Nazli Tabatabai explains how her ethnic heritage informs and influences her work as a theatre director and artist.
I am Iranian/Persian by heritage; my family migrated to the UK after the 1979 revolution and settled in Scotland. I grew up within two cultures that, in turn, created a fusion of East and West within me.
Ideas surrounding national identity and aesthetics became ever more important to me and I explored them within a theatre context at Leicester Haymarket Theatre (Trainee Director Arts Council England Bursary Award) and at Derby Playhouse before returning to Edinburgh to launch ZENDEH (a Farsi word translated meaning alive), a culturally plural theatre organisation.
ZENDEH will focus on working with Iranian, Scottish and International theatre makers and has a commitment to continually develop a dedicated culturally diverse ensemble of actors and related practitioners. Among the issues well be examining are those of migration, displacement and identity.
I often find myself in the context of ethnic minority where this doesnt feel an adequate description. Does it matter that I am white but by being from a minority-ethnic background I am assumed to be Black? I am a champion of diversity and of equalities and believe that what is most important to me is making quality theatre and arts projects that communicate to the world.
This is still an area where more opportunity would be welcome, but I am committed to freelance theatre directing in Britain and thats why I chose to found ZENDEH in Edinburgh with the support of the Scottish Arts Council. Theres a great Scottish heritage of making work thats socially and politically relevant. Its a good climate Scotland is starting to realise internationalism is here already and I'm proud to be a part of it.
Last year, ZENDEH won five-star reviews and an Amnesty International commendation for our Edinburgh Fringe production Waiting room by Isabel Wright. Our first bi-lingual play using Farsi and English was developed for a rehearsed reading at the Traverse Theatre as part of the Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace festival in February of this year.
In June I will be conducting a Residency at Dancebase exploring Shakespeares women using laboratory techniques to create a new piece of work. We are busy, but one of the areas of focus for ZENDEH is sustainability as there are currently no core-funded culturally diverse theatre companies in Scotland.
I havent returned to Iran since 1984. Its an ambition to go back, ideally to be commissioned to go back and direct there. That would be a homecoming to be internationally proud of.