A Playwright’s Perspective: Why Afghanistan?

by Ariel Mitchell, playwright

Believe it or not, when I started writing A Second Birth I didn’t think twice about setting it in Afghanistan. It wasn’t until I brought the script into my first workshop in Playwriting 1 and I saw the faces go slack in astonishment that I think it finally hit me. After we let out, my professor pulled me aside and said, “What on earth possessed you to undertake this story?” I shrugged. “You have some guts, Ariel” he said.

Forty-eight drafts and two years later, the script has grown and changed but I still get the same question, “Why Afghanistan?”

In October of 2010, I had no idea what to write about. I mean, I was really having difficulty, so when my dad sent me a copy of the article “Afghan Boys are Prized, so Girls Live the Part” I thought a great story had fallen into my lap and I knew I had to write it. I connected to these people. I wanted to tell their story. Wherever we are, or how different our culture, we still have the same emotions, desires, and needs. We care for the same things. I wanted to show the people not the stereotype. I love making the world smaller through love, learning about new cultures, and reaching out to them with an increased understanding.

image courtesy of www.thecontrarianmedia.com

Another reason, I chose to tell this story is because I have always been interested in writing about gender. It has interested me personally (being a woman in a man’s world), but I had never really had an opportunity to explore the issue of our divine nature as men and women. I believe that God has given us divine roles that are separate, unique, and incredible, but equal. Setting a play about this in Afghanistan doesn’t dismiss the God aspect of gender, in fact it brings the issue to the forefront. This interested me. Because my characters are Muslim it allowed God, or Allah, to be a part of the discussion. I feel like when discussing gender this is a voice that cannot be left out.

In our modern world, we have lived with the stereotypes of men and women for a long, long time. This has resulted in a great backlash where people pick extremes: either there is nothing different between the genders (it is something society has placed on us) or that they are so different that they are never going to be able to understand each other (that we each have our roles and should stick to them). I would argue it’s more complicated than that. Bacha posh is an Afghani solution to the strict rules surrounding gender. Staging the practice allowed me to explore these issues and to attempt to figure out what gender really is, how important it is, and how much it shapes our lives.

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