Hello my fellow wordsmiths and page turners,

Today we are having a brief discussion with Mr Omar Khan about his creative experiences, achievements and the overall effect that Lockdown has has had on his creative process. So without any further waffle from me lets get right down to the interview!

1, Hi Omar, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions today. Can you please introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us a little about your early career and experiences up to this point?

Hi, I’m Omar, I’m a filmmaker, theatre director & workshop facilitator. I started out as a journalist, writing film & game reviews. I studied Journalism at university and worked a brief stint at ITV before becoming a freelance videographer, and eventually expanding my practice into theatre. In 2019 I underwent a residency at Birmingham REP Theatre where I wrote & directed Ritual, a narrative-driven immersive show that explored the psychedelic experience, shamanic practices and altered states of consciousness. I’m currently an associate artist at Derby Theatre.

2, Given the Theme of ‘Ritual’, I believe your narrative covered the idea of Spirit/Vision Questing. These practices are typically colored with the idea of using hallucinogenics (AYAHUASCA). The use of Hallucinogenics has been perpetuated by mainstream Hollywood over the years depicting Native Americans passing a large pipe to a white man, resulting in him going into an almost immediate dazed stupor, where in fact the Ayahuasca method is actually done through drinking a herbal tea. I know that this was a specific practice of vision questing and there were many others alongside it that didn’t include hallucinogenics and that these alternative methods have had a recent resurgence that has sparked a number of issues surrounding ‘Cultural Appropriation’. Given this, how do you feel that these practices can fit into today’s society, without causing further offense to those who practice it traditionally?

So Ayahuasca is a South American medicine whose active ingredient is DMT, which can be smoked and absolutely brings about instantaneous, and often life changing, hallucinations. Native American witch doctors & shamans tended to favour the Peyote cactus, which contains mescaline, but still pass around a tobacco pipe during their ceremony, which is used to ‘ground’ participants for short periods of time, so the imagery you’re speaking off isn’t wholly inaccurate. 

Mushrooms containing psilocybin, as well as cannabis, alcohol, iboga, cacao leaves and more have all been used to enhance and catalyse spiritual practices across the world for thousands of years. LSD was used in the 1950s in psychotherapy and we are currently seeing a resurgence in its use to treat addiction & depression. If you look at ecstacy, we see how the rave was built as a ritualistic practice to enhance an experience and ‘focus your attention on the medicine’. Swap a shaman for a DJ, a fire for a lightshow, and we can see how repetitive rhythms & a centralised focus are used to foster and enhance feelings of unity and togetherness. Andy Letcher, Julian Vayne, Andy Roberts, Dr David Nutt & Timothy Leary write extensively on these topics and are worth checking out.

Cultural appropriation is all about intent. If you are trying to connect with what is at the heart of an experience, whether it’s wearing a bindi or partaking in a sacrament, then I don’t think there is an issue. Problems of appropriation only arise when people are ignorant of the cultural context that exists within a practice, or worse, are simply “doing it for the ‘gram.” I personally believe that whatever you do on your quest towards spiritual fulfilment, be it prayer, yoga & meditation, holotropic breathing, or the consumption of entheogens, it is a very personal decision that concerns no one but yourself, as long as you are exercising moderation and not bringing harm to others.

3, Interesting, so In your work as a director, what would you say has been the most trying element of working during the lockdown period?

Theatres have been closed since the beginning of lockdown, which not only has paused all productions, but put a major question mark over the industry’s future. Although I have made work & delivered workshops over Zoom, technical difficulties, Zoom fatigue, and the other restrictions of working digitally mean you can only go so far. There is some great digital work being made, but I feel like unless it’s serving the story I want to tell, trying to shoehorn it into my practice can feel forced.

Despite this, lockdown has very much been a period of chrysalis for me. Derby Theatre, RTYDS and the Young Vic have been offering some incredible digital workshops and so this pause has actually been a fantastic opportunity to learn.

4, Would you say that the current socio-political environment has had a profound effect on any of the projects you have worked on this year?

I’d say I’m a lot more involved in the politics of the creative industry than I ever was before. I’m currently part of Fuel Theatre’s Freelance Taskforce, a national movement made up of over 140 freelance artists from across the performing arts sector. Each of us is sponsored by an organisation, with the purpose to strengthen the influence of the self employed theatre & performing arts sector.

Covid has exposed the inequalities that lie deep in the hearts of our institutions. This is in addition to the apparent inequality of representation within leadership roles for ethnic minorities and the disabled community within the arts. I think something that has been exposed by the pandemic is how close to poverty a lot of people live their lives. I will admit that the Government’s initial response to introduce a furlough scheme during lockdown was a fantastic lifeline to many, but the Self Employed Income Support Scheme left millions to fall through the cracks and end up below the poverty line. We need Universal Basic Income to support people through times of unemployment, and indeed to reduce the mental hardships that come from the financial uncertainty of a freelance career.

5, What do you do to recharge your creative batteries? 

I love music, and lockdowned has robbed us of gigs and nights out, so I’ve been Djing zoom parties while stuck at home. It’s been fun to learn something new and connect with people through music, and definitely leaves me feeling charged up with good vibes afterwards.

I’ve also been trying to manage my work-life balance better, especially while working from home. I try to stick to a 4 day working week when I can, which is difficult when you’re freelance but I definitely think it’s had a positive effect on my productivity, creativity and general stress levels!

6, I agree that this is a perfect opportunity to learn some “new tricks”. What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you have had during Quarantine, and how are you looking to include these in your work? 

Actually, I think the most important thing I learnt during lockdown was that work isn’t everything. When it hit, all my projects got cancelled and I suddenly had all this free time on my hands. I felt guilty for not living up to the capitalist ideal of constant productivity. I had to retrain myself to spend my time doing what I enjoyed: playing ps4, doing yoga, connecting with friends via Zoom. The irony now is that I’m busier than I was before lockdown, but I’ve tried to maintain that sense of patience and calm.

7, I have now interviewed a number of creatives surrounding what they have done during Lockdown. One of which, Nick Quantrill who is a fictional crime writer has worked on a project outside of his usual medium. He and a few others have created a short narrative film using still images to tell a short story.  Would you consider creating a play in a different medium, like an Archer-esc Radio show? and if so what kind of show/play would you put on?

Funny you should mention that, as I’m actually working on a radio play (for want of a better term) with Tamasha Theatre. The theme is ‘care’, and I’ve chosen to explore the Government’s lack of care; their abject neglect, during lockdown. I want to look at how their propaganda, fearmongering and scapegoating can perpetuate and radicalise far-right ideologies, ultimately leading to violence, such as that against MP Joe Cox in 2016.

I’ve also been exploring VR as a means to connect with non-verbal communicators, such as adults with Special Educational Needs, during lockdown.

8, How has lockdown changed your writing process, are you finding yourself stifled, or has the experience been freeing?

Unfortunately most of my writing has taken the form of funding applications, reports and lesson plans this year. I’ve tried to maintain a routine to make creative writing more habitual, but the truth is I only really write during a set period of a process. 

On top of this, I’m trying to move my practice away from the hierarchical nature of a traditional writer/director, into more of a co-creation position, devising work through collaborations with other artists. This has been great in lockdown, as it’s meant my focus isn’t on setting aside time alone to write, but rather making sure I am connecting with people, engaging in conversations; listening and responding to any ideas that pop up.

That concludes our interview with Omar surrounding what he has been working on and how Lockdown has affected his work. Has Lockdown affected the way that you work? Has your experience differed from Omars? let us know in the comments below.

Until next time, read more books

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