactic to eke out information from the ‘suspects’.
The characters begin recalling things said in friendly conversation as possible evidence of the other’s culpability, and reveal their own prejudice in the process.
“Whoever you think is the guilty party is guilty,” Ghias tells us. “The play is more about the audience’s perception, than what happens in the play itself.”
Getting selected for the Dimensions Festival
Ghias had a dramatic reading of the play’s first draft at the Casa De Beverley , a small, cosy theatre in New York, in May last year.
“Although this is not the case in Pakistan, all plays have a stage reading first, after which the writer may amend the script based on the feedback gained during the talk back. Only then is a play considered ready for a full-fledged production,” Ghias tells us.
At the talk back, playwrights get feedback from the audience.
“For a play like mine, I wanted to be careful to not overstep my boundaries and appropriate another’s culture. But I got good feedback at the talkback and one black audience member said that he could really relate my black character.”
The dramatic production was an important stepping stone for Airport Insecurity:
“When you send a play for a festival, plays that have had a dramatic production or reading have a better chance at selection. I don’t think there was anyone present at the dramatic reading who would have pushed for my play’s selection, but the play’s CV was better for it.”
When there was a call for submissions, Ghias submitted his script between six months and a year ago. He was accepted by The Bridge Theatre for a a three-production schedule as part of the ongoing Dimensions Festival.
While he wasn’t physically present during rehearsals, Ghias says he’s been available as a resource for the director and cast:
“The writer doesn’t have the liberty to ask for changes in the production, but is available as a resource for the director for clarifications or questions, and particularly the actors who would benefit from the history of each character conceived by the writer.”