If you’re a buttoned-up prude easily offended by people that rip-off the band-aid on religion and hypocritical zealots who preach it, stop right here. Don’t bother reading this further.
Nadia Manzoor is an actor, artist, activist and rebel. Her upcoming show Burq Off! running at Small World Music, 180 Shaw St. in Toronto, March 18-21 has elements that will likely: a)make you squirm b)pray for salvation c) prompt you to speed dial the religious/moral police D) remove the cobwebs from you mind and eyes E) Provide a compelling, yet hilarious commentary of the changing times and religion’s inability to keep up.
The show’s brand of humour will either shock the audience into silence or tickle their funny bone until they are a helpless mass of mirth sprawled on the floor.
Nadia, a Brooklyn native landed in North America via Karachi, Singapore, Dubai and Hertfordshire, U.K. pokes fun of misogynist men, antiquated customs, silly rituals and our insecurities about the west.
BURQ OFF! THE SHOW
In Burq Off! Nadia pulls off 21 characters: a stern father, a saucy English friend, Islamic studies’ teachers and few dozen others. The show reveals the cultural tug-of-war of a young Muslim straddling two cultures that are completely at odds with each other — the modern woman versus the dutiful Muslim daughter.
“My struggle in Burq Off! is about reconciling my conservative upbringing with my own liberal questioning,” Nadia said. “At the time, it seemed I couldn’t have stayed true to my ‘religion’, or at least the way I was taught religion, and my own independent thought and inquiry. As a result I felt like I had to step away from those definitions.”
A witty banter between Nadia and her father Parvez many moons ago describes the premise of Burq Off!
When Nadia was old enough to realize the world was hers for taking, she announced to her Dad she wanted to become an astronaut.
“Request denied; God is great. Who will cook for your husband?” her Dad rued?
Growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood and attending a Christian school meant a constant tussle and confrontation at home.
“It seemed like what was more important at the time was how other people defined you,” Nadia recalled. “If you were dating a white Irish man, you couldn’t have been a very good Muslim. But in my heart, I was deeply connected with the divine and have always been. But people label you and define you according to their own set of beliefs, so stepping away from my ‘religion’ and culture was really me stepping away from the people that kept trying to define me. I needed to define myself.”
In a world torn by religious strife and unnecessary chest thumping, Nadia’s show brings a fresh and necessary perspective to the stale debate about religious freedoms.
“Liberal Muslims are definitely under represented, and the orthodox people get all the attention, and also by proxy end up defining people’s understanding of the religion,” she says. “Can you be a Muslim and date a white guy and wear bikinis and drink alcohol?”
NIRVANA THROUGH HUMOUR
Humour was Nadia’s coping mechanism growing up. It has since become her livelihood, arsenal to deliver punches and life’s calling.
“In every way imaginable. I’ve found my purpose,” she said. “Not meaning to be all existential, but the first time I performed there was this moment when everything in my life, and all the struggle, and everything that I had done until that moment just made sense. It was like finding my calling. As a result I have a newfound confidence in why I’m here and why I exist. If that’s not transformational, I don’t know what is. My whole life has become about continuing to use my creativity for change….”
LIGHTS, SET, ACTION
Tara Elliot, the director and one of the co-producers, hit it off with Nadia when their paths crossed. As a one-woman show, Nadia carries Burq Off! on her shoulders with relative ease, but to make the show as an interactive experience, Tara had to make sure Nadia’s storytelling was enhanced.
“I wanted to create a playground for Nadia that was visually engaging, transformative, and yet aesthetically simple,” Tara said. “Fabric is easily transformable, and so it became a part of the storytelling in my mind at a pretty early point. Then, through play and experimentation in rehearsal, I found that the use of fabric was all we needed regarding props and costumes in order to portray the range of characters and situations. The set of fabric is beautiful and rich, but also perhaps, restrictive. It is layered, and as with all layers, one might ask the question of what it is covering up…”
Paprika Productions will stop by Toronto for shows at Small World Music, 180 Shaw St. in Toronto from March 18-21. Two matinee shows have been added now. Tickets cost $25/person and can be purchased here.