Burq Off

Think you know Pakistani women? Think again...

Posted: 20.06.14

A humorous approach to the questions we Asians are all afraid to ask, Nadia Manzoor’s one woman show is breaking more than just boundaries, as Yasmita Kumar finds out….

Nadia Manzoor is not your average Pakistani woman – ok, she likes a good plate of biriyani and knows a thing or too about cricket but she’s also a woman who’s not afraid to get on stage and make you laugh. Yes we know Shazia Mirza also possess’ that skill, but Nadia’s brand of humour is so much more relevant, and funny.

The talented writer behind a one woman show called Burq Off, Nadia grew up in London but now resides in Brooklyn NY where her show has become so successful she’s one of the most respected stage stars of the moment. The 1hr 20 minute production has been a flying success in the US and there’s no doubt that she hasn’t put the work in. In the show Nadia plays 21 different characters keeping it interesting and entertaining, she explains: 'They are based on people who have influenced me in life. I enjoy playing and improvising the memories I have had with them, such as my parents.'

Growing up in London, Nadia faced a cultural conflict between the Muslim culture that she was taught at home with the English culture, which she was surrounded by. Naturally she became confused but managed to make sense of it all by creating Burq Off which charts her experiences and journey as a Muslim woman. What started off as a memoir was turned into a show giving a fresh insight into the life of a young Muslim woman enthused by her own experiences. She says: 'I was inspired by my own need to confliction. How does wearing a burka make you any more of a woman than wearing a bikini.'

Nadia trained at The Improv School in NYC and now teaches Improv there along with being a street dancer, specialising in Popping, Hip Hop, Bollywood and Bhangra. These experiences helped Nadia become familiar with being on the stage which helped her improvise her own stories. It was the reaction to her work and encouragement to take it further that led Nadia to devising her show. ‘I had no intention of creating a show but I found improvising my work gave a natural richness which a book would never have been able to give.’

Nadia entered her work in a South Asian Writing Festival which lead to her collaboration with stage director Tara Elliott who helped her narrow down her memoir, creating a representation of her life on stage which debuted in December 2013.

Exploring and exposing her life and those close to her was a brave step. After being shunned by her family because her first serious boyfriend was Irish, Nadia was blamed for the death of her mother but these experiences and many more that she reveals makes the show compelling and emotional. Nadia creates many opposing positions where she explores different culture conflicts, relating them together and coming to a truthful conclusion. She says: ‘It’s more of an inquiry based show asking questions like, Where is a woman’s liberation? Why we do things just to belong? Why cant we explore sexuality? and Why do we have to face family challenges?’

Telling her story through comedy brings a light hearted approach to the issues Nadia explores. For example she shows her shy Muslim mother telling her what to do and has to deal with the battle within herself to try and understand her culture conflict. This powerful mix of both makes the play and the characters intriguing and engaging. Although some of what she covers is serious, Nadia also wants to entertain the audience. She explains: ‘I want my audience to have a good time and to laugh openly. I want them to be emotionally moved as I am when I perform.’

Thankfully you don’t just need to read about her show or fly out to the states to see it. Nadia is bringing Burq Off to the UK in September: get your tickets now before it sells out.

Find out more about Nadia:

Burq Off is on from 9th -14th September at The Cockpit, in Marylebone, London.


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