Behind the Curtain: The Domestic Crusaders

This week, QDF sat down with The Domestic Crusaders director, Deborah Forde. We had a wonderful time talking with QDF’s past Managing Director about identity, her practice as a director and the power of dark comedy.

Quebec Drama Federation: The Domestic Crusaders premiered on September 28! How has it been going?

Deborah Forde: I guess for me as a director I’m still in a place with the actors that I’m not really out in the audience yet. It was well received by the people we were aiming for it to be well received by. It’s a community that hasn’t seen themselves onstage. My favourite moment of the night was when someone from the community came to me and said, ‘Deb, it was like you were in my living room!’ That was the pinnacle of my night. The story is set in somebody’s living room, kitchen and two bedrooms.  We wanted people to see their reflection of self in their space. There was a moment when me and the designers sat down and Nalo Soyini, our set designer, threw the central question into the room, ‘who are we making this piece for?’ I think that is an important question you need to be asking yourself as you’re doing the work. Especially as I’m aware I’m very different in my approach.

We discussed that today’s artistic practices aren’t what we want to go for here. We created a world that is much richer and fuller than would be the norm. Some of the areas we couldn’t do that were where resources are limited. It’s a world where most families, not just Pakistani families, would look at that room and recognize it. The set design was a conscious decision to go in that direction.


QDF: A lot of the conversation around the show has been about representation of the Muslim identity and the Muslim community in Quebec, can you talk a bit about that?

DF: We really talked about the idea of representation, so audiences coming in and being able to see themselves onstage. We’re hoping and we believe that people will feel,  because this is a community that doesn’t get to see themselves onstage, that this is all about them. We hope that they will see the love we’ve put into it and the celebration. Because really, it was a journey of discovery and how is this falling in love with the music, food, the people.

It was a journey of having people from the culture and people around the table who came from the culture. People to say, ‘hey you know what, this is how we do it’. I always try to do that in my practice but especially in this, giving more over to the actors.


QDF: Can you tell us about your practice as a director?

DF: I should declare my practice upfront. I don’t believe in art for the sake of art. People have that practice and god bless ya, but it doesn’t work for me. As a director, they talk about visionaries and I don’t see myself that way. I see myself as a facilitator to the writer and to the actors. I don’t walk into the theatre seeking to make great art, I seek to tell a story. I trust that the actors and the designers are going to collaborate to bring in something beautiful and they can bring it to the stage. If everyone comes together then maybe someone will come and say, that was great art. I’m more interested in them saying, ‘that was great storytelling’.

I come in with an idea of what the story is going to look like. From the table read, what actors start to offer, that image starts to change in my head. You want actors to have a confidence in you, and a part of that is me going home to process the ideas. In this particular case, I did more of that work in the room.


QDF: So, a part of your process is empowering actors to take the position of director?

DF: For example, the Isha prayer. We wanted to start the show and finish with the prayer, and we wanted to be authentic with it. So, one person in our cast who is the two, Muslim and Pakistani, presented. I was waiting for someone to come forward who had the authority to teach us. He kindly stepped in and said ‘I know this, do you mind if I do it?’ I said ‘please do’ and I handed the reins over to him.

Because we are representing a family, it was very important that the actors have that connection between characters. It’s incredible the work they did to get there; incredible and generous! To allow themselves to be in the discomfort as we explore this. Allow themselves to find each other in the room while being sensitive to the other actors. To take the moment and be vulnerable while having that dialogue in the room. Because that’s the dialogue we need to be having in the audience. If we avoid having the dialogue then what’s happening out there?


QDF: The Domestic Crusaders presented at QDF’s Fall Theatre Calendar Launch, with a very positive reaction! The comedy in the show is poignant and sharp, can you talk a bit about the comedic tone of the play?

DF: I think it’s the craft of the playwright, Wajahat Ali, recognizing self, and the subjects. Most of the work we see depicting the Muslim community is heavy and you come to expect that. This play is coming from a place where a family is around the kitchen table. It’s not just the politics of the family. I’m not just talking politics to my brother, Im talking to my brother and he’s being an asshole about it! I think that being in the audience, the comedy takes the fear out of it because you’re seeing someone else have a conversation about it.

Some of the words are harsh. If you were to say some of this script in mixed company, you would likely raise an eyebrow or two. It’s in the context of a play, but some of the things that are said are really difficult. It’s something that me and the actors spoke about, ‘what am I really saying here?’ Something to understand, why somebody of a minority culture for instance shows dislike to their own culture, where does that come from? It comes from living in a society where only a certain profile of my culture is welcomed. I have to disassociate from them in order to be welcome there, but that’s an illusion as well. Seeing this play, the humour comes from that human-element and people dealing with it in the best way they can.


Thank-you to Deborah for taking the time to sit with QDF. You can still see The Domestic Crusaders at Espace Knox – 6215 Avenue Godfrey, until October 6th. For more information, you can check out the Silk Road Institute website here.