Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Burn It Down is a series of six newly commissioned script-in-hand performances about urgent political issues. Each short play will be a stand-alone scrutiny, calling out injustice and interrogating the systems that wield power. One such piece is I’m tired of waiting, pass me the duct tape, about two trans girls who are tired of being the ones kept waiting, so decide to take back control. It’s a funny, surprising and theatrical look into doctors, the medical system, and what it takes to medically transition in the UK. Sam Bennett caught up with its writer, Travis Alabanza (Burgerz/Overflow) to learn more. 

We last spoke towards the end of 2020, for your online play, In Tandem – how pleased were you with the response to that work and what have you been doing since? 

It’s so hard at that period of the pandemic to gauge what or how online work was consumed. But I try and focus on how I felt during the making – I loved working with Paines Plough and the actors. Since then my play Overflow has had two runs at the Bush Theatre, and an online showing – I was so proud of what we made as a team.  

You recently joined Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness on their UK tour – how did that come about? 

I did an opening set for my friend ALOK at the New York Comedy Festival – I must have told some ok jokes because someone from Jonathan’s team saw me there and wanted me for the UK tour. It was great! So much fun with Jonathan and awesome to have that experience. 

Next month your new play, I’m tired of waiting, pass me the duct tape comes to Theatre Royal Stratford East – why have you written it? 

Royal Stratford East wanted us to write something political. And I’ve been thinking a lot about imagination, how to use the quite depressing political climate to imagine other scenarios. I wanted to write something fun, imaginative, playful – that sits on the back score of quite an intense topic. 

Why do you think our government has excluded the trans community from the ban on conversion therapy?  

Because trans people in the UK have been on the receiving end of a well-calculated, consistent and targeted attack for over five years. This is what happens when our media, our law makers, those in power continue to push through anti-trans sentiment – it builds and builds to moments like this. We have to resist it. 

Milli Bhatia is directing I’m tired of waiting… – what is it about her work that makes her a good fit for your play? 

My main thing with directors is always: are they just a good fun person? I make work to have fun, and Milli is FUN! She’s smart, cool, a Scorpio, and in everything I’ve seen her make I’ve just loved how she can hold serious content with a light, playful, and dark touch. It hits everything I like. Also, come on, Seven methods of killing Kylie Jenner was the best thing this side of the 2000s – how could I not want to work with Milli? 

The play is part of Royal Stratford East’s Burn It Down – which other pieces in that series are you really looking forward to? 

The whole series looks incredible but I can’t wait for babirye bukilwa’s writing directed by malakaï sargeant. Two artists I really get excited by working together??? Yes please. 

Burn It Down comprises shows about urgent political issues – how will you know if the series has succeeded in terms of effecting change?  

I’m not sure I’m invested in knowing or measuring that. ‘Change’ isn’t always my goal when making work. For this piece, I want to have two trans actors be able to live out fantasy, fucked up characters and anger on stage – my goal is for them to enjoy that. I think we always assume every work has to be at service to a wider audience – yet sometimes, we can pick times for selfish desire and want in work – especially as marginalised artists. This commission was that chance for me. I wanted to cast two Black trans actors and I wanted to see them have fun on stage. That is the politic for me. 

What are you reading right now? 

I just finished Okechukwu Nzelu’s novel Here Again Now and it is SO good. You must read it. 

Which theatre-makers are exciting you?  

There are so many but I have had a strong want to see Rachael Young’s work again. Watching OUT at Summerhall 2019 was such an all-body experience.  

What else is on your agenda? 

Learning to be a person who bakes. 

 

Burn It Down is at Theatre Royal Stratford East 19 April-5 May. I’m tired of waiting, someone pass me the duct tape by Travis Alabanza is on Thursday 5 May 7pm and 8.30pm 

www.stratfordeast.com 

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