For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed San Francisco based writer-director-actor and drama therapist Suraya Keating. Currently, she is Directing a Shakespeare for Social Justice Theater Troupe which works with the previously incarcerated.
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
I am currently putting together a Shakespeare for Social Justice Theater Troupe, in which individuals who have been previously incarcerated will write and perform theater pieces inspired by themes from the work of Shakespeare. We will perform our first show in May of 2016. In the following year (2017), we will invite at-risk youth to join the theater troupe as well. In this way, folks who have been incarcerated and whom have transformed their lives in amazing ways will be given the opportunity to be mentors and allies to youth who may be at risk of making choices that would lead them to incarceration.
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
This project is an offshoot of the work I have done for more than 10 years at San Quentin State Prison, where I work as the Shakespeare for Social Justice Director for Marin Shakespeare Company. At the prison, we produce two Shakespeare shows annually, and then invite the men in our Shakespeare Program to write and perform their own theater pieces based on themes from the Shakespeare plays they perform, as well as on based on their life experiences. In the years that I have worked at San Quentin, we have seen more and more men in our program get released from prison after decades of being incarcerated. We wanted to give these men an opportunity to share their gifts and talents, express their voices, and become mentors in their community, rather than stigmatized as ex-felons often are.
Q Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
My heroes are those artists and individuals who have sought not only to have an artistic impact but a social impact on the world. One of my mentors is Armand Volkas, a drama therapist who has done some profoundly transformative work in the field of drama therapy and expressive arts therapy. Some famous folks that also come to mind include Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sean Penn, Robert Redford, Bono and more.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
What keeps me motivated and inspired as an artist is seeing the impact of the artistic process on the people I work with – the way it unleashes in them emotions, qualities, gifts and strengths that may otherwise not have the opportunity to be expressed. Because I am trained both as a theater artist and as a drama therapist, I am most inspired when I see the life-changing impact of the artistic process. Whether working on a theater project at the prison, on a show with youth or with a private practice drama therapy client, I continuously get to the witness the power of the arts to promote soulful self-expression, healing and deep connection to ourselves, others and the life force, and this is always inspiring.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I am currently working on my next one-woman show based on true-to-life experiences. Whereas my last show focused more on my relationship with my mother who died in 2008, this show explores my relationship with the male figures in my life, including my father and brothers, and how the pain and longing I experienced in those relationships shaped me into who I am. It is a show that explores the intergenerational transmission of unhealthy patterns – the way patterns of suffering are passed on from generation to generation until someone decides to do something different. It is also a story of the wounded healer – how our wounds sometimes awaken in us our greatest gifts if we allow them to do so.
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
After every show we do at San Quentin State Prison, we follow up with a final ritual the next week in which the participants in the program acknowledge each other for their work, and also talk about what they have gotten out of the program. Seeing the way the men speak to each other, the way they thank each other and the way they acknowledge each other for how they have been touched by each other’s work always brings tears to my eyes, and always reminds me of how grateful I am to be living my vision.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
If there were no barriers to entry, I would be creating theater and arts programs in all communities, which are now dominated by gangs, drugs and crime, and I would find some way to pay youth and their families to get involved in co-creating art together.
Q: What has been your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
The biggest obstacles I have worked with have been inner obstacles – the voice of doubt or fear or feeling less than. Thankfully, those obstacles have mostly melted away. I am thankful to all the teachers I have had along this journey that have helped me to connect spiritually, and to learn to shift from listening to the radio station of doubt and fear and listen instead to the radio station of trust, faith and inspired action.
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
I try to follow my passions as much as possible – to do what brings me a sense of aliveness, vitality, peace and wellbeing. An ongoing dance and yoga practice, time in nature and singing in the car are several ways I take care of myself, and which also help me connect to my creative self. Watching others deeply connect to their creative selves is also inspiring. I try to keep things fresh by attending workshops and trainings that I feel drawn to intuitively, and also give myself permission to NOT be creative sometimes – to let myself rest in what I call the dark moon phase of creativity. Rather than making this wrong or worrying if I do not feel “creative”, I consider this part of the cyclical nature of creativity.
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
That’s easy to answer: Fear, doubt and worry.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
Right now my favorite piece of art is a Buddha statue that I have in my front yard. Every time I walk in and out of the house, it reminds me to be grateful for what I have, to stay open to the mystery and to do my best to be of service to something greater than myself in this life.
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
If I could be known and celebrated for one thing, it would be for my passion for using the arts to make the world a better place, and for helping us to connect deeply as human beings in spaces of play and creation.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
Dark chocolate. Although with the research out on the health benefits of chocolate, I am not sure it can be considered guilty anymore!
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
Trust your vision and follow your heart. You already have everything you need inside you.
Q: Where would you most like to live?
I love where I currently live in the Bay Area of California – a beautiful combination of amazing natural beauty and all the diverse offerings and eccentricities of urban life.
Q: What is your idea of success?
Success to me is when we follow our heart and live the lives we are authentically meant to live.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
I speak of gratitude a lot with regard to happiness, and have always loved the quote from Brother David Steindl-Rast: “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Q: Final Thoughts?
I do believe that the arts are a needed medicine in today’s world for so many reasons. When we recognize, honor and help to bring out each others’ creative gifts, we take another step on the path of individual and collective healing. May we trust that whatever gifts we have to bring to the world are needed – and may we help each other uncover and share those gifts.