Office Hours: Adam Kashmiry and Jennifer Cayer on "Adam"
February 13, 2019: Jennifer Cayer chats with Adam Kashmiry about the upcoming run of "Adam" at NYU Skirball.

Adam Kashmiry is the star and subject of Adam.

Jennifer Cayer is a senior lecture in New York University’s College of Arts and Science with a focus in literature, drama, and performance studies.

Transcript

Adam Kashmiry: I am Adam. I’m a performer. I’m based in Glasgow, Scotland and I’m currently performing in a piece of theatre called “Adam,” also. Think that’s about it. 

Jennifer Cayer: Hi I’m Jennifer Cayer. I’m a professor here at NYU. I teach in the Expository Writing Program and right now to Tisch School of the Arts students, thinking about art and culture, creativity and culture, art and its publics. I also write about theatre and performance for a blog called Culture Bot and this semester I just created a new course, and I’m teaching it, called Artful Lives. And so it’s about all of the different ways that artists across disciplines and genres make art from the materials of lived experience and so I’m incredibly delighted to talk with you today about “Adam.” And I guess, just to start, I’m curious if you could just talk about the process of transforming your experience, your story into the show and also the sub question here is “Why theatre? Why was this the mode that it kind of arrived to?”

AK: To be honest, I didn’t choose to be theatre. It was 5, 6 years ago I met with Cora Bissett, the director of the show, and that was because I took part in a really kind of small voluntary cooperation–collaboration, sorry–between the Scottish Refugee Council and the Citizens Theater in Glasgow. My piece was like 4 or 5 minutes, so it was kind of like spoken words but Cora was there and she saw me speak and she was really keen to do something–not necessarily just about my life, but to use my life as a kind of an example or a face to the trans community. So this is kind of how it started. I was never actually gonna be in the play. It was meant to be just, you know, the story you know and that’s about it. I met with the writer Frances Poet and kind of told her really my life and just six months before rehearsals I ended up auditioning for my character and I got the part. Yeah it’s quite odd I’d like to say like, “I’m Adam. I auditioned for Adam in ‘Adam,’” which is quite weird. But it was Cora’s idea to really bring it to theater and like her idea with the choir. Don’t know if you’ve heard about it. 

JC: Yeah, if you could talk about that. I’m really curious. It’s the Adam World Choir. Yeah, how did that come about? 

AK: That was also Cora’s brilliant idea. I guess she would be able to talk a lot more of how she was inspired, but essentially my team at NTS created like a safe platform online and called out for trans and non-binary people to come together and ask them if they can take part in the show. So essentially like once people like interacted with each other… It was like a private Facebook for this kind of 150 members and people like actually people like met together and travel to each other. It was like really amazing how people connected. But yeah, what happened was that people were sent like music, everyone. They’re like literally in their bedroom or whatever, in their home, put in like their headset and just singing their piece. But this is like… put so many members put together, and all the faces, put together the voices and everything obviously in harmony and everything and just put on a screen in the middle and the end of the show which is quite powerful. Like I’ve seen it hundreds of times, but it always gives me goosebumps, like it’s really amazing. 

JC: So you mentioned the internet, that this was curated as a safe space. And I wonder, prior to the show, where did you find those kinds of safe spaces to kind of support you in your transition? And you know even prior to the making of this show, where were those spaces for you? 

AK: I guess I never really ever interacted as much on internet or outside the internet. When I was like pre-transition, even early transition, I’ve never really… I mean I found YouTube to be my biggest inspiration because I was able to kind of see people that already transitioned and like looking really awesome and having like big beards and that gave me… You know it was the light at the end of the tunnel. You know I mean? Like, “Oh I can have a beard. I can look this way. I can actually be exactly who I am.” So YouTube in a way it was kind of a big inspiration to me.

JC: Thinking about artists that were influential in the making of “Adam,” it sounds like it was a true collaboration. There was this director who said, “That was an amazing five minutes, I want to do something about that.” There was a writer who said, “Tell me.” And then you became, you know, the star of your own show. What outside pieces or artists did you look to, did the writer look to, did the director look to as an inspiration for how this material found its shape? 

AK: I’m not quite sure. I think it was really just amazing, creative people just getting together saying… You know I think Cora essentially kind of reached out to the right people. I don’t know how she did that but she just reached out to people. I guess it was like they sat at a table, Cora described what she wanted to see come out from this piece and I think there’s just all the brilliant ideas just put together step by step and I think just eventually arrive to where we are right now. 

JC: And did you trust her instantly? Were you…

AK: Yes, absolutely. 

JC: Why? What kind of made that… 

AK: Well I’ve seen one of her shows at the same time, but also I’ve had a chat with her. We sat together a couple of times and we chatted and stuff and she is a brilliant person like literally, really humble. I guess why I was okay with, like totally fine with it because her vision was bigger than just my story. It wasn’t just like, “Adam, I’m gonna make a story about you and that’s you.” It wasn’t like that. It was like, “I want to use you to bring light on a bigger, on the community,” you know and that was like exactly… [I was like,] “Okay, I’m going down for that because that’s exactly what I would love to be part of.” You know what I mean? 

JC: Yeah.

AK: So yeah, yeah, totally trust her and you know I was not disappointed. She’s an awesome human being.

JC: Could you talk a little bit about you know along the road, during the process, what were some of the most kind of illuminating moments for you? And what were some of the challenges in the making of this piece? 

AK: Well I guess one of my earliest struggles, I would say, that I’m not I wasn’t really trained professionally to be a performer and that was a big show like going to the French and stuff. So like I remember on the first day like on the stage and Cora was like, “Adam, can you go a little bit like stage up or stage left up or something like that?” I’m like, “Where is that?,” you know. So I had to like learn the basics everything: how to memorize scripts, how to act, how to be in the moment, how to deal with the stage. Because the stage is incredibly complicated. Like when you see it, it’s really a lot of work. It just really… voice training and everything… I guess really like I think halfway through, I went a little bit in the dark place. I think because going into this I was like, “Alright, okay, well I’m just being myself I’m just acting, I’m not really acting. I’m just like I’m being myself, how hard that can be?” But it was really hard because I didn’t put a line. I started to kind of dwell back and remember the bad feelings and the bad memories and I kind of got sucked into that and I think that’s when I realized, you know, I am acting a character who’s called “Adam.” It’s very similar to my life. I can use my experiences to kind of act well and do this character well, but I am not that. I don’t need to go into that place, if you know I mean. And I think after that things became like a lot better.

JC: That was one of my other questions. I just was wondering what it’s like to perform. It’s your story but it’s also, as you say, it’s sort of like a portal into a larger community. But nonetheless you’re bearing a certain responsibility and nonetheless you are going back over your own stories. So I just wondered, how is it to perform it night after night? How do you prepare? And then the question is, like, what does it take to perform Adam repeatedly, to retell it again and again? And then what are you getting from it, you know? I mean like what is it taking from you and how is it feeding you? 

AK: Yeah I think that’s a really good question. Well, like I mentioned, there was a time where I couldn’t put a line and separate those feelings. Like, I think now I’m able to do as we go through the performance… It’s like in an hour and 15 minutes, we’ll go through like really an incredible rollercoaster of emotions because there’s a lot like: it’s sad depressed, anger, hurt, horrible incidents, also laughter and happiness. It’s quite intense and I do feel every single emotion even… And really there is a bit where it’s quite dark in the play. They do actually… In the play when I perform it, I do actually visit that place but I kind of, thankfully, I’ve learned to finish and not come out carrying those emotions with me. That was them, that was on the stage but when I’m off the stage that doesn’t come with me, if that makes any sense? I love it. I love going through all of the, I just love reliving my life in an hour. I just like being like, “Well, I’m happy now.” There’s no really reason. I am happy now. And again, well the ending is, it’s not the ending, but the ending essentially, where I am right now, is happy. So this is awesome kind of thing and how… I guess how I feed from it is how awesome and humble people have been towards me and towards the production and everything. Just people’s reactions were incredibly amazing. Like before when I knew I was gonna perform in the production, I was really worried that I was gonna get a lot hate. So when I done my first performance and in the fringe and every other performance after that never got any hate. People were incredibly kind and compassionate and just they wanted to understand. This is really what gives me a life. This is what motivates me to do it every single, every single time. I’m just I can’t wait until I talk to people and see like what they’ve learned, because I’ve met people and  they were like, “Oh god I’ve never really thought about this before but I mean, wow, this is amazing.” So yeah… Did I answer your question? 

JC: Yeah, you sure did. It ties into another question, which if it sort of repeats things we can move on, but the way that I’ve been thinking about, this is a new class that I’m teaching and as we approach new artists and looking at you know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, we’re thinking together about the necessities to do that work, the risks that come with doing that work, and then the possibilities that are that opened up by making themselves vulnerable on the page, on the stage, on the screen. So I wonder if those terms resonate with you in any way? Or if you could speak to any of those aspects, like the necessity for you to do this work, the risks that have kind of come with it? And you already mentioned one, just this worry that if I do this am I just gonna illicit hate and the dangers, the incredible dangers of that. But then also you spoke too to the possibilities and what it’s opened up so maybe if you could speak to any of those elements.

AK: Well I think vulnerability. I think there’s definitely a lot of that in the show because I mean, you know, I do like to some extent I do feel vulnerable on stage when I perform that because there are little pieces of me that… Well they’re pieces of me and you know I am kind of sharing that with a lot of people but because no one really has abused that vulnerability or tried to kind of spread hate or say anything nasty, it hasn’t really bothered me so far. So yeah it’s been incredibly positive so far. Vulnerability and… 

JC: The necessity to do it. Was there a moment where you’re like, “I need to do this. This is a project that like it’s not even, it’s not a choice. I need to make this happen.” Was that part of it or… Was the choice more like a weighing of like, “Well if I do this, there are these risks, maybe these possibilities?” Just what was that dynamic? 

AK: Well, before but when I knew that I was going to perform in it and I was really like I was… I thought I was gonna get like… It’s not even like a might. I was sure that I was going to get hate. But what kind of made me overlook that was I really… I mean I talked about the YouTube people that inspired me. And I’ve always said like in my head, like to myself, “If I can be that person to somebody else, if I can be that light at the end of the tunnel to somebody else, I’d be like so happy.” And I guess when that opportunity came it was like, “Well, I can actually you know be that person,” because if a guy like me can kind of do this and be happy then hopefully someone else will be like, “Oh, yeah, bloody hell, if this guy can do it then of course I can do it as well.” And what I’m hoping that people can kind of look at in this kind of similar kind of outlook and kinda take inspiration hopefully and motivation to kind of keep going. Life is gonna get better. No matter how dark it gets, it’s always gonna get better. There’s always a rainbow after it rains or storms, right? So I suppose that’s why. I really wanted to tell folks like me, “It’s gonna get better.”

JC: It’s gonna get better. So the writer Francis Poet. Is that… Right, so I read she said, “Having Adam in the room transformed the process. He was able to add more details in truth, while also giving me permission to invent.” And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about this dynamic of how the piece is at once your truth, right, but also there’s this element of invention and imagination that enter places. 

AK: I remember when we had the development week. We were all sitting together, like all the creative team, all together, and we’re talking. We had a draft and we just kind of evaluating at the character and the story and everything. It was already, obviously, brilliant because Francis is brilliant. And I guess a lot of people–I mean a lot of people knew about trans issues and everything–but I suppose there was some more space to kind of described more of how it really feels and get everyone really on that same page, so everyone knows, “Oh, it felt this way at this particular moment” or “it felt that way at this particular moment.” Or someone maybe would assume something and I’d be like, “Well, actually it was, you know, the other way around,” or “It wasn’t really that but,” you know. I guess I think that’s what Francis meant. I think it’s just kind of adding more spice on the food that’s already cooked, if that makes any sense. But also talking about like the invention part of it because when I met with Francis and I told her my life and I’ve told her like a lot of details. But I also said like, “I would really love to have some fiction, like spice it up anyway.” It’s not that mine wasn’t spicy enough but I just felt like… I mean, yeah, horrible things has happen to me but it’s not really everything has happened to me. It’ll be really good to kinda show other flavors of how horrible it can get, if that makes any sense. I mean you might think that’s a bit weird, but I think it’s important to see, to show folk who are not trans or nonbinary to show them like how really hard or how dark it can really kind of get for us. So I just told her just you know go for it, you know, whatever you see fit. And she was brilliant. She just wrote a brilliant script. There were no criticisms whatsoever. It’s just really… Everything really worked out really well. 

JC: I wonder, this is sort of tying it to something you said before about the rainbow at the end the rainstorm. I do wonder, though, is it that easy? I mean is there a way in which you’ve emerged from something hard, isn’t there still a way in which every day there’s kind of something that you have to endure? And I don’t want to say… you know, be sadder but what else is there besides that wonderful optimistic message of like, “it will get better, I promise you?” What other sort of means of survival are kind of–whether they’re in the show or not–are things that you would want to kind of impart? 

AK: Well, I think when I say, “It gets better,” I don’t think it happens in a day. You don’t just wake up and be like, “It got better.” Yeah, it doesn’t. It takes a long time. It does take a bit of time and then it can get really frustrating. I think at times where it did get better but I was really frustrated because I was just like, “It’s not moving fast enough” kind of thing. I guess I think what really helped me is… Oh, this is gonna sound really cheesy, but it’s patience. And it’s so much easier said than done and I’m really aware of that, but it’s just really that’s kind of all you need. Have a goal, like I think that’s what I did personally. I had a goal and that was the physicality that I wanted, the look that I wanted, the feeling that I wanted. And I had that like you know on a poster in my head, “This is where I’m going.” And I’m just patient enough start by taking my steps very slowly but surely I’m taking steps forward every day until eventually I’m here. It took a few good years but I’m here. I think optimism was a big part of all the things I’ve been through. I think if I wasn’t optimistic, I think my life would have taken a different turn. 

JC: Why Scotland? 

AK: Yeah, it actually wasn’t my choice. I mean surprisingly I’m really glad that they brought me here. So when I travelled to England and London and had like… Yeah, I was homeless there for a little bit and I had someone saying, “Oh, you know, go to the Home Office. They can help you.” And I was like, you know, “What?” You know, I didn’t know about like seeking asylum or refugees. I had no clue. So yeah they advised me to go to the Home Office and I did and I told them everything about you know my life and all of that. And UCS they took me to a detention center somewhere. I’m not really sure where it was and after a few weeks they took me to Scotland, to Glasgow. And I’ve never moved out, because I just love it.

JC: And how old were you when you were homeless and then when you…

AK: Nineteen. 

JC: Nineteen. And who was it that kind of knew to help you? 

AK: It was someone actually that I met there that was also Egyptian that lived there for a long time. I met him in a cafe as well. So that was quite lucky, because, if I had not him, I don’t know what else could have happened. But it was quite lucky. 

JC: Have you been back to Egypt at all? Is that ever something that will be… 

AK: No, I’m not really allowed to go back just now because I’m a refugee. But, yeah, it’s a bit tricky. I don’t know. I mean I don’t… Yeah, it’s weird. Obviously, I want to see my mom and I want to see my sister and that’s really all I can all I really want. But in terms of living or anything, no. That’s like, no. 

JC: Are you in contact with them? 

AK: Yeah. 

JC: And do they know about the show?

AK: Yeah. 

JC: What do they think? 

AK: Oh, they think it’s really awesome. They’re like super proud of me and it’s pretty cool.

JC: That’s great. My sense of the show, and I’m excited to see it on Friday, is that it seems to be about finding a home, finding a place both within one’s body and also within a place, a nation, a country. If you could talk a little bit about those things and also where home is for you now? 

AK: Home… Well, I can say that Glasgow in Scotland is my home now. And I never thought I was going to find a home. Like, when I first moved to England and Scotland, I just never felt like I will ever find any home. And I think home is sometimes what you make. You know, the people that you meet, the friends that you make because family sometimes can be blood and sometimes, you know, not blood. You know, it’s just, family is what you make and I think home comes with family, I think, as well. And I suppose home is also within one’s body. And I think for trans and nonbinary people it’s quite sometimes hard to find that safe place within yourself and I guess you just need to really be who you are to find your home. Because if you keep kind of listening to other people’s wishes of what they think you should be, then you’ll never be happy. And they will never be happy, because you’re not happy. So you might as well just be yourself and find your home within yourself kind of thing. 

JC: So you’ve never performed before and now you’re you know the star of the show that is part your story, what’s next for you? Is performing something that you’re now into? Are there other forms of activism that have kind of come up? 

AK: Well I’m doing a bit of activism on the side as well obviously because I’m really passionate about trans rights, but yeah performing also is… I love it. I really, really do love it. It’s quite a hard ind… 

JC: It’s a hard industry. 

AK: Industry, thank you. Yeah, so, I guess I’m just, I’m looking… like I want to take more courses to kind of like, I don’t know learn, new skills just develop what I already have and just develop you know something hopefully more. And, oh yeah, I’ve got a new agent. I got agent just last year so you know very optimistic about that. I’m really hopeful. I think opportunities will come I think when life is ready to give me something else. 

JC: Great. It’s been so delightful to talk with you and I can’t wait to see the show. I don’t have any other questions but if there’s anything else you want to ask or say I suppose just to give some space for that or things you want to go back to. 

AK: Yeah, I think I’m okay. 

JC: New York is treating you well? 

AK: Oh yeah, yeah, it’s been good. Well, yesterday, it was quite stormy but I still enjoyed that. It kind of feels like, kind of feels like I’ve been here before. But I’ve never. But it’s because of you know like just like you see New York in the movies and TV shows and everything so I’m just like going around, like I’m like, “Oh yes I kind of seen this before.” So it’s been really exciting. 

JC: Where you gonna go? What are your sort of like three places that you’re check out while you’re here? 

AK: I do not actually have like… I’ve been told that I should try the Highline, the Brooklyn Bridge so I’ve been recommended to try them out but really essentially I’m just really happy to just walk, you know, just experience the culture, listen to accents, try the pizza slices, you know or just like, yeah, blend in. 

JC: Sounds good. I hope you have a great time.

AK: Thank you. 

JC: Break a leg! 

AK: Thank you.