Interview: Yusuf Niazi Talks Feeling Lonely at Parties

Pursued by a Dragon Theatre Collective are bringing a story for our times to the Camden Fringe with their show Feeling Lonely at Parties… The show plays the Camden People’s Theatre July 29 – August 1 (tickets here) so I caught up with Artistic Director Yusuf Niazi to Talk all things Feeling Lonely at Parties…

To begin, tell me a little about the company – when and how did Pursued by a Dragon Theatre Collective come to be and what’s the vision?

So, we are a brand new collective of upcoming artists from different parts of the world who trained together at Middlesex University. Everyone in the collective have worked together multiple times over the last three years and have found that we both work well together and enjoy making similar things. We enjoy telling stories in ways which are often: Fantastical, utilise multiple theatrical disciplines and play with the live nature of theatre. The stories we tell have strong themes and depth behind them though.

As a collective we have a strong desire to use our skills to increase accessibility in the arts and tell stories in new and exciting ways that bring in underrepresented people, and different audiences into the theatre. We also want to make theatre that anyone can enjoy. That is really important to us.

What dynamic does being creatives from different parts of the world to the work you create?

It’s really nice actually because it brings a strong sense of togetherness and diversity into our work. There are so many things going on around us that encourage division, such as Brexit and the things being put in place by Donald Trump. It’s really nice to work with people from different places and sort of forget about all that and focus on the love that we all have. That is one of the things that gets poured into what we make. It also gives us the opportunity to work with different styles. 

Lots of European theatre that I have experienced explores important themes, such as the ones that we explore in our show, in an abstract way. Or rather a way that can transcend language. I personally think that is really cool, and helps accessibility by a great amount. So when it comes to our work we are able to play with literal and abstract ideas as well as drawing on theatrical approaches and techniques from different countries. This makes our work a far more enriching experience in the rehearsal room.

You show Feeling Lonely at Parties is set in a dystopian future where everyone ‘is forced to wear headphones to regulate their mood’ – where and how did these intriguing ideas originate?

To be honest, with this show, I sort of came up with the themes I wanted to explore first. I and the people around me were going through a rough time when it came to relationships due to a lack of stability caused by mental health issues. It became apparent that a lot of people I know had a lack of understanding of both their own mental health and the mental health of others. I think this is mainly due to mental health not being discussed very openly, especially amongst young people. I also used to suffer from loneliness quite a lot in terms of, I used to be in situations where I was amongst friends, or loved ones.  

Where I was supposed to be happy, such as at parties, and I would suddenly feel sad, or alone. And I was experiencing all these feelings, and I just wanted to vent them all out in the form of theatre. To sort of deal with them.  As my university had a strong focus on physical theatre, and as a lot of the themes I wanted to explore involved people not talking about their feelings, I knew that the show would be movement based. As I work a lot with music, I knew also that I wanted a continuous soundtrack to shape the movement. As well as this, I am story teller and I wanted to create a good story that could be used as a vessel to explore these themes. And all of these ideas came together to create the concept for the show.

The show is a piece of physical theatre which uses movement and music to tell the story. What drew you to this performance style over say a more traditional form of a play with dialogue? What’s so compelling about physical theatre?

So I adore text. And to be honest it’s where I am the most comfortable. Pursued by a Dragon is by no means a physical theatre company, although in a lot of my work I do like to work strong physicality and visually pleasing arrangements of actors in a space. But I knew Feeling Lonely at Parties had to be movement based for three reasons. 

One, as I mentioned previously, mental health is such a huge issue that deals with feelings that are more intricate then words can convey. It needed a strong sense of movement to do it justice. Another reason is I wanted to create a show that transcended language and could be experienced and enjoyed anywhere in the world. The third reason was I was inspired a lot by the stunning physical theatre that was being made by my university. I really wanted to push myself and delve into an area that I wasn’t very familiar with to better myself as a theatre director. 

I love taking risks and doing putting myself outside of my comfort zone, which was another major reason for opting to a purely physical piece. I find physical theatre very compelling though because you can convey things you can’t convey with words. Also, some of the best drama is made up of people not saying what they want to say. Feeling Lonely at Parties just takes that idea a step further.

Your production explores ‘love, loneliness and mental health and how the three intertwine’ through these characters seeking connection. For you, are these three elements the root of our problems as a modern society?

I am not sure how much they are the root of all our problems in society, but I certainly think these are the within the roots of a lot of them. The issue is they aren’t ever acknowledged. Unlike problems such as racism, love, mental health and loneliness are often problems we suffer with internally, so more often than not, just suck them up and carry on as normal. This can cause relationships to break down, or become intoxicated. It can also cause a lack of understanding and in general it can spiral into bigger problems.

Feeling Lonely at Parties promises to be ‘upbeat’, ‘melancholy’ and ‘uplifting’ – why is it important for you to deliver all three with this narrative?

A lot of the time theatre is put in boxes. This is a drama, this a comedy, this is a romance. Which is fair. You have to market shows at the end of the day and let people know what kind of experience they are in for. However I feel that the best theatre takes the audience on an emotional journey. So I like to make things with both joy and heart break. If something upbeat it also makes it more powerful when the energy switches. There is a change which causes an impact. If there is no emotional change in the narrative there will be no emotional change in the audience, which is what I like to achieve in my work.

What does it mean to you to bring your show to the Camden Fringe?

It’s honestly so surreal. When I found out I was with some of my close friends, and I was in shock. I didn’t know what to say. This is a show that I care a lot about and it just means so much that I have gotten to develop it into a full show and present it at The Camden people’s Theatre. Especially at The Camden People’s Theatre who are dedicated to supporting emerging artist make unconventional work. That pretty much sums up this show.

If audiences take just one thing away from seeing Feeling Lonely at Parties, what would you like that to be?

The way we have made it, you can enjoy it on multiple levels. On the surface It has an engaging story. It also explores important themes within it, sometimes in a way that is abstract. I’ll be very happy if each audience member just took one of those things from it and enjoyed it on one level, or both. However, if there was one single thing I would like the audience to take away, It would be that they felt less alone.

And finally, to close – in one sentence only, why should people come to see Feeling Lonely at Parties?

Because it’s a really good time at the theatre, about things that you’ve probably experienced, made by new artists who deserve to be supported, all for a very reasonable price. 

So there you have it! Remember, Feeling Lonely at Parties plays the Camden People’s Theatre July 29 – August 1 and you can find tickets here.

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