Rachel Valentine Smith, Director, Sahar Speaks
As we near the end of the first week on rehearsals we continue to Meet the Team. Today we catch up with Rachel Valentine Smith, the director of Behind The Blast Wall by Sonali Bhattacharyy. She talks to us about freedom of speech and how this project is right up her street with regards to how it makes a happy partnership between Theatre and Journalism.
What was your first impression when you were asked to be part of these productions and your impressions of the Sahar Speaks project?
I found the project to be inspiring, necessary and passionate. Living in a time where technology has the possibility to connect everyone, it is astonishing to me that so many people have to fight to get their voices heard.
"I feel like Journalism and Theatre have an exciting marriage ahead..." Rachel Valentine Smith, Director
Tell us a bit about the play you are directing for Sahar Speaks at Theatre503.
The play I am directing is called Behind the Blast Wall taken from Sparghai's story, which illuminates how things changed for her generation, as a result of conflict, and that as a woman she is not able to enjoy the same freedoms as her mother did.
What excited you most about telling this story?
That it feels deeply personal, that the frustration bubbles under the surface trying to spill out over it. That it is more complicated that it first seems.
Is there any resonance with any personal experience for you in the story?
In a more diluted sense, I try not to take for granted everything that was laid at my generation's feet (in this country). Mainly that comes in the form of opportunity. I come from a family with zero money and yet, by the time I was eighteen I had been to more countries than my Mum ever has (three!).
Have you ever worked on a text from a true story/verbatim text before?
No, although a lot of the time the writer is present in the work. It is also interesting to me, having previously worked as an editor for The Guardian for five years. I feel like Journalism and Theatre have an exciting marriage ahead...
Do you have any observations on bringing these women's real life experiences to the stage?
I have (hopefully!) helped to realise the story in a meaningful and authentic way, yet allowing for theatre to work its magic on our audiences and to inspire them, make them curious in one way or another. There's a cross over here with another project I'm working on, so Free Speech is in my head a lot. Evelyn Beatrice Hall said it eloquently when she said: "I disapprove of what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" (often misattributed to Voltaire) I think Nat Hentoff took that to heart too. I don't want to perpetuate speech or intolerance, of course, but we must search to emancipate those forced into dark corners.
Has the sensitivity of the subject matter changed your approach to the text?
I think I am aware of it more for the writer and the actors, as I don't want them to feel burdened by that idea, but excited by it. If we can trust in the process and make a good piece of work that is respectful of the narrative, themes and experiences of the original then that is what we are here to do.
What are you most looking forward to about the production?
I'm looking forward to seeing all three pieces together, I'm enjoying being surrounded by so many brilliant women.
Has working on the play changed your world view in any way?
No, but highlighted yet another conflict I feel under-educated in. But that is now my responsibility.
Rachel is co-Artistic Director of The Faction @_The_Faction; currently producing Schiller | Fest #SchillerFest17 @BunkerTheatre and Artistic Director of Verve Collective @vervecollective; currently producing Letter To Your Leader #LetterTo @BunkerTheatre