Q&A with Afsaneh Gray

Can you tell us about your writing process for The Border?

The brief I got was to write something on the theme of ‘treaty’. When I thought of a treaty, it made me think of negotiations, and I thought – what if there was a debate within the play? What if the audience got a chance to be part of those negotiations, because often young people are cut out of conversations, I mean they don’t even get a vote. That made me think of what’s a live issue right now, and I think borders – how we draw lines between people, how we police those lines – that feels very relevant. So I started there, and then I worked back to come up with a story that allowed me to explore that, and to have my debate. I knew it had to be something simple, because the issues are so complex. And that’s when I decided that it was going to be about a girl who lives in a border town and loses her dog on the other side of the border.

What research did you undertake when writing this play?

It didn’t take a huge amount of research, but I just kept my ear to the ground in terms of what was going on in politics, and particularly the politics of borders. It’s a very shouty, polarized time we’re living in, and the play needed to reflect that in a way that was both accurate and absurd – I didn’t want to write something naturalistic. We’re not really living in that kind of world – maybe naturalism is absurd right now.

What would you like young people to take away from this play?

I hope that people leave with a sense of perspective. The main character – Julia – has to navigate a very confusing world, but ultimately she discovers that the only way to deal with it is to remain kind, gracious, and to listen empathetically. I do think we could all do with more of that right now. But she’s also not a pushover – she learns that if she believes something is right, you should fight for it. I hope that the audience goes on a similar journey. After all, it feels like there’s quite a lot of fighting that needs to be done at the moment – I just wish it was being done more peacefully! By which I think I mean, respectfully.

What advice would you give to a young person hoping to become a writer?

No one’s a genius, everyone has to work for it. You don’t start good, you start. At some point I realised that I was one of loads of people with talent who want to be writers – many of them with a lot more talent than me. But the writers who manage to find fulfilment (I’m not going to say ‘make it’ because that’s meaningless, there is no end point here, only a journey) are those who don’t give up. You get so many rejections as a writer. But nothing you do is wasted. Every single play, email, pitch – they all help you hone your craft and make connections, even if you think you’re screaming into the void. So yeah, start…and then keep going.

#TheBorder opens this Thursday at Redbridge Drama Centre. BOOK NOW.

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