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.

A Playwright’s Perspective: Lessons Learned

by Ariel Mitchell, playwright

When I sit down to write a play, it is usually to work out problems I am struggling with. I like to create characters to voice different sides of an issue to help me approach a dilemma in a logical way, and to solidify my opinions on it. So, my characters usually reflect parts of myself.

Through this process, I begin to see the world more clearly, but I also discover many more questions.

I have lived with A Second Birth and its characters for a long time and they have helped me discover many things about myself and the world. First, it has given me a testimony of the divine role of women, the calling of womanhood, and my personal place as a daughter of God. When I was growing up, I had amazing examples of strong women. Both of my grandmothers are incredibly intelligent, confident, and courageous. Both graduated from prestigious universities and held important roles in their fields (a court reporter and a psychiatric nurse who went on to found the BYU nursing school). My mother managed to raise us while running an incredibly successful medical practice. Some of my fondest memories are listening to her answer emergency calls as we ran errands or visiting the newborns as I accompanied her on her rounds at the hospital. I learned a lot from these women. But most importantly, I learned that I, as a woman, could do anything.

(Image courtsey of wasse3.com)

This lesson hasn’t always translated as positively in my life. Sometimes I find myself exalting women over men because of the trials that they have to face to get to the same place. At the same time, like Nasima, I find myself frustrated at being “limited.” A Second Birth helped me strengthen a weakness in my testimony and build faith in the words of prophets which state “…fathers and mothers [men and women] are obligated to help one another as equal partners” (The Family Proclamation to the World).

As I wrote this play, the Spirit guided me and answered many of my prayers. I hope each member of the audience finds a character to identify with in the play and/or a character that helps them take a look at an issue in a way that they have never thought of before. I hope the Spirit will be there.