As a company we are curious about the work we are producing, how that defines us, and what direction we want to go in in the future. This is a brief reflection on the projects we have focused on thus far, what we have learnt from them, and where we are now.
To all our collaborators, past, present, and future, we have a separate page with a statement for you. Please have a look at the COLLABORATE page and don't hesitate to get in touch if necessary.
An overview of the work we have done thus far:
Teeth Have A Memory
This was Shreya Tanisha's MFA graduation piece at RCSSD, touching upon both autobiography and colonial history, and at the time it was formed with actors and performers under what was known as Moksha Theatre. The company has now developed into a theatre and film production company called MZL Productions. Yet, we remember our humble beginnings.
The point of this piece was to tell the truth, at least for Shreya Tanisha, and we realise now how challenging and enormous this task was. It certainly went beyond the requirements of the MFA and broke the rules a little as well. Given that the piece not only made reference to to the very sensitive subject of the 1947 Partition of India, but also deeply personal and vulnerable truths exposing a lot about the lead artist herself, the collaboration was incredibly challenging. Taking on the roles of writer, director, actor, and at times producer, whilst completing the academic requirements of the MFA, and asking people to work pro-bono and on a tight budget, whilst also simultaneously fighting an immigration case tied to the story of the play itself, which in turn necessitated the creation of this company was all ultimately a bit too much. The entire previous sentence alone probably suffices in explaining the stress, trials, and tribulations associated with the entire endeavour. It was an MFA, mixed with an MBA, mixed with a long overdue prescription to a therapist.
This all naturally took a toll on Shreya Tanisha's personal well-being and mental health, also tied to other stresses and triggers and on-going personal life issues, which in short meant that as an artist and company the project had to be indefinitely shelved after she graduated.
It is not easy to come forward as a sexual assault survivor, and to do it through art during an on-going intensely vulnerable period in one's life is equally challenging.
This is why we would like to acknowledge that the first few performances of this piece done on shoe-string budgets, in cheap venues, but also using RCSSD facilities, were rough drafts and any time Shreya Tanisha was not at her one-hundred percent was due to a combination of the aforementioned reasons.
We appreciated and are grateful to those who collaborated with us immensely and apologise for any mistakes we may have made.
We were and still are continuing to learn and grow, and we are confident we will find a way to present this challenging material effectively, and with greater maturity, experience, and sensitivity, sometime in the future.
For the purposes of Shreya Tanisha's MFA, graduation, and the creation of this company, it was everything we could have asked for and more, and for that we are eternally grateful.
Program was a short film made in the middle of UK lockdown when everyone was still rather uncertain about what this process would like. This was MZL Production's first collaboration outside of RCSSD with The National Youth Film Academy where Shreya Tanisha was the Art Director. The subject-matter ended up being very relatable, topical, and felt somewhat autobiographical once again as Program's main emphasis was on the impact of British politics on young people's mental health before and during the COVID19 pandemic. The film was made for a young audience and was in support of YoungMinds, which is the UK's leading mental health charity fighting for young people's mental health.
The Trouble With Today's Women
This was MZL Productions' second collaboration outside RCSSD, again during the ongoing UK lockdown and COVID19 pandemic. Shreya Tanisha had met Bread Theatre and Film Company at Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 and after doing a few workshops with them the opportunity arrived for a full-on collaboration on a devised piece of work. Here, Shreya Tanisha's aim was to use this opportunity for a devised collaboration to really encourage actors and collaborators to find their authentic voice, and essentially, focus on telling their own truth. This was similar to Teeth Have A Memory in terms of intention but in many ways less pressurising as each performer was responsible for their own part, there wasn't this massive pressure to create a company or prove a point, this was still personal but there was a collaborative truth being told rather than many performers trying to make sense of one surreal, absurd, traumatising confrontation with reality. There was also a direct critique of a social structure, an institution, The University of Cambridge itself, whereas Teeth Have A Memory was a personal history's dysfunctional marriage to world history. In short, we learnt that it is much more difficult to produce effective work with random collaborators who don't necessarily have a personal tie to the material than it is to encourage people to tell their own truth and find a common ground or setting for these unique grievances to be aired. Lessons learnt:
Here are overarching lessons we have learnt from the work we have made thus far:
Be prepared for backlash
Collaborating with people, who are working for free and have their own desires to progress in their careers is never easy and feeling responsible for multiple performers with autobiographical and deeply personal material whilst completing one's own studies is actually very tough
It is important to be psychologically healthy before attempting to produce and share autobiographical work that is related to past trauma
The audience is not your therapist and that work needs to be taken care of elsewhere, and preferably in private
Honesty is the best policy
Less is in fact much more
Reducing the scale of a production without a massive team or budget is better than trying to do it all
Questions related to sharing personal truths or using autobiography:
What does the work say?
Why does it say that?
Who do you become by sharing these truths about yourself?
Why are you sharing these truths?
How do you protect the line between fact and fiction being blurred?
How can you get to the core without destroying your mental health?
What makes it safe to be honest and vulnerable?
When is it important to step away from the work, allow feedback to infiltrate, and leave the work, but also, when is it important to bring it back?
An artist's statement on the use of autobiography, from Shreya Tanisha:
I lived several lives and lies and ended up trying to hide the most vulnerable aspects of what was going on with me from when I was very young - my truth - so I figured that maybe the theatre would be the one place where I could finally tell the whole truth. What would happen if I actually wasn't performing during a performance? What would I happen if I told the truth to complete strangers who don't know what is or isn't the truth?
What would happen if I broke my silence on a stage?
Here’s what I wanted to happen vs. what actually happened:
What I wanted: to overcome my fear, to explore the various connections between the morality of a female actor and their relationship to the art form, to tell my whole truth, to do it with the support of and in collaboration with other women and create a highly experimental space where others can relate to this painful truth and make living with it less lonely, less burdensome, less shameful, and instead, empowering.
What actually happened, which overlaps with the lessons learnt above: I felt very stretched trying to use academia and art to heal something that I was far too involved in by turning it into art. Parts of it were cathartic but another part of me wanted space far away from it to heal and make peace with it privately. Ultimately my lack of psychological stability and over-involvement with the material was not enabling me to deliver a great performance or even be concise with the material. I wanted to drop the mask of invincibility and expose vulnerability but there were associated risks and dangers in doing so. It did catch up with me. At the time I chose to see it as part of the process but now I'm not so sure.
Approaching challenging auto-biographical material with greater mental, emotional stability and with a strong team that enables you to have a healthy amount of distance from the material is the long-term aim if autobiography continues to be a part of our collaborative artistic practice.
I would like it to remain so since I think it is important to be able to engage with issues that matter to artists on a deeply personal level rather than always serve someone else's vision and fiction. However, it's a balancing act, one which requires resolving the audience as therapist dilemma.
When we share the most vulnerable and distressing elements of ourselves with the public are we making them responsible? How can we present work in a way that enables others to understand its relevance without becoming accusatory? How can we create film and theatre of the future that is bold and brave in its ability to heal artists?
We do not want to be contrarian because we can.
We want to build bridges of understanding and empathy, and sometimes that is confrontational and extremely uncomfortable.
Ultimately, the hope is to unite by getting past this discomfort. It might seem impossible and fantastical, yet, that really is why we do it.
We also want to create work that is female-driven, genre-defying, multicultural and international. Not everything has to be overtly about women's liberation.
We just want women to tell the stories that haven't been told yet, whether that's on stage, in front of or behind the camera.