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And just like that, we’re in October! 

The year is flying by, and this past month we hit our one-year Instagram anniversary. We can’t believe we hit 1,600+ followers in one short year! Thank you to all of you who have been following along on this journey!

Meet the Didis:

This month we’re chatting with Erum Khan. She is a film and theatre maker behind the project Noor, which will be in residence at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto from Oct. 2 to 21. Drop in to catch a live rehearsal in the museum’s Mongolian yurt, or grab a ticket to one of the live performances here.

Photo credit: Phillipa C.

When did you write Noor and what was your inspiration? 
It began as a very different piece that I wrote for the Young Playwright’s Unit at Tarragon Theatre. It was the first time I had ever tried to write a play and I wanted it to showcase a story that reflected my own lived experience as I rarely saw any portrayals that spoke to a world I knew in any of the media I was (and still am) surrounded by. At the time, I was quite drawn to Rumi and fascinated by the way in which his poetry is widely praised by Western audiences that access it through a lens that strips away its fundamental spiritual and Islamic elements. I was curious to discover to what degree it is important to uncover the historical context of his writing in order to unravel appropriation (or misappropriation) when interpreting his texts. This was a question I kept referring back to.
Then I grew older and was influenced by different styles of performance, film and theatre — different than the classical “well made play” — which had a large effect on my relationship to the development of the narrative and the kind of piece I wanted to create. I also became more accepting and public about my queer identity and wanted to use this show as a way to explore my intersectional identities — for myself as well as the communities to whom this show could speak to. I completely rewrote the entire piece this past summer and now feel it is at a place that speaks to all these elements in a more honest and authentic way.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced as a South Asian queer Muslim artist?
I often find in many places, particularly theatre spaces, I end up having to split parts of my identity to find some sort of common ground to not feel totally alienated. Not to say that there aren’t peers, individuals and institutions I feel supported by, but when you look at the dominant continuous homogenous demographics of which artists have opportunities and which shows get recognized and who the majority of the audiences are, it makes me question if I can have a future within theatre or the larger arts community.

Tell us about some of your past projects: 
I’ve worked on several film and theatre projects as a creator, collaborator or performer. Most recently, I was part of the 2017/18 Emerging Creators Unit at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (the world’s longest running and largest queer theatre) where I created a solo show called Becoming that I performed at different festivals. I was also a performer for the world premiere of Concord Floral in 2014 and then became the assistant director for the piece in 2016 at Canadian Stage and in 2017 at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. In 2016, I made a short documentary film charting the ways in which displacement and migration affected my family’s sense of identity, called Banjaare ka ghar (A Nomad’s Home), which screened at the Toronto Independent Film Festival.

What advice do you have for Didis looking to get into film and theatre?
It’s important to work in as many different ways as possible within these industries, especially when you’re starting out. I’ve worked as a writer, stage manager, production assistant, performer and so on. This not only helps with gaining a lot of experience, but it’s such a significant value to see the ways in which these vastly diverse roles shape a project. You then also begin to realize so much about another role while being immersed in something that may feel like the opposite. Through directing I was able to better understand new approaches to performing and acting that I wouldn’t have been able to grasp had I not been on “the other side.” Another piece of advice is to be patient. Making things takes a lot of time and learning and unlearning and mistakes and periods of nothingness. This is unfortunately just the way things go most of the time and during these periods it is good to have some humans you can be around to be inspired by or to keep the good vibes up.

What we’re reading:
Padma Lakshmi’s opinion piece in The New York Times, I Was Raped at 16 and I Kept Silent

What we’re watching: 
Didi Parveen Kaur in her series regular role in the new NBC show Manifest

Upcoming Events:

Pop-Up Magazine is a live magazine that is created for an audience on a stage and it is coming to Toronto’s Koerner Hall on Oct. 16. The show’s lineup includes Didi and filmmaker Veena Rao. Tickets start at $39, and Didis get $5 off with the code “ART5”

— Nikkjit Gill