Interview with Cassiah Joski-Jethi: RED Women's Theatre Awards finalist playwright

With 'Under My Thumb' Cassiah Joski-Jethi is a finalist playwright in the inaugural RED Women's Theatre Awards showcase this Sunday 6th March at the Greenwich Theatre, London.

Cassiah Joski-Jethi is a writer, director and actor in both film and theatre. Cassiah graduated from the University of Birmingham in BA Drama and Theatre Arts with 1st Class Honours and began her career working for Gurinder Chadha OBE. She then went on to freelance as a screenwriter and director, and co-founded Trip The Light Theatre company. Cassiah is currently working on two screenwriting commissions, a feature film development and a number of other theatre and film projects.

Please tell us more about your play Under My Thumb

Under My Thumb is set in a world where institutions incarcerate women who question the submissive positions enforced on them by society. Under My Thumb tells the story of five women trapped in a derelict cell under this regime, all of whom have spoken out against the injustices done to them. Soon, a new inmate, Ree, joins them, and encourages them to decide whether to stay in the cell or take the dreaded 'test' (which allows them to leave). The play is an allegory which reflects the emotional and mental journey many women go through when they are discriminated against: feeling cast out from society, isolated and emotionally damaged. It questions why women are often led to retain guilt and continue in the world as if nothing has happened... It's a 1-act play, but the scenes jump between time, intercutting with projections of the women on the walls. It's a very intimate setting, with the audience in the 'cell' with the women. I wanted to include the video projections because I like to play around with form and use different mediums together. Also, this makes it so the audience is constantly surrounded by the women and the world - it's a very immersive experience.

Why do you think (if you do) that theatre can be a platform for politics?

Theatre is the perfect place to explore political, social and cultural subjects. Theatre has the ability to create such a deep emotional connection in person. The stage doesn't lie - people are directly confronted with something. There's no screen or words on paper. It's active, it's present - it can be terrifying! And you have the opportunity to explore issues that aren't usually addressed in the news or by politicians. Something that I really cannot stand is cat calling, and in Under My Thumb it's a huge issue that one character, Lily, tackles.

What appealed to you about entering RED? Why is it the time for a new award for female playwrights?

Well, I actually originally wrote Under My Thumb as a short film, and then after being encouraged by friends, I realised it was in the wrong medium. It suits the stage a lot more, and it's definitely the most feminist piece of writing I have done, so I thought the opportunity RED was providing was worth a shot! I think it's fantastic to have a specific award recognising female playwrights because it's such a difficult industry to break into and it gives us a voice.

Do you think there is gender equality in the performing arts? If not then why?

I don't think that there is currently gender equality in the performing arts, and I think there are plenty of numbers to show the unbalance in male vs. female directors, writers, producers, etc. Also, something that is super important to me (being an actor as well) is to provide interesting, complex roles for women. With Under My Thumb I relished the opportunity to create a female ensemble piece - and you just don't see this very often! The number of all-male plays, and films, is ridiculously high in comparison to all-female or predominantly female led plays.

What advice would you give to others wanting to get into playwriting?

I get asked this a lot... I suppose just, write! It sounds simple, and I know it's difficult - especially when it's 3 in the morning and you have writers block and your tea's cold! But, write as many short plays and full-length plays as you can muster. Even if they never get produced - the only way you get better is by practice. I read some of my older work and it's just shocking!! The other great thing to do is to get actors, or even get your friends, to do readings of your plays. Get them round, huddle in your living room, eat cake, and read! Make a day of it. It's such a tool to hear the words aloud, and gives you an invaluable insight into the writing.

Who do you find inspirational?

I really am a fan of Beckett - his existential and surrealist style influences the type of worlds I like to create. I am also heavily influenced by movement and dance - Mia Michaels (a choreographer) is such an inspiration to me in my writing, as well as directing. Watching a piece by her makes me feel so many emotions, and always prompts me to have an idea or a thought, which will inevitably turn into something on a page.

What will you be doing on International Women's Day?

Eating cake! And feeling happy that I am a woman.

What are you working on at the moment & what's next?

Well, I'm tempted to extend Under My Thumb into a full length play! But for now, I'm actually working on my first full length-play which is called Pier Sixty. I'm also working on quite a few screenplay and film projects. I've also been doing a bit of script reading on the side. And I'm developing two new shows with my theatre company... So quite a lot! I love being busy though - I'm a busy bee!

Bonus Q - What question do you wish I'd asked?

If you could have written any famous line spoken by any fictional character?

"Po-ta-toes? Boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew" - Samwise Gamgee

(c) Cassiah Joski-Jethi / Female Arts 2016

Website: www.cassiahj-j.com
Twitter: @cassiahjj
Facebook: www.facebook.com/CassiahJJ

See Cassiah Joski-Jethi's play 'Under My Thumb' in a rehearsed reading directed by Amie Taylor at the Greenwich Theatre, Sunday 6th March 2016 as part of the inaugural RED Women's Theatre Awards

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