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shaista latif & aisha sommer zaman

I was very impressed with the two Queer Youth Creation Projects at the 2013 Queer Acts Festival, which runs until Sunday July 21st at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax. The Queer Youth Creations is a new program this year with the goal of fostering the production of new work and the development of LGTBQ artists. The first, Seventeen, written by Aisha Sommer Zaman is local, while Graceful Rebellions, written by Shaista Latiff, comes from Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Young Creators Unit in Toronto. They play as part of a double-bill Saturday and Sunday at 6:00pm.

Seventeen is an insightful examination of the effect that societal and media pressures have on three very different young girls. Their internal critic, born out of taglines from magazines like Cosmo, is dramatized as a controlling and abusive tall, attractive woman, played by Becca Guilderson. She manipulates each one to believe that, while they are full of potential to become perfect girls like those in the magazines, they are inherently inferior and must work painstakingly hard to destroy their flaws or else they will never be successful, happy or loved. One girl is throwing herself into a wild sex life simply because she is afraid that if she doesn’t meet her boyfriend’s expectations of “a perfect lover” (at seventeen, no less), he will “obviously” break up with her. Another is battling an eating disorder, while another is repressing the truth about her sexual orientation and her authentic self because she doesn’t see either reflected between the pages of Cosmopolitan. I love that in each of the three cases it is not the media and the magazines alone that these girls are battling against, it is the fact that they themselves have internalized these concepts of femininity, maturity, beauty, sexuality and success, and have come to ardently believe these distortions. Throughout the play, each girl must find a way to empower HERSELF to find the strength toward self-acceptance. I also loved that since Guilderson plays the internal critic for each girl, it connects the experiences of three teenagers who likely at school would not think that they have a lot in common. Girls are so often pitted against one another and so often see each other as competitors and enemies, yet Zaman wisely shows us that actually, we are all fighting a similar battle. The ending, which I won’t ruin, is also very powerful. There are earnest performances from the ensemble and clean direction from Jennifer Overton.

Graceful Rebellions, written and performed by Shaista Latif and directed by Evalyn Parry, is a gorgeous exploration of gender and identity in Afghanistan. Latif begins by presenting us with two disparate images of young women living in Afghanistan. The first is almost thirteen and she is dreaming about her future wedding. She is still innocent, although still manoeuvring between the strictness of her upbringing and the fanciful daydreams of her future. Like many young girls, she is preoccupied with the excitement of all that comes with being a bride, but has little consideration for what will be expected of her as a WIFE. Latif then transforms herself into a second young girl, one whose family has been torn apart by war and who has assumed the identity of a boy in order to help them all survive. Here we see that in Afghanistan power, riches and control are intrinsically and irrevocably linked to gender and in more ways than are immediately apparent. Latif then emerges as herself, a Queer Canadian woman whose parents still consider Afghanistan “home.” How can she reconcile being gay with being Afghani, when the two seem utterly at odds with one another? Does she belong any less to her culture and to her family when the way she chooses to live her life, and the very act of CHOOSING, can be seen as a rebellion against both? There are no answers, but as Latif so eloquently says, sometimes simply telling the story and asking the questions, can be revolutionary.

Seventeen and Graceful Rebellions play at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street) Saturday and Sunday at 6:00pm as part of the Queer Acts Festival and Halifax Pride. All shows $12 Regular, $10 Student, Seniors, Underwaged. Festival Pass – $35 
BUY TICKETS ONLINE HERE or visit the box office at The Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen St.

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