Interview with Aliya Gulamani

First published in the June 2010 issue of the Hearing Times

Aliya Gulamani is a young deaf playwright who has recently been accepted to the Royal Court’s prestigious Young Writer’s Programme, after two years as a member of Deafinitely Theatre’s young writers group.

When did you first start writing? I started writing poetry when I was 8 or 9 years old, and I’ve loved writing short stories for as long as I can remember. My venture into playwriting began when I joined Deafinitely Theatre’s ‘Deafinitely Creative’ group.

How did that help you? The course taught us how to observe the world to feed our imagination. One example was creating stories from newspaper headlines! The group were all writing plays for the first time and we even went on a residential where we ate, lived and worked together for one week, so we built up a close bond!

What’s the difference between writing a play for a deaf or hearing audience? Hearing plays are often more language based, and involve reading between the lines. Deaf plays can be more direct, visual, and use gesture and physicality more.

What was your experience of growing up deaf? I have one older deaf sister, and two younger hearing brothers. My mother is now an interpreter, and along with my brothers she worked hard to give us access to both worlds. As a deaf child, you are aware of being ‘different’ and there’s times when you miss out on things, but I felt I had the best of both worlds.

You’re studying for a degree in English and Drama at the moment. How does working with hearing people compare to a deaf group? At university I’m the only deaf person, so I have to work extra hard to reach the same level as my peers. But drama throws you into interacting with others and I really enjoy mixing with the people on the course.

Do you get to act on the course? Yes – and I really enjoy it! I’ve just acted in a short film which was a lot harder than acting on stage. When you have an audience there, you feed off the fact that they visibly respond to your character, whereas on camera you have to work harder to get into that frame of mind, and as an actor, it’s a bigger challenge. But writing will always be my first love.

How do you get an idea? It’s hard to explain! It’s a bit like there’s lots of little fishes swimming through my brain and it takes me a while to recognise and catch the one that’s swimming the fastest. (laughs) But when I finally get it, it unfolds and expands in my mind, and then using a pen and paper, I write down the visual images in my head. Then you start to mould it into a piece of fiction.

How did it feel to get selected for the Royal Court’s Young Writers Programme? I was amazed, completely amazed. It’s exciting to meet new people, learn new techniques, and to be going on a new adventure.

What’s your biggest inspiration? Firstly, life. Everything you learn from life can be channelled into your writing. Secondly people, whether you know them yourself or observe them from afar. Thirdly, books. Growing up being deaf, reading was a way of escaping into a fantasy world when you can’t always access the world around you.

You’re also going to Israel soon, tell us about that. Yes I’m working with a deaf-blind theatre company, called Nalaga’at. They’re coming to perform at the London International Festival of Theatre, this summer. Alongside the show their cafe, staffed by deaf waiters, will be recreated in North Finchley. I was lucky enough to be selected to be trained as one of the waitresses!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I’d like to travel, and work with different theatre companies and be an established writer. Physical theatre, in particular, is something that I love and hopefully in 10 years time I’ll have created some powerful physical performance pieces for the stage.

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