Layla Majnun opened in Perth last night

Layla Majnun opened last night at Subiaco Arts Centre to an ecstatic full house. After the performance, our Creative Producer, Zainab Syed, gave a heartfelt address, celebrating what it takes to create a show of this calibre. We were so moved by her words, that we decided to share them with you all.

Image by Brendan Joel

For me, more than any story, more than any event, it is this gathering of hearts – that matters most.

“Thank you so much for being here today – I feel like I am hosting you all in my living room – which is what I always imagined tonight to look like. People from across Perth, those who know each other and those who don’t, those who come to this theatre and those who don’t – all in one place. For me, more than any story, more than any event, it is this gathering of hearts – that matters most.

Layla Majnun has quite frankly, been my whole being for the past 2 years. More than any show should be for a producer. I’ve tried to think about why, and all I can articulate is that perhaps it is because what this moment means for my community of Muslims, here and globally cannot be understated. It signifies a revival of traditional storytelling, rooted in knowledge and poetry. The celebration of our culture and art. The opening up of these spaces for people who look like me, who will one day say – we went to a show once that was created by people like us and maybe we can do this too. Maybe they’ll make an even better show because of what they saw and felt tonight.

I’ve been so nervous all night because we talk about God in this play – and in theatre we never talk about God. I wondered if everyone would hate it after. But then I was reminded of something a Zimbabwean elder said to my parents when they attended a traditional ceremony on their visit in 1997 – he said, “what you see tonight may be unfamiliar to you, it may not even be to your taste and you may not appreciate it, but this is our form of expression and makes us most happy – so sit back and enjoy the experience.”

I hope you will sit back and enjoy this experience.

The pressure for this show to be amazing, from the industry and from my community has been real. The weight of that responsibility means we have been pushed, we have been challenged – sometimes we have failed but more often than not we have found ways to know each other better. So tonight, I celebrate the journey of getting here – which could not have been possible without the generosity of everyone involved.

I would like to offer my immense gratitude to the creative team – to Ustaadh Feraidoon, for stepping into something completely new – for trusting me in this process. In every moment you teach me how important it is to retain my softness, how to carry myself as a Muslim woman in this space and that the greatest work before us is to open doors between hearts.

To James, for showing me that cross-cultural collaboration is possible. That it requires rigour and respect, which you have given us in bucketloads. Thank you for holding my faith, and this story with so much gentleness.

To Hadia, Sinan and Mujeeb – this is your show. I am so proud to put your designs up for all of Perth to witness – so proud to call you my friends, and my community. Thank you for understanding things I never had to explain, it has been the biggest blessing in this process.

To Mia, Tristen, Lucy and Matt – this would have been impossible without you. Quite frankly I cannot articulate all of the ways in which you have been so generous in giving, so quick to forgive, so patient and so persistent. This cross-cultural mentorship is the heart of Layla Majnun. You are its beating pulse.

To Ana and Ben, the invisible heroes whose skill and humility has been such a joy to work with– thank you for helping us realize this show.

To Shauna, Kate, Troy & Sarita – your willingness to be open to all that I have asked of you, and to support the making of this work from the very beginning has made it possible for us to dream, and see it find a home at Subiaco tonight. You affirm that when we work together, the experience is always richer.

To my team – Rachael, Cecile, Jen, & Thom – I know teamwork makes the dream work, but really, what you bring is so much deeper than excellence – it is your commitment to walk the talk. I have never met individuals so invested in change through practice in everything they do. Who embrace the uncomfortable, who rise up to provocations and who bring such heart into every space with no egos attached. You are the people who make change like this possible. You make experiences like this possible, ones that will reverberate along many soils for many years to come. I am so honoured and thankful to journey with you.

It takes a tribe to make a show like this from teachings artists to volunteers to community members – you will find some listed on the back of the program but many will remain anonymous – though their contributions are the foundation on which this work has been built. So thank you so much.

The learnings from this process are many, and I hope they will inform more works in the future that we create to celebrate our collective humanity, that explore universals of love and ultimately bring us together by opening doors between our hearts and our cultures.

Rumi once said, “ Learn to see the rose in a thorn, because once it blooms, everyone sees it”. I hope, as people, we can be of those who see the roses before they bloom, and work to nurture them so they never wither.

Thank you again, all of you for being here tonight – for now being a part our story – there is still more food and tea, and many more post-show surveys to fill out! Have a good night!

Zainab Syed

Rumi once said,”Learn to see the rose in a thorn, because once it blooms, everyone sees it”. I hope, as people, we can be of those who see the roses before they bloom, and work to nurture them so they never wither.

The show is on for three nights ONLY, until Saturday 5 October, 2019.

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