Sixteen, a new play at the Dream Up Festival, is a powerful profile of juveniles at a point in their life where bad decisions are only a small part of their plight, as the system itself may determine where they end up. For the playwright, Hamza Zaman, the play represents more than just good story telling, it offers a powerful message in a unique narrative form. In this exclusive interview with LocalTheatreNY, Hamza explains.
Q: Tell us about your work as a playwright, when did it all begin?
Hamza Zaman: I started writing stories and stage plays when a teenager. My 10th grade English teacher encouraged me with this pursuit and I never lost the love of storytelling as I took classes in college that allowed me to expand stories into scripts. My career as a produced playwright began with the production of a one act version of Fresh Meat which I later expanded to full length for the 20th Anniversary FringeNYC festival.
My work deals with topics that haunt me and that I cannot resolve internally through complacency or distraction. Social topics such as substance abuse, religious intolerance and juvenile justice reform are main themes but I also write comedy and other genres. I made a film on spirituality based on a poem I wrote (Vemana) and am currently working on a farcical play about the theater itself. Storytelling brings me the creative release I need to function in other aspects of my life. It is less something that I like to do but more that I need to do and acts as a psychic safety valve.
Q: Tell us about SIXTEEN. When did you begin writing it, how has it evolved to the point that it's now playing at The Dream Up?
Hamza Zaman: Sixteen began as a collection of monologues that stemmed from a one man show I performed at Rikers Island Correctional institution (Redemption). We unveiled it at Dixon Place and found the audience reaction quite stimulating. It's gratifying when you write about serious topics but still keep the audience along for the ride with traces of levity. Given the positive reaction there I expanded it to a full length play which also seems to be appreciated from the ratings I have seen so far.
Q: Why did you write the play? What is it about this story that inspired you to write it?
Hamza Zaman: I have always found the plight of juveniles sympathetic. As someone that had, lets just say, uncomfortable teen years, I had thought my experiences were somehow unique. My readings and an experience performing for the youth program at Rikers Island crystallized this topic as being the next one I had to tackle.
Q: How much has the play evolved?
Hamza Zaman: The original concept was a series of monologues around the theme of juvenile criminality as inspired by interactions with youth offenders in captivity. As we began developing this concept we made the theme overt and in a closer format to a traditional play - although keeping the non-linear elements to experimenting with the form.
Q: Why the Dream Up festival? How did you get involved and what motivated you to submit?
Hamza Zaman: I had seen many shows at TNC over the years and love what they have been able to do there. The opportunity to direct a short play there brought me into direct contact with the theater and the process of working there. When I was looking for a venue to house the full length version of Sixteen, the Dream Up festival was always at the forefront of my mind. Given that the mission of the Dream Up festival is to push the boundaries of what theater can attempt I felt it a perfect fit and have been honored that they accepted the work.
Q: If you could do anything with this play, this particular work, what would it be?
Hamza Zaman: I'd like to bring some attention to juvenile offenders and how society can help them transition to productive members, how we can help them early in life before they are pushed towards a path of career criminality. A tall order for a play but perhaps with exposure we can initiate further debate about what is best for them. I am not saying I have all the answers but only that I think we need to continue to ask questions on the subject.
Q: Whats up next for you and your work?
Hamza Zaman: I am working on a play (comedy) and two screenplays (horror, true crime) currently. There have been promising initial discussions about where to produce Sixteen next although I am just been happy at the strong audience and critical reactions we have received so far. Ideally we could have an Off-Broadway run and thereby start to really push the needle for these under-served adolescents.
Sixteen is playing at the 9th Annual Dream Up Festival until September 9th.
Sixteen is written by Hamza Zaman, directed by Michael Witney, and produced by Seth Burrell. The cast features: David Hilfstein, Rachel Lepore, Morgan Smith, Michael Doliner, Emily Featherman, Phil Schneider, Sabrina Aziz, Alfred Kemp, Melody Ladd, Michael Carbone, Oghie Gbaje, and Andrea Peterson
For more information, please visit: http://www.dreamupfestival.org/SHOW1821-sixteen.html