Drawing From That Which One Tried to Ignore
by Izad Etemadi
"Navid is a gay Iranian man running from himself and his home in search of acceptance. He arrives at Borderland, a secret hiding place. There he meets Leila and Zia. Who are they? Can they help Navid on the dangerous path towards happiness?"
Borderland is my first time touring a self-written/performed/produced solo show across Canada. I started writing Borderland last summer after a conversation with my parents about how different my life would have been if they had never left Iran. My parents, along with my older brother and sister, left Iran in 1988 moving to Germany, where I was born. In 1995, my family moved to Victoria, BC where I have lived since. I have heard this lecture from my parents about how fortunate I am for most of my life, but for some reason it really hit me that night. I have been lucky to grow up in a supportive environment that provided freedom to become the human being that I am today - which may not have happened if I grew up in Iran.
After months of research I came up with Borderland. A Toronto based company - The Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees - inspired the concept. This group helps LGBT in Iran escape and find a safe place in the world that they can call home.
Writing Borderland has been an incredibly emotionally challenging process for me. I've forced myself to draw from childhood experiences that I’ve tried to ignore and tap into thoughts and feelings that are frightening for me to face. If it wasn't for my close group of friends and incredible artistic community that is Victoria, BC I would not have been able to finish this project. Anytime I felt insecure about my writing or afraid to talk about my true feelings my friends were there to gently support me back to a confident frame of mind.
A very special part of Borderland is that I collaborated with one of my best friends Peggy Hogan, to write music for it. I trained in acting, singing and dancing at the Canadian College of Performing Arts and the Banff Centre and music is very important to me. I couldn’t create a solo show without music in it! Peggy Hogan is a local singer/songwriter in Montreal. The music was created over a series of Skype. We were never in the same room, or province, during the creation of the music but every word and note flowed perfectly into the story and really enhances the high stakes that take place. Peggy and I have been friends since we were 10 years old and this is the first time we have artistically worked together. The first time she will see the piece and actually hear me sing the music is on opening night.
The most rewarding part of my journey thus far has been with the Calgary Fringe. I was put fifth on the wait list but was determined to be in the festival. Feeling impatient, I applied for an external venue: The Lantern Community Church. A few weeks after the application I was informed that Borderland was not accepted due to subject matter. A show about being gay in Iran didn't seem appropriate to have in a Christian Reform Church. At first I was quite thrown off, but I continued after what I wanted - to be in the Calgary Fringe. After a series of emails I was put in touch with the Pastor of the Lantern Community Church and not only did he agree to accept me into the festival but Borderland will make an extra appearance during their Sunday service. The conversations I have had with the Pastor continue to remind me why I decided to do this. To share this story that is so close to my heart that I feel isn’t talked about enough.
I am very proud of what I have created with Borderland and cannot wait to spread my message with audiences and see the discussions that arise from it. Although I have no firsthand experience with being gay in Iran I feel that the core emotion is one that anyone can relate though - regardless of their background. At the end of the day, wherever we are in life we want to feel accepted and that was what Borderland is all about.
Borderland opened on June 14th at the Montreal Fringe Festival. It will then appear at the Tranzac Club in Toronto (June 26-28), the Regina Fringe Festival (July 10-14), the Hamilton Fringe Festival (July 18-28), the Calgary Fringe Festival (August 2-10) and the Edmonton Fringe Festival (August 15-25).