”Godot waits.” An interview on Whole Earth Blind

Benjamin Sivo and Muhammad Osman Ali Chaudhry (left to right, both BA 2017).

Muhammad Osman Ali Chaudhry is a third year BA student at BCB. I meet him after a rehearsal in the factory to discuss the play he has written, is directing, and will be acting in. The plot is simple, the dialogue dense. It tells of the love story between two young women whose relationship seems doomed from the start. The play brings us into their internal turmoil as communication breaks down and they become increasingly isolated from one another. There is little set decoration but intensely cinematic lighting which fades in and out throughout the play. Osman plays the narrator. A character who remains in the background though he is brought into dialogue with the protagonists in a dreamy surreal manner throughout the play.

ARC: So Osman, is Whole Earth Blind the first play you’ve ever written?

OC: No.

ARC: What was the first?

OC: Something about schizophrenia. It was in that awful book I wrote.

ARC: Why do you call it an awful book? You’ve outgrown it?

OC: I was 16 when I wrote the book. I had already outgrown it before it was published. It was a just like a bunch of papers hidden away at the bottom of a drawer. Then my dad got hold of them and was like “no…uh you’re young and this is fine and we’re gonna get this published.” So…Thus began the nightmare.

ARC: What sparked the inspiration for this new play?

OC: I don’t know. I was in a depressive phase and I just wanted to write. I had a lot of fragments lying around and I just put them together. The play is really like a collage. That’s why it doesn’t appear to flow really. It’s got this staccato feel: Tu-ru-tu-ru-tu, tu-ru-tu-ru-tu, tu-ru-tu-ru-tu, ta-ra-ra.

ARC: And without giving away too much of the plot, can you tell me about some of the main themes, or elements in the play?

OC: Clarity, diffusion, doubt, faith, love. A lack of love. Disgust. I don’t know…It’s all over the place. And actually, to be honest, I imagined it to be some kind of response to Beckett. I read Waiting for Godot, and there are a lot of things like them trying to find a better rope. There are a lot of references like that thrown in Whole Earth Blind. Which are very subtle to someone who hasn’t read the Beckett play. But otherwise they’re obvious. And it actually ends with the words “I’m going. Godot waits.” So it’s like a reversal in a way. Because in Beckett’s play nothing makes sense. It’s theater of the absurd really. It’s absolute genius. So with its reversal I wrote a play that’s essentially stupid. So genius becomes stupid. Waiting for Godot becomes Godot is Waiting. Everything makes sense. It’s a sort of plain narrative. But I made the characters speak in a way no one does in real life. So you see the artifice throughout. It’s a very ‘artificial’ play.

ARC: Why did you choose to make the artifice so apparent?

OC: I might have been going through a nihilist phase. That’s pretty much it. It was a really sad time. Had I not written that I would have spent my time making guitar picks out of Pringle-chip lids and collecting them. And then carving annoying little sayings on to them. Inside jokes.

ARC: With yourself.

OC: Yes! Precisely. ‘Very inside’ jokes.

ARC: Could you say more, in more concrete terms perhaps, what the play is about?

OC: Like I said, it’s sort of antithetical to Godot. I won’t say it was meant to be that, because I didn’t start off with that in mind, so not everything of course, will seem to be that. You have the opposition of earnestness and a certain coyness, a certain cutting, biting quality. These two are forced together, in this very claustrophobic-ish element…and it doesn’t quite work out.

ARC: So, a love story?

OC: I thought I said that…did I?

ARC: No idea…when do you think the play will be ready?

OC: I don’t know. I don’t really function in groups. And the play is difficult because usually an actor is just like “What can I do to make this scene realistic?” And now that’s the precise opposite of what they

have to do.

ARC: That’s hard.

OC: It’s hard because it’s not like they are acting to be a bad actors. But it’s…

ARC: Acting as an actor?

OC: No, it’s not even that. It’s acting as if you’re being controlled throughout. Kind of like a dummy.

ARC: That’s tough for the actors probably.

OC: I think it is.

ARC: And how does the set design work into the narrative of the play? Because I know that originally it was meant to be a screenplay.

OC: Yes, it was supposed to be a short film. But I’m keeping most of the film elements in there. I like the idea of playing with light. And very constructed body language. Just to get that element of control across. And for that reason the narrator is never off-stage. So it’s kind of like the characters are not only interacting between themselves, but the narrator is making them interact. Very constructed. Very artificial. Very forced.

ARC: And what were some of the difficulties you came across directing? Was this your first time directing?

OC: This is my first time. The major difficulty was acting like a director. Because I have acted quite a few times. But I don’t know how to have that authoritativeness of a director. I was like: “do what you feel comfortable with, do what you feel comfortable with.” And gave very vague directions.

ARC: Do you feel like on this campus there is support among the student body to make something like this happen? How hard was it to gather people together to get this going?

OC: I like working with people I know. People that I know really well. This play was already casted last year, with students here. And that’s the way I’d like to keep it. But it’s hard for me to approach people. I’m going to keep the cast I had in mind in the beginning, two second-years. A third character, very important, immaculately filled in by one of the freshmen… but unfortunately she’s leaving next semester, and due to some technical, logistical difficulties, we weren’t able to have it this semester. We’ll see how it works out.

ARC: So what do you imagine the audience taking away from this? Do you worry that because it’s not really a traditional narrative they wouldn’t get what you are going for or do you think that people at BCB know enough about theater to get what you are trying to do with it?

OC: I hope they like it. Maybe they’ll take away the image of me as a little, angsty teenager with patchy facial hair. But we’re in Berlin. And this city enjoys its modern art. And some of it is crap, but it’s still art, so someone might think it’s good. And if they don’t, that’s fine. I don’t know, even if they just see it as a response to Beckett that’s fine. I mean the play is essentially a chapter out of a book I’ve written. My second book. Better, I think, than the last one.

ARC: What’s the book about?

OC: Education.

ARC: That sounds like non-fiction.

OC: I know, I’m trying to be as vague as possible, and I’m already vague in general when I talk…

ARC: Say more?

OC: A lot about love in it. A lot of partying too. A lot of ideas from philosophy I picked up here and there while working in the library and feeding off of books. I wrote it on loose, unlined sheets. They fell out of order. I arranged them into a rough thingy. The working title was Onion Matter Coalescence. Because I’m deep, you see? ‘Ogres got layers, onions got layers.’

ARC: Thank you Osman, I’m excited to see this all come into being next semester.

OC: Thank you.

Osman’s play, Whole Earth Blind will be staged sometime in the spring semester. This play is in great part a reflection on writing and the relationship between the creator and his creation. Whole Earth Blind works to look closely at artifice, sincerity, cynicism and vulnerability as in relation to living, and art, or perhaps on the place where the two overlap.


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