The Believers Are But Brothers at Riverside Theatres
A bold new work exploring the world of online extremism and anonymity.
British writer and theatre maker, Javaad Alipoor, will present his award-winning one-man show The Believers Are But Brothers, at Riverside Theatres from 10th to 11th May.
Sharp, compelling and interactive, The Believers Are But Brothers blends storytelling with digital technology to explore what drives men towards online and real world extremism. Alipoor spent countless hours scouring the darkest corners of the web to find the online realm of extremists, police spies and fantasists to find out what lures young men into this world. Set against a political stage where the old world orders are collapsing, The Believers Are But Brothers delves into the minds of a generation of young men immersed in the online world and whose actions are no longer confined to their desktops.
Carly spoke with Javaad about bringing this work to Australia, and how we can use theatre to examine radicalisation and extremism in a new light. Read the full interview below:
A show like The Believers Are But Brothers requires an intensive research period in order to successfully master the inner mindset of not just the character but also the contextual influences of society, of mass fear and provocation and, in this instance, of the inner workings of extremist groups. So, I guess this draws me to a three part question - Can you tell us a bit about what first drew you to this idea, what the research period was like and also, I guess a question for artists who are so often inclined to throw themselves into their work and ‘become their work,’ how you stay separate and aware of yourself through a creative process like this.
I think what first attracted me to it, was wanting to slightly complicate the conversation around so-called Islamic extremism, and look a little bit at the way the question of the “radicalization” of young men, is really related more to masculinity than any specific cultural background. In terms of ‘becoming the work’ it’s something I’m really aware of; I think I try and do a bunch of work in the play to play with how alienated I am (just like my audience!) from the toxicity, isolation and fantasy that powers some of these young men’s stories.
What was the most surprising thing that you discovered through this process of research? Would you say that this exposed you to new ways of understanding these extremist groups or confirmed previous ideas that you had taken into the research process with you?
I think for me one of the most surprising things, was how gauche and gaudy the online propaganda was; not just for “Muslim” groups like so called ISIS, who use direct video quotes from computer games, but also the alt and far right, and their use of memes.
There is no question of relevance in a piece like this today, so instead, how, as you have performed it in multiple places already, has it been received differently by different audiences? As we each would of course come to a piece like this with our own personal experience and our own national experience, has performing this in different countries provoked different responses?
That’s a really interesting question: What has been really moving about touring this show has been the way it has found its audience internationally. Wherever we take it, people want to band together and find a space where they can think about how some of our most cherished ideas are under threat.
What is the main thing that you hope people realise as a result of seeing this show? What is that one tid-bit that you hope they are still discussing long after they leave the theatre?
I think as a political theatre maker my job isn’t really to educate or ‘raise awareness’. Theatre is about entertaining, soothing and, ultimately for me, getting an audience to feel implicated in, complicit in and ‘stuck to’ something that they perhaps just thought of intellectually before. So, I hope people who see this show have that feeling, and are thinking and arguing about the way that the techniques/technologies and masculinities that drive so-called “violent extremism’ are actually between us, all the time.
You have written, co-directed and now perform in this piece. What have been the major joys of the process thus far and the major challenges so far as well? What has the process of creating and performing a one man show exposed to you?
The real joy has been touring it to places far from where I’m from and the direct context in which I made it- and finding those diverse communities of people who it really speaks to. As a director I’m also someone who loves playful storytelling, and my co-director Kirsty Housley is a real genius at that stuff- working with her was a real highlight.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Lanark at the Edinburgh International Festival- co production with The Lyceum.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Istanbul- bit of culture, and then raki and meze in the meyhanes around Taksim square
Dream role to perform?
Funny one for me, as I’m not really a trad actor, and usually write/direct. I suppose it would be great to do a Shakespeare- I don’t think I would make a bad Mark Anthony.
Plays or musicals?
Probably plays in reality- but there are musicals that I love too.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Muay Thai- I’m actually getting to go on holiday to Thailand to train for a bit after we tour in Australia.
What’s next for you after this show?
I’m opening the next part of the trilogy that Believers began with a new show called RichKids: A history of shopping Malls in Tehran at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, and taking Believers back to play again for a week.
The Believers Are But Brothers opens at the Riverside Theatres in Parramatta on May 10. You can get your tickets here.