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In the spotlight: Paula B. Stanic!

EXPLORING IMMIGRATION: Paula B. Stanic

IMMIGRATION IS the subject explored in Paula B. Stanic’s new play Under A Foreign Sky.

Drawing from some of her own personal experiences, the award-winning British playwright tackles the much talked about issue of Eastern Europeans migrating to Britain.

Born to Jamaican parents and with her husband hailing from Serbia, immigration and, specifically, the challenges facing many immigrants who come to the UK, are issues Stanic feels strongly about. In Under A Foreign Sky, she charts the very different journeys of three Eastern European youngsters who come to Britain to start new lives.

Here, Stanic, who won the prestigious Alfred Fagon Award in 2008 for her play What’s Lost, talks to Davina Hamilton about her latest work.

What was the inspiration for Under a Foreign Sky?

I wanted to do something to challenge the constant negative news headlines about immigrants. It seemed to grow more vehement as the economic situation got worse. I wanted one of the characters to be from the Balkans, as the place really fascinates me.

However, as I researched I kept coming up on all this stuff about human trafficking. Particularly young people trafficked and used as slaves. I felt I couldn’t ignore it and as I decided on one character who arrives and just disappears, the idea took a slightly different path.

I also went to Belgrade and from there to Kosovo last year and felt there was so much still going on that isn’t talked about.

Do you think audiences might be surprised that a black British writer would write a play about Kosovan immigrants?

I write about things I feel strongly about. I’ve grown up with and lived around so many different communities, I’m part of them. London allows that and we should all be proud of it. It shouldn’t be a surprise I chose to write about one of those communities.

Though it’s obviously ignorant to assume that black audiences are only interested in ‘black plays’, do you think Under A Foreign Sky will appeal to the black British audience?

Yes. Apart from the fact some may recognise some of the experiences or feelings in it, the play is ultimately a number of very human stories. I hope anyone would be able to relate to the characters and their struggles in London.

Immigrants from Eastern Europe have copped a lot of flack from Brits –including some black Brits – who resent this alleged ‘wave’ of immigration. Do you think the black Brits who hold that opinion have short memories; forgetting that many of their elders were also immigrants from Africa/the Caribbean?

Yes. I got talking to a woman who had recently lost her job. The company she worked for went into receivership. She was telling me the big problem was all the immigrants from Eastern Europe coming over. According to her, they all either sponged off the state or worked for less money, making British workers redundant.

When she saw my reaction she added our parents had come to England to work. People leave their homes; leave everything behind because they have to. In the play I try to show some of the reasons and realities.

Numerous black Brits are of the opinion that people from Eastern Europe are racist. May I ask, how you and your husband met and did either of you experience any racially-based animosity from each other’s families?

We met at the party of a mutual friend. I’ve never experienced any racism from my husband’s family or friends. I’ve been really welcomed by all of them and he has been by mine. On a couple of occasions when I’ve been in the Balkans I’ve experienced curiosity over the fact I’m black and there, but not racism.

What’s are some of your career highlights?

With this play, a highlight was hearing the responses of some young people during the first part of development. They were very vocal and it can be terrifying.
But it’s great when they get it. I did a job a couple of years ago, co-writing a show for 12 men, most of whom had just come out of prison. That was an amazing experience.

I felt extremely proud every time I watched them perform. And getting the Alfred Fagon award was a very big moment. It was just such a shock. I’m very proud of that play [What’s Lost] but never thought anyone would see it.

Under A Foreign Sky is at The Unicorn Theatre, 147 Tooley Street, London SE1 from October 4-8. For more details visit www.unicorntheatre.com

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