Deaf Punk Playwright, Poet and Film Maker | Sabina England


Sabina England is a Storyteller, filmmaker and theater artist who has been featured in local and national publications such as Alternet, The Guardian (UK), Sepia Mutiny, Start BiH (Bosnia), just to name a few. She had grown up both in England and United States. Sabina is an Indian Muslim, and very proud of her background. She has her roots in Bihar. She has been profoundly deaf since she was a baby. One of her earliest works, “Being Deaf,” was published in an anthology of poetry in 1995. When she was 21 years old, she landed her first playwriting opportunity with Kali Theatre, which read her one-act play “Chess for Asian Punks, Greek Losers and Dorks” at Theatre Royal Stratford East in London, UK.
In a conversation with Team PatnaBeats, Sabina opens up about her Bihari connect, challenges she faced and much more, read below:

Q.1) Please tell us about your Bihar connection.

Both my parents were born and raised in Bihar. Many of my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents grew up in Bihar. My mother is from Patna and my father is from Saharsa. My younger brother was also born in Bihar although he grew up in USA. My mother’s family has strong ties to the city of Patna. My great-grandfather was a mayor of Patna. My grandfather (from my father’s family) was involved with Quit India protests in Bihar. When I was a child living in the UK, we used to travel to Bihar many times to visit family, so Bihar feels like home.

Q.2) Tell us a little bit about yourself 

I am a deaf filmmaker, playwright, performance artist, and ASL poet based in St. Louis, USA. I write, direct, edit and perform in my own short films. I also write poetry and stage plays. I love to perform in American Sign Language. I pretty much do everything in the arts except music! I am profoundly deaf. I cannot hear anything in both ears so I wear hearing aids but they don’t really help me all that much. I cannot hear music or sounds. I was lucky to have attended a good deaf school as a child, where the teachers taught me to read lips, read and write English with a strong emphasis on grammar skills. I loved reading books and watching movies as a child, so I was very aware about the world.

Q.3) Your works have received worldwide fame and acclaim. But, back in India, not many people are aware of your geniuses. Can you please throw some light?

I have written a few plays (in English) which were produced in London, UK. I wrote and directed my first narrative short film, Wedding Night, in 2010 and it was about arranged marriages in South Asian cultures. The movie had a sold out premiere screening at Tribeca Cinemas in New York City. I am also an ASL (American Sign Language) poet and performance artist; I have performed in a few festivals around the country including Washington DC, Seattle, and San Francisco; I plan to bring my deaf poetry solo performance art show, Allah Earth: The Cycle of Life, to the St. Louis Fringe Festival this summer. I am also a self-published novelist having written my first book called Urdustan: A Collection of Short Stories. I am the recipient of St. Louis Visionary Awards for Best Emerging Artist of 2016.

 

Q.4) Apart from being a film-maker, you re also a playwright, stage-performer, writer and a poet. So, tell us how do you manage to juggle between roles so efficiently?

If I have an idea that I am very enthusiastic about, I stick to it and focus on making the project happen. I believe that it’s very important to put all your focus and energy on one idea that you believe in. When my idea is done, I move onto the next project. For now, I am focused on finishing up an American Sign Language music video that I filmed in Mexico City. I am also going to rehearse everyday for my show Allah Earth: The Cycle of Life so I will be ready to perform at the Fringe Festival this summer.

Q.5) Who and/or what influenced/inspired you to be an artist?

Many people, both famous and not famous, have inspired me to become a filmmaker, performer, poet, artist, and playwright. I will say that Frida Kahlo inspires me as a woman artist. Reading about her inspires me to stay true to myself and not be afraid to make my own art, despite what people might think of me.

Shabana Azmi is another inspiration to me. She is a great movie star known for her social activism and feminism. I admire her passion for human rights.

I’m also a fan of Mira Nair, an Indian filmmaker, who has been successfully directing and producing movies since the 1980s. She makes it a point to focus on movies about social issues. I also love Aparna Sen, who is a famous Bengali filmmaker and she makes such beautiful, profoundly tragic stories onscreen.

I’m a big fan of Savitha Sastry, a Bharatanatyam dancer because she is a big advocate of bringing the arts to everyone regardless of their background. She says that art should be free and open to all, and I agree with her. Also she used to be a neuroscientist! I think that’s badass.

I love Lucille Ball (from “I Love Lucy”) because she was a pioneer in becoming the first woman in Hollywood to head a major studio. Back then, she was determined to have her own show in the early 1950s when TV executives told her that nobody would watch her, a white woman, act on TV with her Latino husband because there was a lot of opposition and prejudice against interracial marriages at that time. So, she and her husband, Desi Arnaz, went on the road to perform stage shows that were sold out to packed houses. That helped her land her own show, “I Love Lucy,” on CBS. She refused to give up when Hollywood rejected her.I’m also a fan of punk rock musicians like Poly Styrene (from X-Ray Spex), Joan Jett, Siouxsie, Brody Dalle, etc. when they were all women in a male-dominated music scene and they kept doing their thing. I find that very inspiring too, especially when theatre and filmmaking are still very male-dominated today.

Q.6) As an author you wrote and self-published your first novel, Urdustan (A Collection of Short Stories), a book of short stories about South Asians from all walks of life.  Tell us something about
the book?

It’s a book of short stories that I worked on while I stayed with my older sister in Washington D.C. I was feeling lost, depressed and confused with the meaning of my life. I didn’t know what to do with my future. So I wrote and wrote and wrote everyday for weeks. Writing these stories helped me feel better. I wrote stories with all kinds of themes and genres. There were horror, punk rock, romance, love, tragedy, family, friendship. I had characters who were Indian, Pakistani, Jewish, gay, deaf, poor, and supernatural. The book opens with the first story about a broken relationship because the girl was Indian Muslim and the boy was Pakistani, and people forced them to break up because of the stupid “feud” between India and Pakistan. Another one of my favourite stories in the book is about an Indian Muslim punk rocker who meets an older Hasidic Jewish man in New York City and they become friends. It was based on my own real-life experiences.

Q.7) Do you wish to contribute towards the development of Bihari cinema and if yes, how?

Oh yes, I would love to make a short narrative film in Bihar someday. There is this wonderful short story written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala that I really like. I’ve thought about getting the rights to that story and film it in Bihar. I’ve already shot a short poetry film which included footage from Patna and Bodh Gaya. I hope to come back to Bihar someday and do a film there. If I ever get invited to go to Bihar and participate in a Bihari film, I would be very happy and honored to be involved.

Q.8) What is one thing in your profession/world that piss you off and how do you deal with it?

Sometimes there is just ignorance and lack of accessibility for me as a deaf person. I just try to let people know about it and speak up about it. There are not too many opportunities for deaf women. And when people are seeking a deaf actress for a play or movie, they usually want a deaf white woman! They act like that deaf people of color, like me, don’t exist. WE EXIST, TOO!!!!! And, of course there’s some prejudice against Muslims too, especially in the arts. Nobody wants to give us a voice. Everyone only wants us to play terrorists or write about terrorism! I am an American Muslim. I have nothing to do with terrorism. I don’t know anything about terrorism. I am a punk rock girl, I love horror movies, I read comic books, I love to perform in American Sign Language, and I have many friends who are Native American, Mexican, African American, and Latino. I’m just as American as anybody else and I deserve to be heard and have my stories be told too. I feel like that people don’t accept us Muslims as American. It pisses me off and I’m tired. But I just gotta deal with it everyday.

Q.9) Where do you source inspiration from for performing such feats?

I have big ambitions. I want to be successful and get recognized for my works. It feels great when people email me or comment on my videos or post on my FB page, telling me that they were inspired or motivated by my works. So that keeps me going.

Q.10) You have made us all proud with your extraordinary talent. You are a youth icon in the true sense of the word. What is your message for the present-day youth?

Make sure you learn as much information and ideas so that someday you can pull down something from your brain in the future. Learn about history, study politics, read about music, art, dance, math, philosophy, everything. You don’t have to be an expert but it’s nice to have a basic understanding of most areas. It is important to learn about the world, learn about other cultures, learn and understand other communities. Step out of your comfort zone and go learn about something new today. Be aware of what’s happening everywhere! Be true to yourself, have some faith in yourself, be patient, keep going, and don’t be rude or mean to other people! We live in such a dark world and we can all use some lightness and support from each other sometimes.

Q.11) Anything you would like to say for the readers of PatnaBeats?

I hope that we can all contribute to the growth and development of Bihar. Let us all uplift and support each other as Biharis no matter what our religion, caste, or beliefs are.

Q.12)You have been following PatnaBeats from it’s inception, will you like to give any feedback to us?

You are doing a great job highlighting Patna and helping us Biharis (living outside Bihar) feel more connected to Patna and Bihar, so thank you for that! I am also learning new information about Patna that I never read about before. I hope to see more historical and cultural information about Patna.

Q.13) How can people get in contact with you?

They can visit my website, e-mail me if they want, follow my Twitter or Instagram. They can check out my poems, essays, short stories, digital artworks, and other creative projects on my blogspot. They can also like my Facebook page and check out my short films on youtube. I’m on Snapchat, my name is “Badass.Bharat.”

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