We sat down with Sultans of the Street playwright Anusree Roy to talk writing for young audiences, empathy and heroes.
- What inspired you to create the story of these four children in Kolkata?
When I was researching for my play Roshni I spent a lot of time hanging out at railway stations. There I met some fiercely determined, smart and extremely poor kids who dressed like gods. I knew that someday they would make it into a play of mine. So, when [Young People’s Theatre in Toronto] approached me to write for them, I pitched them this story.
- In what ways do you think young people in Canada can relate to this story taking place half a world away?
I believe that kids – no matter which part of the world they live in — are just kids. They have the same instincts with fear, joy, love, hatred, anxiety, loss, excitement etc. They all want the hero in the story to win. It’s irrelevant if it’s one hero or multiple heroes, if the kid is invested in the story they want to champion the characters. I think they will be able to relate to these characters and this story, because they are starting to experience complex emotions in their own lives — emotions that these characters are struggling with. And also, they are learning to understand what is morally right and what is instinctually wrong.
- What would you like young people to take away from this story?
I would love for them to leave the theatre with more empathy. To have compassion for children who are struggling with their own realities and for them to understand that sometimes forgiveness is the only way to move forward.
- Did you have experiences with the arts as a child that led you to become a playwright and actor?
Yes, I was raised in a family where we all took drawing classes, singing classes and did lots of theatre work. I did my first on stage performance when I was five years old. My uncle is an actor, so he encouraged me a lot. All my life I have been performing or writing, so it truly has been a part of my whole journey.
- You write for both young audiences and adults – are there special challenges or freedoms you find in writing for young people?
Yes, for younger audiences there are a few unwritten guidelines that are important to keep in mind. TYA writing has cause and effect and things have to happen for a reason. A lot of the times when I write for an adult audience, incidents happen to my characters because we live in a complex world and bad things can happen to good people, but that reasoning won’t work for a TYA audience. If something really bad is happening to a young adult there has to be consequence and the actions have to be really thought through. Kids are very sensitive to the Hero’s journey. Also, I find that morality is key. Kids are very aware of what’s morally right and wrong.
Anusree Roy’s Sultans of the Street opens at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island on October 30 and runs until November 13.
Anusree Roy is a Governor General’s Award nominated writer, and actor whose work has toured nationally. Her plays include: Brothel # 9, Roshni, Letters to my Grandma and Pyaasa. She holds an M.A from the University to Toronto and has been published by the Playwright’s Canada Press. Her plays and performances have won her four Dora Mavor Moore Awards along with multiple nominations. She is the recipient of the K.M.Hunter Award, RBC Emerging Artist Award, The Carol Bolt Award and The Siminovitch Protégé Prize. Anusree’s playwright residencies include: Young People’s Theatre, Factory Theatre, The Blyth Festival, Theatre Passe Muraille and The Canadian Stage Company. Her new play Trident Moon which she has developed with Nightwood Theatre just premiered this October at U.K’s Finborough Theatre and her commission for the Factory Theatre, Little Pretty and the Exceptional, will premiere in Spring 2017. She will be continuing at the Stratford Festival for her second season this upcoming spring.