Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

Review: ABC Radio 702 Sydney

Listen to a PODCAST of Diana Simmonds speaking with Richard Glover about Norm & Ahmed plus Shafana & Aunt Sarrinah at the Seymour Centre until August 29 2009. Terrific to hear how much a piece of theatre has affected someone just by the tone of their voice. Click on this link to listen to the PODCAST of the review on August 18th 2009.


Review: beautifully wrought bookends

"Norm & Ahmed and Shafana & Aunt Sarinnah are like beautifully wrought bookends to a part of Australia's recent history and they are both alarmingly topical and their reception will be constantly evolving." Read Diana Simmonds' perceptive and intelligent review on August 18 2009 at Stagenoise.


Review: powerful...fascinating and moving...highly successful

"Sensitive...powerful...fascinating and moving...beautifully performed...This is a highly successful double bill" Read the review of Norm and Ahmed with Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah by Australia's greatest authority on Australian theatre John McCallum in The Australian on August 11 2009.

2009 Alex Buzo Memorial Lecture: Alana Valentine

Listen to Alana Valentine interviewed by Richard Aedy on ABC Radio National's Life Matters about her new play Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah and giving the second annual Alex Buzo Memorial Lecture on August 10th 2009.

Listen to a podcast of the 2009 Alex Buzo Memorial Lecture CAPTIVATED BY REALITY by Alana Valentine. Read an excerpt at the ABC's Unleashed


Review: Extraordinarily brave and bold double bill

"I believe this to be an extraordinarily brave and bold double bill containing four very fine performers...For those who are adventurous and tired of the white, safe, predictable plays of late and who are ready to be truly moved and inspired by theatre: I urge you to see this production." Read full review in Australian Stage Online


Opening Night: new worlds to be fathomed

It's the morning after the opening night performance of Norm and Ahmed and the premiere if its contemporary companion Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah by Alana Valentine. This production is the culmination of nearly two years of....well, a whole lot of hustling really. My vision for The Alex Buzo Company is to pioneer new ideas and do things that haven't been done before, which as I have discovered, is both freeing and confoundingly restricting. You see, the idea of commissioning a companion play for one of my father's works had no template. So I created my own. Since the idea came to me in 2007, I've been doing the same hot shoe shuffle over and over again, explaining what exactly this project is all about, its value in an ethnically diverse society and of course securing the funding and publicity crucial to making it happen. I sincerely hope that I will be able to tone down Operation Explanation now that the production has opened and people can see the real thing.

While it's always a joy to see Laurence Coy (Norm) and Craig Meneaud (Ahmed) weave their magic as I've had the privilege to do on countless occasions, it was the premiere of the new work that was most exciting for me. Sheridan Harbridge (pictured above) and Camilla Ah Kin's illuminating performance was for an audience including many of the Muslim women interviewed by Alana Valentine for
Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. I know by now that when people come out of the theatre talking excitedly and starting sentences with "I never thought of it like that..." or "I had no idea..." that the vision is a success. As Shafana so profoundly utters:

"there are yet, new worlds to be fathomed and new impossibilities to be revealed."

August 6th-29th 2009, Seymour Centre
Beautiful new images from the production


Article: Working on fresh approach to Buzo classic

Pictured from left: Alana Valentine, Makiz Ansari and Emma Buzo. Read the article on Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah by Alex Lalak in the Daily Telegraph


Article: Holding a mirror to an Australian classic

Read the article in the Sydney Morning Herald, August 4th 2009


Article: Triumph of censor's target

I did a phone interview about Norm and Ahmed plus Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah with Graeme Blundell last week crouched in a corner of the foyer of the Governor Macquarie Tower in Sydney's CBD during rush hour for this article in The Australian. I'd just finished a meeting about The Alex Buzo Company's 2010 production Macquarie when he rang. Luckily I carry all my different 'hats' in my handbag and quickly switched back into 2009 mode.

Read Triumph of censor's target in The Australian

Article in The Sunday Telegraph

The Power of Buzo Inspires Valentine
article by Jo Litson in The Sunday Telegraph on July 26 2009


Uni of Syd student speaks about observing rehearsals

Click on this PODCAST to listen to Chris Fung, one of the University of Sydney's Department of Performance Studies students observing rehearsals of Norm and Ahmed plus Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah speaking about what he's gained from watching professionals create live theatre.

Variations on a theme: Aarne Neeme interviewed

Click on this PODCAST to hear Aarne Neeme (pictured left with actors Craig Meneaud and Laurence Coy) interviewed at rehearsals about the creation of Norm and Ahmed + Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

"What's exciting about the whole thing, is that it's not two plays that are directly the same. Alana hasn't tried to do a female version of Norm and Ahmed, but she's certainly picked up on the issues and the shape of the play...In Alana's play we don't have the two strangers meeting and clashing in a very sort of masculine way, we have two women who know each other very well, who share many of the same backgrounds and assumptions. They similarly have a clash, which is again resolved in their terms, not in the way men generally resolve things...It's the variations on a theme...they're the same but they're different and you have virtually celebrate both aspects of that process." Read more: PODCAST

Alana Valentine on her new play

"I hope Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah will surprise audiences with its portrait of Afghani Muslim women, who are articulate, highly educated, deeply spiritual and enraged by the way Australian and global media paint them as oppressed, meek and silent. To be part of a project where Buzo's theme and concerns might be reignited through a new genuinely exciting. In effect, it allows the 'conversation' to move into a third dimension: not just Buzo speaking anew to the 21st Century, but Buzo reflected and responded to through the voice of a contemporary playwright. It's a vision of Australian theatre as a historical continuum." (Read the full article in SAM, the University of Sydney's Alumni magazine, July 2009)


Makiz Ansari visits rehearsals despite her bad hijab day

Today we were privileged to have Makiz Ansari from Affinity Intercultural Foundation and her cousin Tamkin Ansari visit the rehearsals of Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. Afghani/Australian Makiz was a major source of inspiration for playwright Alana Valentine and her character of 'Shafana' takes much from Makiz's eloquently told story. The entire creative team were able to ask Makiz questions about her faith, her cultural heritage and her experience of life in Australia as a Muslim woman. Makiz joked she was having a 'bad hijab day' but she was able to give actor Sheridan Harbridge a valuable tutorial in wearing the headscarf.

(Above: Sheridan Harbridge and Alana Valentine speak with Makiz and Tamkin Ansari, observed by University of Sydney students)

First day of rehearsals

I visited the first rehearsal of Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah yesterday which is in excellent, spine-tingling shape. Alana Valentine has steadily and masterfully filtered feedback received over the last 6 months and crafted the play into something markedly different to the draft I first read in January.

Clockwise from the checked shirt: Daniel Hunter (SM), Aarne Neeme (Director), Deirdre Burges (Designer), Sheridan Harbridge (Shafana), Camilla Ah Kin (Aunt Sarrinah), Alana Valentine (Playwright), Tony Youlden (Lighting) and May-Brit Akerholt (Dramaturg). In the background: one of the numerous University of Sydney Department of Performance Studies' students studying the rehearsal process.


That old "f" word: still a producer's nightmare

This week, a Sydney high school whose English department had booked out an entire performance of Norm and Ahmed + Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah, were forced by their principal to cancel the booking. The reason? That pesky old "f" word uttered by Norm. It appears the more things change, the more they stay the same. 40 years ago, that one word put the play at the centre of a censorship battle which saw it banned in three states, but also gave Australian theatre its front page debut. Buzo was bemused and perhaps a little annoyed. While the publicity achieved instant fame for the play and its author, he felt its important themes were somewhat overshadowed by the brouhaha over one word.

The most distressing part about this school principal's fearful, archaic attitude is that it shows a complete lack of understanding about the purpose of dramatic art, which is to ask questions, encourage self reflection and open minds. Does banning students from seeing a production about the tension between cultures and generations in Australia help them become good citizens and critical thinkers? I think not.

Here's a very short bite from an ABC TV 'Talking Heads' episode on Graeme Blundell who produced Norm and Ahmed in 1970 with some great footage of the play being done for a magistrate and his court.


Welcome to The Alex Buzo Company Blog

Welcome! Emma Buzo, founder and director of The Alex Buzo Company here. After two years I've decided to spill the beans. On running an independent arts organisation, that is. First up, I'll be documenting the process of theatre making. Rehearsals are about to begin for the company's upcoming production of Norm and Ahmed + Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah at the Seymour Centre 5-29 August. Those studying and teaching theatre as well as those interested in the arts and how an idea gets up will be given a ringside seat via this blog. Posts will feature a top-shelf team of theatre practitioners at various stages of their careers through images, interviews and clips.

I first had the idea to commission a contemporary playwright to respond to Buzo's iconic
Norm and Ahmed in 2007 and it's taken me two years of hard yakka to see it come to fruition. I wanted to bring new audiences to my father's work and plant it firmly in the present with a view to the future. I'm also aiming to create a bit of a "through line" for Australian theatrical heritage, now that we've got some history behind us. Cultural amnesia is a common affliction in Australia, I've discovered. Perhaps this is the antidote? We'll see.

Norm and Ahmed is an encounter between a white Aussie "bloke" and an articulate Pakistani uni student, inspired by an incident Alex witnessed in the uni bar at UNSW in 1968. It's about racism and generational tension, with the premise "never underestimate the power of difference." I decided to commission Alana Valentine to write the companion play as she told me a captivating story about the opposition a young Afghani Australian Muslim woman faced when she told her own family she wanted to wear the headscarf. We don't often hear of diversity within an ethnic community.

Since 2007,
Norm and Ahmed has become a NSW HSC Drama text, and together with reports of racial bashings perpetrated against international students at Australian universities plus the ongoing dialogue about the wearing of the headscarf...that's one prophetic idea!

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