THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Faceless – A 21st Century American play in London
We speak to Prav MJ about her new play, and sparking debate on today's big issues
Prav, thank you for talking to us about your latest production, Faceless, which opens at Park Theatre on April 17th. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and your work in the States.
I trained as a theatre designer at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and soon after I was off with my partner to Boston where he went to study at Harvard for a year. Boston has a thriving theatre scene and within four days of arriving there I had my first job as a theatre designer for Company One and then Zeitgeist Stage (resident theatre companies of the Boston Center for the Arts). During this time, I became curious about the actor’s journey and thought “no-one knows me here so why don’t I have a try at directing” so I enslisted on the American Repertory Theatre summer directors program – I loved it and the day I finished the course I was offered my first directing job!
I also directed in SLAMBoston 2007 and ended the year being the assistant director on SpeakEasy Stage’s The Mystery of Edwind Drood. When I came back to London I founded Liminal Space which transformed into PMJ Productions after completing the StageOne Producers (London) course to produce and stage plays from emerging writers, to create debate and hopefully change in the 21st century.
How did you came to be producing this new play?
Every time I am looking for my play I start talking to all my connections in London and in the USA. My graphic designer for PMJ Productions is Reinhold Mahler who lives in Boston and works for Zeitgest Stage Company and the first play I produced was The Lonely Soldier Monologues by Helen Benedict, a professor at Columbia University, a play based on true accounts of US female soldiers on the front line. I go back every year and reconnect and reinvigorate from the energy that emanates from the Boston and New York theatre scene.
Selina Fillinger’s Faceless landed in my inbox in the Fall of 2016 and immediately resonated with me as an important play to stage. I flew to Chicago in February 2017 to meet the playwright and see the world premiere at Northlight Theatre, Chicago. I was impressed by Selina, a 23 year old NorthWestern graduate, who had written such a humorous, insightful play that dealt with challenging 21st century issues.
However, not all American plays resonate with English audiences so I staged it as a reading as part of Young Lives Today at the Park Theatre (2017) and the feedback was strong “ Everybody should see it”. Another chilling factor was that the night it was staged coincided with the Manchester bombing…… This play is partly funded by Kickstarter – many of the backers live in the States and may not see the play live on stage but back my work to support new writers and encourage young people to see the show. THANK YOU.
Faceless is very much a story for today - what issues are raised in the play?
Faceless is what I would call “faction” (Fact and Fiction combined). The playwright Selina Fillinger was inspired by a real life case of an 18 year old white girl from Colorado who was arrested for trying to join ISIS. With a lot of further research she created a fictional play with Susie Glenn who is a typical Chicago teenager who lives her life on the internet who messages her “faceless” friend: “I think I am ready to convert – I know I need two witnesses for it to count so I googled it” leading her into the courtroom to be pitted against a young Muslim lawyer Claire Fathi who is in the prosecuting team….
Faceless is a 21st century play with multiple issues that affect the two main protagonists. Through Susie we see the power of the internet to connect people from across the world, the effect of online grooming/radicalisation, the vulnerability of young people in the digital world and the bewilderment of parents trying to cope with the fast changing nature of the online world. Through Claire (the prosecuting attorney), self identity – who we are and where do we belong, the conflict of work and beliefs, and on the current #MeToo campaign with her relationship with her boss.
Is the stage a good medium for sparking debate about 21st century issues?
The stage play Faceless has inspired to me to co-curate an art exhibition with the creative director, Melli Marie at the Park theatre as part of Glow which celebrates International Women's Day. I have partnered with YOUTH CLUB to showcase images that reflect the female issues highlighted in the play including self identity and the relationship of young women to digital technology in the 21st century.
Also, we have partnered with the NSPCC, a young people’s health and well being charity. There will be helpline counsellors available for schools that attend, a flyer given to the audience with information about Childline (for children and young people), the NSPCC Helpline (for adults) and other helplines that advise adults, parents, and professionals with 21st century issues.
I have also organised free post show talks straight after the show with speakers including Selina Fillinger who is flying in from the States, John Cameron OBE- Head of Helplines at the NSPCC, SafetoNet founder Richard Pursey, barrister Tunde Okewale MBE to talk about UK Law ∓ Terror and journalist James Fergusson, the author of Al-Britannia, My Country - A Journey through Muslim Britain. www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/faceless/extras
So yes the theatre is a great medium for sparking debate as it gives me the freedom not only to stage such a thoughtful play but to curate a holistic experience for the theatre goer through art to debate.
Finally, what kind of conversations do you hope the production will spark among audiences, and what do you hope they'll take away from the experience of seeing Faceless?
The main theme I am keen to explore during the run is the boundless power of the internet which has no boundaries and that many of the issues highlighted in the play can affect all of us to a lesser or greater degree. We all need to be involved in the debate about the digital world to ensure that there is effective understanding and governance to ensure the safety of all digital users.
Come to the play and say Hi – I will be there at every performance and will be happy to answer any more questions.