By Elisha Hammond
Nassim Soleimanpour is an Iranian playwright, creator of esteemed plays White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, Breath and now the critically acclaimed autobiographical piece, NASSIM. After an award-winning season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, NASSIM is set to touch down in Western Australia to delight and inspire eager theatergoers statewide.
The show’s premise revolves around a single script, read and performed for the very first time by a new actor in front of a live audience. As the play progresses, the performer comes to terms with the script through the direction and prompts of its writer, first experiencing NASSIM’s emotions and ideas at the same time as its audience.
Nassim Soleimanpour spoke to Dircksey Magazine ahead of his play’s Perth debut in the Perth Festival;
Although NASSIM is autobiographical, its themes have been described as universal. Can you elaborate on what any of those themes are?
It’s not just NASSIM, these few plays that I have written all have the same structure and idea. The only thing I can probably talk about is myself. I was raised in a family with a Dad who’s a novelist. My Mum is a painter, my brother is a bookworm and photographer. So we talked and talked about every living and classic philosopher, politics. And there was a moment where I realised that although I speak about all those matters and relate to them, I can’t really say that I know what I’m talking about. So I started to look further inside and discover what was happening in me. This is where writing became more essential for my understanding, a tool that I used to understand myself… If I try to discover some deeper layers in myself, it might resonate with other people.
One thing central to the play’s appeal is that the whole concept is a bit of a love letter to language. Where does your own love of language stem from?
You’re using the right word – love is not only feeling something good, love is also sometimes very painful. This is where I’m standing in my life… I have my notebooks, I still try to write on a piece of paper, although I enjoy the sound of the keyboard. I’m obsessed with looking up words in any language, particularly my mother tongue, Farsi. But still, as much as language is beautiful and has changed my whole life, language is my way of understanding the world. My wife is a painter, she’s more visual. Still, it is very painful, and I’ll tell you how. I’m an Iranian, so my mother tongue is Persian or Farsi as you wish, my wife is Persian so it is a language of love, it’s how I talk to my Mum. So I love in Farsi. But I live in Germany, and I function in German… and I work in English. This is the pain of such a situation, which not only applies to me- this is the contemporary human being.
Are you involved with the selection of performers for NASSIM?
Not really. One of the rules I always had was that I’m out – I don’t want to cast, I don’t want to direct- at least for now. For NASSIM, because I’m around, I even try not to google them, because they aren’t allowed to google the play. So I don’t know who they are, I don’t meet with them before the show.
Does this further cement the importance of the script as the one prop that connects writer and performer?
It’s part of a tradition in the theatre I’d say… If I was a director, I’d pick a script, I’d start to cast.Then these people would come to rehearsals. They’d spend time together, hopefully become friends, go out and drink and talk. All these things are happening in NASSIM, but the difference here is the time shift. I’d often felt that those rehearsals are more fun than the shows. I always believed that it was unfair that we don’t share this bit with the audience. We meet for the first time [at a rehearsal] and we’re a bit shy, you don’t get to see that. Then time passes and we cry or we laugh together. We drink together, ask each other personal questions, show each other photos of our families and our dogs. These things happen in the theatre, but you as the audience don’t get to see it. So this is where I think a play like NASSIM is important.
After you left Iran, what motivated you to go and live in Berlin?
Different things. Once I got my passport in late 2012 and left Iran in early 2013 for the first time, I didn’t stop traveling. I literally lived up in the air, I slept in airports… and the team of people helping with my plays decided if I just stayed somewhere in Europe… it would be easier for me to collaborate with other artists. I picked Berlin because I felt a connection with this city. I love history, and it’s a very historical place. I love walking past the imaginary wall… plus it’s a green city, except for when the weather’s grey of course (which is nine months a year!)
You’ve also created White Rabbit, Red Rabbit and Blank. How do these plays differ from Nassim?
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit was written out of necessity when I couldn’t travel. I sent the play abroad, we could probably call it a message in a bottle. Then it started to tour… people started to email me and share their stories. This is when I came to the conclusion of writing Blank, which is a story machine. It’s a response to all those emails, it’s something we use to share all those stories in the theatre. And then my Mum asked me to translate one of those plays for her because they exist in 25-33 languages… but Farsi’s not included, and this is the only language she speaks. NASSIM is my answer, my reaction to this situation that my Mum couldn’t watch any of my plays and I couldn’t translate any of them for her. So this is where NASSIM comes in.
How do you think your work has evolved and matured since White Rabbit, Red Rabbit?
A concept is very important to me. I would consider myself very formal. I remember in 2010 when I was trying to pitch the idea of Rabbit to some promoters and producers. The idea of a sight reading for a performer who in the moment doesn’t have any clue looked really really stupid to them. Most of them were like “Ah, I’m not sure’… So Rabbit was more an attempt to experience or experiment whether we could fly. I think it proved itself. It’s like seven years old now, we’re used to doing it- even at the moment in different countries. So NASSIM becomes, in such a metaphor, a bigger flight, a longer flight, so it doesn’t carry one person, it carries many people… A longer flight probably from Berlin to Perth.
NASSIM will be performed as part of the Perth Festival at the State Theatre Centre from the 20th – 25th of February this year. Performed by Scarlett Stevens, Matt Dyktynski, Richard Fidler, Andrea Gibbs, Sisonke Msimang, Humphrey Bower, and Kelton Pell, this moving play is sure to be one of the highlight’s of this year’s festival. Tickets can be purchased here