HOLY COW! Reading Series: A New Play by Tariq Hamami

Posted by MB - April 30, 2012

Join us for the next reading of our FREE HOLY COW! Reading Series on Monday, May 14th at 7pm at Space on White. We will be presenting The Town for No One by Tariq Hamami. Free wine and delightful conversation among emerging artists will follow.

The Town of No One, takes place in a town with no rules or religion. A runaway from one of the neighboring towns befriends a young gravedigger by the name of Mag and inspires her with revolutionary ideas. Now Mag must try to fight tradition and chaos in order to learn the truth about who she is and where she comes from. Learn more about the Playwright.

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The HOLY COW! Reading Series is a bi-monthly reading of  plays about religion, faith, and life after death. How do we see the possibility of life after death today? What does it mean to be a person of faith? How does belief in an afterlife inform everyday actions and emotions? How does religion really effect the way human begins treat each other? How does a person of one faith live in our shared world of many beliefs? How does a person spend their lifetime if they believe they are moving towards an afterlife? The HOLY COW! Reading Series explores the nature of what it means to believe in something in our modern world.

We had the pleasure to do an interview with Tariq to learn more about his play. This is what he had to say:

What inspired the The Town of No One?

The Town of No One is the second play in what is a two part series at the moment, but possibly a three in total. The first play is called Everything Will Be Alright and takes place in a very religious town that follows the teachings of The Religobook. It’s about a girl who strays from the rules and suffers the consequences. During the writing of that play, the idea of a place in this world where no one followed the Religobook came up. Since all the religious towns were named after their religious leaders (ie The Town of Paul in Everything Will Be Alright), the town void of religion was apply nicknamed The Town of No One by the surrounding religious towns. In the play The Town of No One, the character of Harold carries over from the first. After the events of Everything Will Be Alright, he flees his hometown and ends up in the Town of No One.

While I was working on a workshop production of Everything Will Be Alright, I began to wonder what life was really like in the Town of No One. I began to write what is the first scene in this play and it just grew from there. I fell in love with the style of this world (being the polar opposite of the world in the first play) that I couldn’t stop working on it.

The Town of No One is a stand-alone play, however. While writing it I knew there was very little chance of anyone giving this relatively unknown writer the full Coast-of-Utopia. Plus, I didn’t want the plays to be dependent on each other. It was important to me that they were able to stand on their own. Hence, you don’t need to know the first in order to understand the second. And the same will follow with the third play in light of this one. Assuming I find enough time to peel myself away from new episodes of The Walking Dead and various soccer matches. Go Red Bulls!

The play takes place in a town with no rules or religion, was there any particular place that inspired the setting of the play?

I suppose the setting of the play came from my romanticized idea of secluded coastal towns in the nineteenth century. There’s sort of this liberating idea of a place without any advanced technology or system of governing. A real place where you are free to do as you please. However, in the back of my mind I know it is entirely romanticized and I would never actually want to live in a place like this. Having no social security number does seem liberating, but having no 3G signal doesn’t.

But there isn’t really a specific place I can point to on a map that inspired it. I like to make up the worlds my stories inhabit. I do like to take elements of our life and infuse them into the creation of the worlds, but I do enjoy creating a place that’s entirely foreign. It allows you to comment on our own life yet still be free to take things in any direction you please.

How is this play different or similar to some of your other plays?

The play is similar in the sense that it takes place in a made up world. I suppose I have to say it’s also similar since it deals a lot with religion. It’s not something I purposefully approach in my stories but inevitably makes it’s way into the subject matter.

However this play was a bit of a departure for me in terms of its style. The play is grittier than most of my others. It was really the first dark comedy I attempted, and since then I have really fallen in love with the genre. Like with all plays of mine, I’ll put it down for a couple months and try to come back to it with a fresh view of the story. With this play, I always fall back in love with the style and wish I could just continue writing it even after the line “The End”.

What was your process like for creating the piece? (How long did it take you, do you read the play with actors often, etc.)

I wrote the first two scenes while I was in production for the first play in the series, Everything Will Be Alright. I put it down for a couple months because I didn’t have a grasp on what the story really was. After the production of the first play, I joined a writers group called Playsmiths. With them, I really dove into the world of this play and began the creation and development of the story and characters. That process took about a year and a half and involved bringing ten pages at a time here and there for actors to do cold readings of. We then had one or two closed in-house readings with the group so I could hear it all together. We finally reached a point where we thought it would benefit an actual production and mounted one in last year’s Fringe Festival.

I find that the best rewrites come in the rehearsal room and sometimes those rewrites are too big to do in the actual rehearsal. The production in the Fringe brought a lot of excellent discoveries. Some of them were implemented in that production and some of them weren’t. The draft in this reading with Project Y is quite a significant rewrite from that draft in the Fringe.

What do you hope to gain or learn from the staged reading with Project Y?

Well like I said with the last question, this is a very new draft for me. There’s a lot I’m hearing for the first time. That’s part of why I was so thankful to hear that Project Y wanted to do a reading of the play. There was quite a bit I wanted to do and knew in the back of my mind I needed to hear it. This reading provided the perfect opportunity for that.

The other aspect of this reading that is very exciting to me is the new cast we have. The play took great strides during its development with the excellent group of people at Playsmiths. However, I’ve only heard some of the roles through one actor since it’s creation. I’m excited to hear where an entirely new cast of actors will take it. Actors bring so much to the development of a character. There are so many experiences I’ve had in readings or rehearsals where an actor goes with an instinct and something new that I wasn’t able to put my finger on before comes to light. So whenever you can bring new actors fresh to the play, it’s always an exciting and educational experience.

When did you decide you wanted to pursue playwriting?

I found my way into the profession a little later than others, I guess. I had always been interested in writing when I was growing up, but I always viewed it as a hobby more than anything else. And I didn’t write plays. I was more into poems and short stories. It wasn’t until mid-way through college that I found my way into playwriting. I began undergrad studying computer science. This was at the height of when most tech jobs were going overseas. I would be sitting in class with large groups of people in their forties or fifties who had been laid off from Bell Labs or places like that. I finally decided I was going to pursue what I really loved instead of what I thought was safe, since what I thought was safe didn’t seem all that safe anymore.

I took an Intro to Theatre class and one of our assignments was to come up with an idea for a play. For extra credit we could attempt to write the first scene of that play. I fell in love with the assignment and ended up completing the first act of a new play by the end of the semester. The professor encouraged me to complete the play and began to mentor me as a playwright. It was from there I really dove head first into playwriting. From undergrad I found my way into the graduate playwriting program at Columbia and the rest was history.

I still say a lot of what I know about structuring a story comes from my studies in computer science. A lot of the rules of structuring algorithms bleed into the rules of structuring stories. Anything you open, you close. You have one large task that is completed by going through a sequence of much smaller tasks (ie story beats). I know it’s not something arts purists like to hear (using what you know from the sciences to inform the arts), but it does help.

Do you have any playwriting commandments or rules you follow? If so, what are they? How do they instruct your writing?

My main rule is that the story always comes first. I know many people who want to steer their stories into certain directions because they want to talk about a specific theme or idea. For me, I can begin a play with one thing in mind, but if the story shows itself to be about something entirely different, then so be it. I hate to get too “artsy” with my ideas on writing, but it’s true that the characters really tell you story as opposed to you using the characters to tell the story. They speak to me instead of vice versa. Of course, you have a specific starting point and specific locations and styles you begin with. But the story and the ideas behind it can take such dramatic turns during the development process and you can’t fight against that.

I believe every play should ask many questions in its themes but never answer any of them. You answer the dramatic questions of the plot, but when it comes to the theme, the audience answers the questions for themselves. Nothing is worse to me than a play that tells you how to feel about certain things. Of course my own biases and feelings will steer the writing. You can’t avoid that. No play should be “neutral”. God help us if we encounter the world’s first “neutral” play! But I do like to pose questions that inspire the audience to come to their own answers. I really admire the play Major Barbara in that sense.

What was the first thing that you wrote?

The first thing I remember writing goes back to third grade, and I actually don’t have it anymore. We had to take “computer class” at the time. I was very good with computers as a kid and found that most of our computer teachers still looked at the things as magical boxes from outer space. The teacher sat us down and told us to play around with the word processor. I had no idea what to do since a word processor was not something foreign to me and required no exploring. I began writing a short story that I remember I named “The Mystery of Mrs. Druesdale.” I remember it started with a private investigator at a carnival following a suspect in the murder of some high profile woman from New York. Beyond that, I don’t remember much of it, but I do know I never finished it. The class ended and I didn’t have a disk to save it on. They cleared the hard drives every so often so I never got the file back. It was a tough loss to take as a kid and I consider it my first encounter with death.

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