By Vanessa Vivas
At the age of 11, Adil Mansoor chose himself and his identity as a young queer Pakistani boy. At the age of 35, he chose himself again and took an uncomfortable conversation about queerness with his Muslim mother to write a play.
Mansoor is a local Pittsburgh theatre director and educator whose work focuses on centering people of color and queer stories. He specializes in working with docudrama methods and developing work with a commentary on relevant social topics.
“I am good in engaging folks in joy, curiosity and rigor. I think those three things together are deeply important,” said Mansoor.
The play “Amm(i)gone,” a National Performance Network winner, uses recorded conversations between Mansoor and his unapproving Muslim mother as they discuss their different perspectives on theatre and LGBT issues.
“I approached [this] as an attempt of healing. The most interesting part was the audio of my mom talking about theatre,” said Mansoor. His unique writing method came as a surprise to him: “It’s like a live podcast. I play my mom’s audio and then I deal with having played it. And that’s it.”
Mansoor takes his methods beyond “Amm(i)gone.” As part of Point Park University’s Virtual Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) season entitled “Here. Now. Next,” Mansoor is currently directing a digital theatre piece. This will be a collaborative digital performance that is being developed with an ensemble of actors in direct response to the idea of voting.
Caitlin Mayernik, an assistant director to Mansoor for the project, has been learning from Mansoor’s methodology. “I interviewed people I love in my life about politics… Voicemail art. We had people call in and leave voicemails and we used their reactions and conversations to create our piece,” said Mayernik.
Mia Sterbini, an acting major cast in the piece echoes Mayernik’s comments of theatre-making with new methods. “It can be done for social change, instead of being done in a commodified way. It connects to our fuller selves. I’m thankful I get to bleed out that authenticity with people that I love and trust, as opposed to just saying regurgitated words,” said Sterbini.
Mansoor holds art with high expectations to impact surrounding communities to discuss social change. “To quote visual artist Simone Lehigh, it’s my job to imagine. It’s my job to transform our possibilities. Here’s a blueprint, so do the work,” said Mansoor.
Mansoor through his unconventional writing methods believes that “theatre-makers turn nothing into everything. Those who can be fascinated by research, and question, and limitation, and constraint– those were always my favorite theatre-makers.”
Albert Wash, another assistant director for the voting piece appreciates Mansoor’s overt discussion of relevant topics. “[Working with Adil] has been a pleasure because I’ve always tried to run away from those types of situations… Talks about politics… gave me bad anxiety. In the world we’re in today, you can’t really run away from it and it’s always in your face,” said Wash.
Through the pandemic and “Zoom fatigue,” Mansoor is still successfully injecting joy, curiosity, and rigor into his work. “I think that there’s been so much joy in this process. Even if we’re talking about really heavy topics that are maybe issues in society or politics. We are still always so supported by Adil and by the team,” said Mayernik.
Mansoor’s voting piece will be broadcast December 9 through the 13 as part of the COPA season. Although theatre doesn’t look like its usual form, Mansoor still believes that the substance of the piece is still there, even when the medium is different. “Storytelling is future-making, future-seeking, and healing. You can’t do any of that without storytellers. I dare you to try. How do we see a future past Tuesday?” said Mansoor.