Interview Series - Productions - Bilal Baig on Plum BOMB
One summer day, a young Filipina realizes she can’t say no to white people. Then, the local convenience store runs out of chocolate milk and starts only selling white milk... Which obviously means that there is a serious problem in the world. Plum BOMB is a comedy that investigates what it takes for young people of colour to say no and whether it even matters or not. How loud do we scream in order to be heard? What do we blow up in order to be seen?
Advisory Board Leader Sabah Haque pins down the bustling Bilal Baig, who shares a little insight on the creation of his play Plum BOMB with his beautiful ensemble, under the guidance of playwright and actor Meghan Swaby.
Sabah What inspired you to write Plum BOMB?
Bilal Last summer, I went on a writing retreat at a cottage in Baysville. I had just finished my second year of theatre school and was feeling super empowered. At the retreat I didn’t do much writing but I did a lot of thinking, and as I sat upon the rocks by Echo Lake, it hit me: even though I’m pretty loud and opinionated, I still struggle to say no to white people. So I wrote a play about it.
Sabah What is your writing process like?
Bilal My writing process begins with an idea I can’t stop thinking about; something that confuses me, hurts me, shocks me, pisses me off, etc. This is when the writing flows out of me (but in a contained structure as I write for a few hours on a few days in the week over the course of months). Plum BOMB was different; the play literally just exploded when I started writing – pun intended. I wrote the first draft over ten consecutive days.
Sabah What brought your company/collaborators together?
Bilal This is my dream team. No exaggeration. I am incredibly excited by these artists individually so I thought why not put them all in a room together and see what happens? I asked if they would be interested to work on this project and because they’re all wonderful, they all said yes. Moral of the story: dreams do come true.
Sabah What is your rehearsal process like?
Bilal Rehearsal usually begins with someone’s rant about what’s pissing them off in the world right now, and an exciting conversation ensues. Sometimes we start by watching a Beyoncé music video. Then we’ll work on the show. We’ve been rehearsing since January pretty consistently because our collective schedules are ridiculously full.
Sabah How would you describe your show in 3 words?
Bilal Three Big Bites.
Sabah What has been a challenge about working on the show?
Bilal Finding and securing affordable rehearsal venues (studios specifically). We’ve actually had to cancel some rehearsals because we couldn’t find a good space. It’s a feat in and of itself to match up six artists’ schedules living in different parts of Toronto to work on a show they’re not getting paid for, so it’s really disappointing when we can’t secure space. Also, a personal challenge for me: acting in the play you wrote.
Sabah Why does Toronto need Plum BOMB?
Bilal I love this question. Plum BOMB is my artistic response to the conversation our city has been having on “the issue” around diversity in theatre. I put “the issue” in quotations because I don’t understand what the "issue” is. We need to focus on diverse bodies and stories on our stages. There is no argument there. I’m interested in HOW we do that. I’ve written three complex characters of different backgrounds. Our director is a bad ass mixed-race Indigenous woman. Everyone who’s worked on this show – in some capacity – from our mentor to our stage manager to the entire invited audience at our staged reading is a person of colour. We exist and we create art and we’re good at what we do.
Sabah How has the mentorship you received through the Paprika Festival benefitted your work?
Bilal Meghan Swaby makes my heart sing. The energy in the room changes when she’s there. Her focused, calm, passionate presence relaxes me. Then she gets excited and I feel lifted. She’s funny and wise. She’s a dynamic force. The way she supports the entire team has helped to shape the show into what it’s becoming and I can’t thank Paprika enough for connecting her with us!
Sabah What is your most memorable rehearsal moment so far?
Bilal We laugh a lot. We laugh really hard. But what is most memorable to me is how we take care of each other when the work gets difficult. Plum BOMB is a comedy but it also looks at the violence young people of colour endure by the hands of people from their own communities. It’s tough to dig into some of the scenes that deal with this, but it’s only possible because of the safety that has been maintained in how we do the work.
Catch Plum BOMB as apart of the 15th Annual Paprika Festival, in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts.
Where: Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum Building, 585 Dundas St E
Stay tuned for the next instalment of the Advisory Board’s Paprika Festival 2016 Interview Series!