Jabber is a touring show for high school students written by by Marcus Youssef. It will receive a workshop reading directed by Chelsea Haberlin in the Spring of 2017, in partnership with Green Thumb Theatre.
Fay Nass (Resident Producer): My first question is: What inspired you to write this play and how do you feel about it today?
Marcus Youssef (Artistic Director): It was commissioned by Geordie Theatre in Montreal, which produces work for young people. Dean Fleming (the then-Artistic Director) saw an adult show of mine. The show was about my mom’s Alzheimer’s – actually a very dark and intense show. He saw that and wanted to commission me to write a play for young people; I thought that was very interesting. I had worked a lot with young people in my 20’s but hadn’t had a chance – because of the other work that I have been doing – to revisit that for a long time so I was excited about the idea. So, we started jamming. I had a story that I had written about an angry, messed up, working class kid in high school, and then we talked about isolation and since this was in Montreal we started talking about Hijab and how it would be for an emerging adult in high school to wear Hijab in Quebec at that time, particularly in schools that didn’t have lots of Muslim students.
Click below for full audio of Fay and Marcus’ interview.
MY (continued): From there, I became more interested in the idea of the presumptions that we make about people, not only in high school but all of us do, but high school is specially interesting as it is such a lab with all different kind of people thrown together; like hospitals, I guess prisons, states institutions; I guess they do that. So presumptions we make about each other and so that is what I was interested in – and so yeah the presumptions that were made about Fatima because she wears Hijab and recently moved from Middle East, equally the presumptions that were made about Jorah because whose dad has done some bad stuff and he gets kicked out from the school all the time and he is supposedly mean and angry – and what are the presumptions we make about him?
FN: I loved the play. What I loved the most about the play was how honest it was and while it was addressing very important issues like “ stereotypes”, “Islamophobia” and so on, it didn’t come across as lecture like, or feeling that it holds a lesson, which I find refreshing specially considering the fact that teenagers are getting lectured all the time. How did you achieve the balance of keeping the play light-hearted and political at the same time?
MY: There are a couple of things. I think in all the work that I make for young people, systems are really important, and I think kids in high school understand systems very well, and when they are in a school they know they are in a system and yet adults tend to feel they are in the position that they can’t acknowledge that, they feel they need to morally defend the systems as if it is part of them, and I don’t think that is true. I think we can acknowledge the existence of systems and how they work on us and I think kids really appreciate when you do that. And I think this fundamental recognition has been built in to the show since both the characters and the actors themselves are inside this context where they are telling stories.
The other part of it is humor and like remembering – and I think this is critical for someone who identifies as a political artist to remember that yes, many political arts becomes didactic particularly when it comes to kids, this lesson teaching. But we all experience this kind of ramification, and are caught up inside these political questions because they are real things, they are not political, they are personal, they happen to us, they are part of our lives. We happen to make these divisions in our heads on how it is policy and it is outside of ourselves but it is not, we live these things so these two kids certainly do, and always I try to approach my characters as if they are good, this is what I love about writing for young kids, you don’t have the option of being cynical. No matter what bad things they are doing inside they are good and there is a sense of joyfulness in that. This is one of the things I like about writing for young people because work with adults can become darker and cynical. I like that assumption of goodness, I just assume that in base level they are doing the best they can.
Art by Katie So.