Writer- Director Tyrone Grima talks to indulge about ‘Zayden‘ a one-hander play that tackles the issue of homelessness in Malta
We don’t see much evidence of homelessness in Malta – what inspired you to write about this social issue?
Precisely due to its lack of evidence. In Malta we do not see scenes of people begging in the streets as we see in major foreign cities. This might lead us to believe that we do not have a problem with homelessness in Malta. A year and a half ago I changed job and started working as Head of Care at Dar Osanna Pia and Dar Mamma Margherita. These two homes run by the Salesians of Don Bosco house young homeless men. I was totally shocked by the narratives that the residents shared with me and could not believe that these were happening in my country. I was also sure that many people in Malta like me were unaware of these stories. I felt that these hidden and untold stories had to be expressed.
Is Zayden inspired by anyone you know?
Yes, Zayden is totally inspired by the personal narrative that one of the young men at my workplace shared with me. He also allowed me to use it as the basis of the script. Parts of the script are actually taken verbatim from the interview that the resident gave me. I admire him and think that this was very brave. Of course, details were changed to ensure confidentiality, among which the name of the person. However, it was the resident himself who chose his pseudonym. I asked him what he wanted to be called in the play. He looked at me for a few seconds and said: ‘Zayden’. For dramatic purposes I also took some other details taken from other narratives from other stories of other residents – the irony is that these were eventually edited out in the rehearsal process and we ended up with Zayden’s quasi-biographical story.
Jacob Piccinino is fast becoming one of Malta’s best and versatile actors – what is he bringing to the piece?
Totally agree with your statement. I must be one of the most fortunate directors to have worked with Jacob in what possibly was his first meaty role. In fact, in 2013 I had directed him in Francis Ebejer’s ‘Bwani’. Jacob had given an impressive performance and it has always been my wish to work with him again. In this piece, Jacob brings two important hallmarks. Primarily his sensitivity which makes this character so three-dimensional. In his polite way, Jacob challenged me on a number of aspects in the script in his search to give an authentic interpretation. The end result is that Jacob is equally believable in the comic as well as in the dramatic parts. He never feels superfluous and he engages the audience totally in his journey – no easy feat in a one-person performance. The second quality that Jacob brought to the production was his creativity and physical expression. We workshopped each scene in the play, trying to find ways of making them as vivid as possible. Jacob’s talents were indispensable in the process.
Over the past couple of years or so The Splendid has provided a unique venue for performance arts – how are you planning on utilising the space
The Splendid is a very intimate space that works perfectly for a one-person performance. The audience will be in the round, with Jacob sharing his experiences with them, literally a step or two away from them. This will make the emotions delivered by the actor rawer. However, the choice of the venue went beyond the size. The alternative look of The Splendid makes it the perfect place to double as an abandoned house. In this production, the Splendid will become one of the illegal houses where Zayden used to reside. This will also mean that the audience will have a direct experience of what it is like to live in an abandoned house – at least for the duration of an hour. I am also aware that we are in July, and there is the heat problem. But that has been factored into the play – the audience will feel cool even though they are in an abandoned setting!
What do you hope audiences will take away from the experience?
I believe that the audiences will be offered an experience, an intimate and genuine experience that will make them laugh at times, will possibly make them shed a tear, but will definitely want them to stand up and do something to make our country a better place.
And finally, how do you indulge yourself?
Books, movies, DVDs, CDs, scripts… I never have enough of them. Furthermore, my husband is a hoarder of such items. So we are ‘overwhelmed’ by all these at home. I would also like to believe that I used to indulge in chocolate (emphasis on the past tense) since I am currently on a diet. Truth be told (and may my dietician refrain from reading the interview at this point), I am answering these questions from Chicago where I am attending a week conference, and the amount of chocolates I have eaten here surpasses the amount I have eaten in a whole year!