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Healah Riazi on First Commissions

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Healah Riazi, one of our current First Commissions writers, discusses her experience as a writer on attachment to HighTide...

"It was here where I realised the sheer scope of possibility of the people I could work with"

I can describe my experience on First Commissions so far in four stages.

First phase: euphoria. It is an incredibly important moment when you get recognition from a theatre and to know that you’re going to be under their wing on attachment after grafting at something for so long. At this point I had been applying to so many things I couldn’t actually remember what play I had pitched (sorry).

Second phase: “Oh no I actually have to write this.” Yep.

healah

Healah Riazi

Third phase: the dark realisation that you could ruin this with undertones of “I have nothing to say and I am a fraud.”

While I always envisaged myself to jump at an opportunity like this and go galloping full force into the realms of creativity and wonder, what actually happened was I freaked myself out to the point of not being able to confront the play altogether.

It’s a bit like standing on a platform as a train approaches and you realise how easy it could be to step off and die. Not because you want to but because you become aware of how easily you could destroy something. Or for a less morbid metaphor- don’t mess it up.

I soon realised if you say this to yourself too much you’ll stop moving.

Then came the meeting with HighTide where I presented my first draft of the Arts Council application. It seemed so wildly hypothetical at that point that I felt like I was fabricating a really sophisticated lie and asking for money.

It was here where I realised the sheer scope of possibility of the people I could work with. Steven described it as putting together my “fantasy football team for theatre” which was possibly the best thing someone could say to me.

As a first-timer everything seemed ridiculous and vast and I wasn’t sure at what point I was pushing it. My first proposal was to have Dennis Kelly as my mentor. I was expecting them to kindly ask me to bring myself down a peg or two but instead Steven said, “Sure, we can get you his contact.”

This to me was mind-blowing. AS IF DENNIS KELLY COULD BE MY MENTOR. I kept a straight face and went along with it anyway.

I emailed him that evening and we arranged to meet the following week.

On my way to see him after not sleeping for three nights, I was so nervous I listened to Sean Paul on repeat for the whole journey to give myself confidence until I felt more like him than me.

I met Dennis in a café in Soho where he told me he was mainly meeting me in person to check I wasn’t a dick then agreed to act as my mentor. As expected, he was completely wonderful.

The fourth phase is basically a psychological mash up of all of the above. Added with a lot more writing. Now that I’ve been awarded the Arts Council grant I’ve been able to go part-time and can invest the time and experimentation needed when making a thing. I have my team of Director, Dramaturg, Mentor and Casting director together and am now in the first writing phase of the play, which is already opening itself up as a new world.

Healah Riazi, October 2016

Applications for the First Commissions scheme are currently open. Click here to find out more. Deadline is 25th November, 6pm.

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