Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1

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The Play as Transition

Photographs by Paul Watson
Click any image to open slide show.

Roya Shams
Framed photograph of Roya Shams’s father, Haji Sayed Gulab Shah, who commanded an Afghan police station in Kandahar until the Taliban killed him during a July 2011 raid. Roya Shams (right) gently weeps alongside her mother and sister as she bids farewell to her father in a Kandahar cemetery. A police officer glares at Roya Shams as she enters Kandahar International Airport. Roya Shams checks in for her flight to Toronto Pearson International Airport from Kandahar International Airport. Roya Shams in the final nervous hour before flying out of Kandahar International Airport. Roya Shams on a connecting flight from Dubai International Airport to London Heathrow Airport. Roya Shams walking through the duty-free shops in London Heathrow Airport. Roya Shams calls home on Paul Watson’s cell phone from London Heathrow Airport. Roya Shams at Ashbury College in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada doing placement tests. She began classes on January 27, 2012.

A short play is usually an excuse to test one’s craft before moving on to a producible play; few short plays are produced, and an unproduced play isn’t really a play.

There persists an almost magical notion that a playwright will find the form his or her story requires. Short and long plays begin with the same ambition; short plays simply take less time.

I wrote Kandahar to Canada as a transition—a slip of a play, a dramatic elision: between Paul Watson’s work as a journalist in Afghanistan and his homecoming to Canada, between Roya Shams’s childhood in Kandahar and her adolescence at a boarding school in Ottawa, between the never-ending war “over there” and our variably war-haunted lives as North Americans.

I had been working with Paul Watson for several years in a peculiar partnership that had, by that point, produced The Body of an American, a play, and War Reporter, a poetry collection. Kandahar to Canada also served as a bridge between this earlier work, examining Paul’s career in war reportage generally, and our ongoing collaboration with its focus on more contemporary war zones, his complicated self-extrication from journalism, and my complicated disentanglement from writing about Paul and war.

Explicitly, this is a play about the transformation of a young girl’s life. The fifteen or so minutes dramatized here, derived from Paul Watson’s notes and writing, his photographs and audio recordings, can only allude to the heroic events of Roya’s journey. Her courage is irrefutable and I hope that these pages convey something of her remarkable character to the stage.

I am grateful to editor Mary Flinn and Blackbird for the chance to see this play published. I also wish to thank director Mark Armstrong, who brought this script vividly to life at Ensemble Studio Theatre in Manhattan in 2013, and Paul Watson, who continues to trust me with his images and words and friendship. And of course I am thankful to and for Roya Shams, who has thrived in Canada where she is now a scholarship student at the University of Ottawa.  bug

Paul Watson is the author of three books, including Where War Lives (McClelland & Stewart, 2007). He is the 1994 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Spot News Photography. His other awards include the 1999 George Polk Award for Journalism in Foreign Reporting and the 1993 Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal.

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