Introducing… Javaad Alipoor

As Under The Radar gets underway we spoke to artist and writer Javaad Alipoor about adapting stage work for online audiences, the importance of form and sharing work internationally.

 

Tell us about Rich Kids: the History of Shopping Malls in Tehran.
Rich Kids is the second part of a trilogy I’m making about the relationship between contemporary politics and contemporary technology, and tells the story of two young people who died in a car crash in Tehran in 2018.

In Iran, a lot of the older generations of elite came to power on the back of ideas of national self-determination and socialism. In the years since they’ve become very, very rich and have children who, in the ‘name of the revolution’, have the same elite lifestyle as the richest in the West, free of the rules that everyone else must follow; people get arrested for drinking alcohol, unmarried men and women can’t go where they please together. In the mix of this, the grandson of one of the most respected revolutionary Ayatollahs is found dead in a Porsche in uptown Tehran, surrounded by empty bottles of Bollinger and drug wrappers next to a girl he’s cheating on his fiancé with. His Instagram account is discovered and there’s pictures of his partying, drug-taking and excessive lifestyle which goes wild on social media.

I became really interested in this story and how contemporary technology can be a metaphor for how the human heart and mind works. In my previous play The Believers Are But Brothers, I looked at WhatsApp and digital communication and asked the question of why these modern methods of digital communication are bringing out a very old fashioned kind of masculinity; in Rich Kids I ask how Instagram and that life of looking at pictures is bringing out a really old aristocratic ‘let them eat cake’ attitude.

Image of Instagram live on a phone. The face of an actress is prominent on the phone, her face slightly blurred with a reddish filter. Two comments from javaadalipoor1 read "Far under the Antarctic ice lies the lowest and so first mark of our present geological age. The remnants of the final collapse of the Aztec empire." and the next "European weapons and diseases killed 50 million indigeonous Americans. 50 million people fewer, breathing fifty million less carbon dioxide out."

Peyvand Sadeghian in Rich Kids A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. Photo by Peter Dibdin

This version of the show will happen live on Instagram and on another screen that the audience watches. Scrolling takes us into a world of stories that are about the nature of pictures as a kind of aristocratic showing off. It’s about the oil industry and its relationship to colonialism, the Anthropocene, climate change and fundamentally about how human beings try and understand their place in history.

Tell us about the adaptation of Rich Kids from a stage show to an online presentation.
It opened up at the Traverse as the second part of a series of works with co-creator and co-director Kirsty Housley. It was due to transfer to Battersea Arts Centre just as lockdown began and at first we thought we’d do a response to this play for lockdown and then get the show back on the road. But as we’re all aware, timescales around the pandemic got longer and longer, so me and Kirsty wondered what a more radical way of doing things would be. At that time there was a lot of archival work to watch online, but we talked about how we could make this something that feels like it’s live. What does it mean for this to be digitally native theatre, rather than a digital capture of theatre?

Javaad Alipoor (left) and Peyvand Sadeghian (right) stand on a stage wearing headmics, in front of a vast array of tv screens, around 15 can be seen in the image. On most of the screens is a map of some form of terrain, others are blank.

Javaad Alipoor and Peyvand Sadeghian in Rich Kids A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. Photo by Peter Dibdin

How do you feel about sharing this work with a global audience?
I’m most interested in making work that’s international in scope. I think that’s partially to do with my own ethnic and family background. I grew up in a mixed-race family in Bradford and I think in working class communities in former industrial cities all over the world, there’s an internationalness and a cosmopolitanism that comes easy to us. People think those things belong to the elite, but I think primarily it belongs to those great cities like Detroit, Bradford, London, New York, anywhere where people have come and had to be together and mix together. In England, we have a tradition of talking about how political theatre makers dream of writing the ‘State of the Nation’ play but for me the target is always the state of the world. Especially in these times of pandemic, where it feels like we’re more and more isolated and less and less connected to the world – it is incredibly important to me for this work to go on to have an international reach.

The question that we’re trying to explore is how we take political responsibility in a time when the things that are most important to us – the environment, freedom of speech, diversity – are actively under threat. It feels an honour and a joy to be able to share that with friends and colleagues across the US as well.

What did you get out of going to Under The Radar last year?
A great thing about it was really getting a handle on the kind of bold, exciting and important place that Under The Radar opens up within the scene in New York and the rest of the country. We all live in a world that’s more and more connected, but locality is very important as well. The way that people, artists, commissioners and audiences are engaging with those big international headlines in each individual place gives so much richness and texture and it felt really good seeing a whole bunch of international work at Under The Radar in the context of that city.

What advice would you offer to aspiring emerging creatives inspired by your work?
There are people in the industry who don’t take you seriously and won’t take your work seriously so you’ve got to start just doing stuff and not wait for permission. If you wait for permission, especially if you come from a working-class background, especially if you are a person of colour, you’ll never be given that permission so just start doing the work you believe in.

 

Manchester International Festival, Arts Council England and The Public Theater will showcase work by Inua Ellams and Javaad Alipoor at The Public’s Under The Radar Festival (6-17 January 2021), as part of a three-year partnership, that began last year, to promote artists and companies based in England to a global audience.

Under The Radar supports artists who are at the vanguard of theatre and performance practice, redefining and refreshing it. As an internationally significant festival, it has become an important meeting place for presenters and curators from across the world and an important platform for artists seeking touring opportunities. This year, for the first time, it will be free and online, further expanding the reach and access of cutting-edge performance to worldwide audiences.

Rich Kids: the History of Shopping Malls in Tehran will be presented between 7 – 17 January 2021.

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