When we started writing Closed Doors we wanted to tell a story which featured characters we don’t often see portrayed on the stage. Living in a multi-cultural area, I was inspired by the people I was living amongst and acutely aware that their stories were not, as far as I could see, adequately represented in the industry in which I work. I wanted to do something to go some small way towards widening the spectrum of experiences which are acknowledged in our cultural landscape.
At first I had grand visions of writing a musical with a multicultural cast but frankly, without any funding behind us, I soon realised that I needed to reign it in and work with the resources we (myself and Novasound) had available to us – namely the three of us, the piano and drums.
I was particularly keen to explore the issue of prejudice, having heard people shamelessly voicing bigoted views, particularly against the Roma population in my neighbourhood. Like many others, I find this and the wider growth of nationalism in the UK and across the western world utterly abhorrent and wanted to create work which challenged these views and looked at some of the mentality behind it.
Although I wrestled with the notion that it might not be my place to write characters from a different cultural background to my own, it was clear that in order to tell the story of our protagonist, Maggie, an isolated old woman with narrowminded views, we needed to populate the story with other characters from different backgrounds who affect and are affected by these views. It felt important to give a voice to these other characters and so, through numerous conversations with my own neighbours and the people I worked and volunteered with, I made sure to get a deeper understanding of the sort of characters I was preparing to write; educating myself in order to try to respectfully and accurately write believable Roma and Sikh characters into the story. While I would never attempt to write a piece entirely made up of characters from a different cultural background to my own, I also see the role of a writer as putting themselves into someone else’s shoes, discovering what makes them behave the way they do, making sure to fully research anything which is not immediately familiar. I’ve written characters who are mothers while not being a mother myself, male characters and senior characters and while I have written pieces where the characters are non gender or ethnicity specific this was the first time I had written characters who were of a specific ethnicity which is different to my own.
It’s tricky to address this issue without coming across as slightly defensive but I also think it is important to acknowledge the fact that I am a white woman putting words into the mouths of non-white characters and have considered this thoroughly and carefully. The main points for me are that although we voice the characters during the piece, we are not performing them in character. We have not cast ourselves as the characters: we don’t put on accents or try to embody them and fundamentally, we made this piece of work from scratch with no funding behind us so I can confidently say that we have not taken any opportunity away from any artists of colour.
If nothing else, with this piece we are looking at the issue of prejudice and perhaps as white women, we are in a good position to do this. We are not trying to make any statements about other cultures – if anything we are making the point that despite our cultural differences, we are all human beings with the same fundamental needs.
Closed Doors is principally a story about people and although we have not shied away from making our audience feel a bit uncomfortable while looking at the issue of prejudice and the sort of rhetoric which surrounds it, we hope that the respect and sensitivity with which we approached writing the characters in the piece comes across.