Interview: Leila Khan

“I find writing hard in the sense that I have a picture in my head, I know what I want to say but the words never convey exactly the meaning I want”

Leila Khan photo

Leila Khan

Leila has been part of Tamasha Theatre’s Developing Artists scheme, ‘I had my first small micro play developed by Tamasha and put on the Unicorn Theatre in September last year. It was quite rough and ready really not the polished piece that I imagined it to be.’ Her writing has also been showcased at the Warehouse Theatre. She works part-time as a Clinical Therapist.

What you do:

I work as a Clinical Therapist in a Weight loss Clinic in the evenings/weekends and I have been doing that for 3 and a half years now. It pays the bills and is supposed to allow me the time and the space to develop as a writer. Ha, Ha, Ha. I’m just not disciplined enough to sit down in front of a blank piece of paper. Yes, I know, I’ve been to enough classes where I was taught the techniques of getting out of my own way long enough to allow the creative muse to visit me etc, etc. But somehow it doesn’t quite come together in the way I want, when I want it. I find writing hard in the sense that I have a picture in my head, I know what I want to say but the words never convey exactly the meaning I want to say.

What your background is:

Over the years I have done a variety of jobs from office work to teaching. I guess I feel that I have never really found my niche in the world, even writing was something I came back to a few years ago when I felt restless. I envy people who are passionate about what they do and are able to put their heart and soul into it. I’ve worked in the Civil Service – that’s where I met my husband, we were both second generation children of economic migrants. My parents emigrated from Guyana in the Caribbean in the early 1960s in search of a better life. My father’s dream was always to go back and build his house. He used to say to me that this was my country, not his. Now I’m not so sure whose country it is anymore. It doesn’t seem to belong to any one group, which surely is a good thing but perhaps our sense of who we are got lost along the way. Although I loved the way the country came together in the Olympics and diversity was high on the political agenda because of the prominence of black and disabled athletes, my family and I were still verbally abused a couple of times out and about on holiday in Barnstaple in August. Ethnicity is still seen as sufficiently different in other parts of the country for some of us to be treated differently. My children’s sense of who they are is quite confusing for them as well I think, they constantly ask me if I am mixed race. However ethnicity doesn’t appear to be such a big deal for them as it was when I was growing up.

Do you feel being a woman has hindered your career in any way?

Perhaps being a woman means that you are not taken seriously by what I still consider a male dominated profession. As a woman you are having constantly to juggle paid work, writing and children. Therefore doing the guilt thing all the time. However that has not stopped Abi Morgan and many other women like her.

What advice would you have for other women starting out?

Join playwriting groups, talk about your ideas, your way of making sense of the world, but the most important thing is to start writing and keep writing and if you’re really lucky it will gather its own momentum, like a rolling stone and take on a life of its own and will virtually write itself. The panic of deadlines were the only thing sometimes that got me writing. There are too many other excuses and distractions to do other things. Your writing is important to you, it is who you are, make the time. Get used to giving and receiving criticism (something I am particularly bad at) but it’s the only way you will learn, grow and mature as a confident writer. Confidence is particularly important for a woman. I feel that it is something that men take so much for granted ie, confidence in their abilities to write and be heard, confidence in approaching theatres, the whole networking thing really.

Do you feel that there is a glass ceiling?

Not for the up and coming confident young middle class women of this generation. They have something to say about their experience of the world that directors and producers want to hear and see. But for older female, working class, black and disabled writers, the glass ceiling is still there. Women and black people’s experience of the world is seen still as ‘other’ and continues to some extent to be marginalised.

Has the situation changed in the last 10 years for the better or got worse?

I think the situation is worse now obviously because of the global economic condition. However it may mean that some people are getting better at working in new innovative ways, making creative partnerships etc. But writing developmental opportunities are like gold dust. If you are lucky enough to get onto one of the free ones count your blessings indeed. Competition is fierce.

What do you think is the best way to get more work by women into the theatre?

We definitely need more female mentors. I learned a lot about structure and form from inspiring individuals such as Avaes Mohammed and Kuldip Powr at Tamasha, Ken Christiansen at the Warehouse Theatre, David Bottomley at Brockley Jack, Mark Hewitt at Lewes Live Lit, all dedicated to their art and profession, but alas all men. Where are the female playwriting mentors?

What made you want to work in theatre in the first place?

The desire to work in theatre is something that only happened relatively recently in the past couple of years. Before then I was struggling with (and still am) a big sprawling historical romance set in the Georgian era. I am so jealous that EL James got her book out before mine. I was about three quarters of the way through my novel when I got distracted by Tamasha’s call for emerging writers in 2011. I had my first small micro play developed by Tamasha and put on the Unicorn Theatre in September last year. It was quite rough and ready really not the polished piece that I imagined it to be. But it was inspired by my father’s love of Guyana and wanting to return ‘home.’ However either he had changed too much or Guyana had and when he did eventually return he found he no longer fit in. Like my father I’ve always felt that I never really fit in anywhere. I’m both an insider and an outsider at the same time.

What are your next plans?

The relationship between mental health and theatre intrigues me. I haven’t had the opportunity seeing any of Sarah Kane’s dark explosive plays yet and would also love the opportunity to do creative developmental work in a mental health setting. I saw Zoo Nation in ‘Some Like it Hip Hop’ at the Peacock theatre recently and would love to write some physical theatre or an installation piece, the energy of that theatre company is hugely infectious. I have a lot of admiration for their work and my children particularly liked their other musical ‘Into the Hoods’. At one stage in ‘Some Like it Hip Hop’ one of the actors was on stage ‘crumping’ – don’t you think that’s a great word?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s