By Dave Baldwin
Tech and media giants are piling billions of dollars into streaming services. Netflix is spending $15bn a year on new content. Apple is committing $6bn to catch up. Disney is joining the fray with its new streaming brand. The fate of all this investment will live or die by the quality of its output. That will be determined by the quality of input. Good writing, in other words.
Bradford offers an astonishingly rich seam of original content. The district is producing some very exciting new writers. BD Stories, presented by theatre company Freedom Studios, perfectly illustrates the point. The double bill of short short plays celebrates the stories and cultures of Bradford. The production is a triumph of emerging writing talent and points to a promising future.
The first play, Number 4, is set in a women’s basketball team and tells a powerful and universal story of friendship, identity, body image and sport. The playwright Asma Elbadawi was born in Sudan and moved to Bradford as a young child. She overcame dyslexia to become a poet, performance artist and writer. She is also a basketball player, coach and global brand ambassador for Adidas.
“Growing up with dyslexia means I had an issue with spelling,” Asma told the BBC. “I would just write the poems and not share them. As I got older, I got the urge to share my work a lot more… Anyone can do those amazing things they see other people do.”
Asma has performed at TEDx Bradford, Bradford Literature Festival, Liverpool Acoustic Festival, Women of the World Festival and London Word of Mouth. She won the 2015 Words First poetry competition in Leeds. Her poetry and interviews have featured on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Channel 4 and Buzzfeed. Number 4 is her first play.
The second play, Pashto Thriller, tells the story of a teenage British-Pakistani girl growing up in Bradford in the 1980s, struggling with having to wear a shalwar kameez at school and harbouring a secret love of Michael Jackson and dancing. When Bibi visits from Pakistan, grandmother and granddaughter find more in common than they thought. It is an exhilarating play; funny, sad and joyful.
It is Aina J Khan’s first play. She moved to Bradford aged 15 and based the story on her and her mother’s experiences. Aina is a journalist and has been published in the Guardian, Al Jazeera, Vogue, Financial Times and Vice. She told The Yorkshire Post: “Within Bradford, there is such a volcano of talent and creativity because there are so many people who are starving to tell their stories because they have been neglected for so long. They have not had the funding and focus that other cities like London have had.”
Both Aina and Asma were associate artists at Freedom Studios, a pioneering theatre company responsible for developing artistic and creative talent in Yorkshire. They were encouraged simply to write about what they wanted to write about. Audiences will agree the results are outstanding. “Significant, important and inspiring”, said writer, critic and BBC presenter Nick Ahad of their work.
Alex Chisolm, co-artistic director, said: “BD Stories came about to bring these two plays to a wider audience in Bradford, an audience that has wholeheartedly embraced both plays. Freedom Studios exists to nurture new talent and new stories and bring them to life with and for communities. Bradford has a richness of stories in all of the connections, and frictions, between its many communities. And it has a wealth of talent to tell those stories to a wider world.”
All this bodes well for our bid to host UK City of Culture in 2025. It shows why Channel 4 chose to set up its new national headquarters on our doorstep. A canny move. Studios looking for the next big streaming hit would do well to look beyond the usual sources for their inspiration. They will find plenty to write home about in Bradford.