One of the most important aspects of theatre and performance is the way it opens audiences up to new cultures and new points of view. A highlight for us that does just this is 30 Monologues and Duologues for South Asian Actors: Celebrating 30 Years of Kali Theatre’s South Asian Women Playwrights.
Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Kali Theatre Company, this new collection of monologues and duologues is for South Asian and dual-heritage performers by South Asian writers. With 30 pieces – one for every year that the Kali Theatre has been creating art – these extracts are perfect for auditions, workshops and acting classes, allowing performers at every level to get stuck in.
Drawn, or adapted, from the rich collection of full-length plays written by South Asian women that the Kali Theatre have developed, this collection is a celebratory and necessary addition for performers everywhere. From established figures such as Rukhsana Ahmad and Nessah Muthy to exciting newer voices commissioned as part of Kali’s Summer SOLOS series, this anthology captures a mix of powerful work. It not only records the experience of South Asian people but shapes and defines it.
Here, the company’s three Artistic Directors express why the Kali Theatre Company has been so enduring and influential and who is to thank for this success.
Founding Kali Theatre Company was a brave plan. Born in a moment of gritty determination that followed a wild DIY impulse, it was a challenge for us novices. Rita Wolf, my Co-Artistic Director until the end of 1992, recounts the story of our first production on Kali’s website. Had it not been for a last-minute loan from Rita’s father, we would have had to hide from our debtors.
As co-founders, we were lucky to have supportive friends and family, and, later, benefactors amongst funders. One of our Arts Council England officers often admitted that the greatest subsidy to theatre comes from practitioners. We certainly got that from many fellow creatives. At the heart of theatre is a genuine spirit of collaboration and trust; something we’ve all held sacred at Kali.
From those early years of self-exploitation and struggle began a company that has bedded in powerfully. It has served so many women, over so many years, so successfully that it should be cited as a model for inclusion and diversity. What we sought was not some kind of ethnic apartheid from the mainstream but simply the right to programme the stories that mattered to us and reflected our lives. This book illustrates the achievement of that goal.
The secret behind our commendable record of highly original productions and readings has been the professionalism of our artistic directors and their commitment to our writing community from the outset. Janet Steel gave us a steady lead for over fourteen years after Rita and I left Kali. And now, Helena Bell has taken over with equal panache and tremendous passion. At its core, is our dedicated all-women board. Their unerring steer, which gives space to the artistic director and the team without losing sight of Kali’s goals and objectives, has provided stability and vision. Thank you, Janet, for raising us to maturity. I loved the coming-of-age party back then. Thank you, Helena, for forging ahead, and for conceiving and organising this brilliant publication.
Thirty years on, it’s a humbling experience for me to see a monologue from my play River on Fire open this anthology and a duologue from my last one close it. In between, there’s so much to celebrate, to be proud of and to reiterate: the choicest cuts from scores of our brilliant productions. It’s a tribute to our wonderful writers: those who are here and those to come.
Let me conclude with a timely call from my co-founder, Rita Wolf: ‘From a loan to get our first play up and running to twenty-three shows and counting. Kali was very necessary back then and is very, very necessary now. Keep writing!’
I had the enormous pleasure of working with seventeen of the twenty-two talented writers included in this collection. Reading the scripts again took me straight back to the rehearsal rooms, the theatres and the many train carriages we travelled in on our tours around the UK. I could hear the actors’ voices, see their movements, feel the audience’s reactions, and remember being told to pipe down as we chatted and laughed too loudly in the quiet coaches.
Each play had its unique journey, the actors, stage managers, creatives, Kali team and directors were all there to collaboratively bring the writer’s world and characters to life. There were many discussions and sometimes debates, but the struggle was a part of the process and a reflection of the passion we felt, and the shared desire to be brave and truthful.
The Kali writers wrote stories that mattered to them, which culturally diverse audiences around the country identified with or grappled with. The plays explored a range of themes including family dynamics, addiction, mental health, first love, immigration, poverty and geopolitics. They were stories about men and women, who, as most people do at some point in their life, experienced conflict, loss, regret. There was also plenty of humour, sometimes dark or absurd, from sharp-tongued characters, all played by brilliant actors.
I do hope that readers of these monologues and duologues are inspired to look at the complete play texts they come from, and companies and theatres are motivated to produce them. They are not stories from the past to be produced only once, they are stories of the present that are crying out to be heard again and again.
This book is about celebration!
THIRTY is here to celebrate Kali’s thirtieth birthday, showcasing thirty extracts from a dazzling array of plays by our writers. The book is also here to celebrate the actors, directors, dramaturges and theatre teams who collaborated on these scripts, enabling them to reach their full potential in productions. It is to say thank you to our audiences and funders. All those who have believed in the company’s mission and the vital need for these intrepid plays by fearless women to be seen and heard.
As well as celebrating Kali’s history and legacy, THIRTY is also an active manual for South Asian actors looking for juicy audition roles. There is so much variety to choose from with characters ranging in age from sixteen to seventy; roles for both women and men to play all classes from all religious faiths (and none). Locations span Afghanistan, India and Pakistan to Europe and the UK. Time frames range from the contemporary to period drama set during the Second World War. You can purchase the complete plays from our Script Shop via the Kali website.
THIRTY is equally intended for literary managers and directors looking for an accomplished writer to commission. Short writer biographies can be found at the back of this book. Kali continues to champion and showcase established playwrights through our FESTIVAL Programme – a loosely themed biennial festival of staged readings of new plays. To all you aspiring playwrights – Kali is here for you too and we hope you’ll find this collection a source of inspiration and encouragement. Check out our national DISCOVERY programme which develops and showcases twelve talented women writers in each new intake. We look forward to welcoming you.
Finally I’d like to celebrate and thank my brilliant team at Kali – Chris and Naomi and our wonderful board alongside the superb selection panel for this book, all of whom have been instrumental in Kali’s development. Special thanks must also go to Trilby James for her expert advice on audition books. Happy Birthday, Kali! Thank you, Rukhsana, Janet and all who have given Kali life and light.
30 Monologues and Duologues for South Asian Actors is now available to buy on Bloomsbury.com