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With Evina’s Barrier, playwright Aki Yaghoubi embarks on healing journey for central character and the audience

Aki Yaghoubi
Aki Yaghoubi is creating a trilogy of plays about women who overcome barriers with the help of therapists.

When Vancouver playwright Aki Yaghoubi was a teenager in Tehran, she often watched a TV show focusing on mental health.

“It was being aired by satellite,” Yaghoubi tells Pancouver over Zoom. “In this program, there was an Iranian-American psychologist who would come on TV for two hours per week, and she would offer her expertise to Iranians around the world.”

At that time, Yaghoubi had never been outside of Iran. Yet she was able to hear stories from Farsi-speaking people living in Europe, North America, and elsewhere who shared very personal stories.

“It was really interesting, it was real, and sometimes there were some similarities between what I was going through and what they were sharing,” the playwright recalls. “And then it would become even more interesting, as the therapist then would assign a language—a psychologically known explanation of what they shared.

“Each time I’d see there was a name, a psychological way to explain that experience, I’d feel liberated,” she continues. “It was like someone was taking me out of the darkness I was in. Out of the unknowing. Those were the kinds of stories I liked, and I looked for that experience in all stories I was exposed to.”

Yaghoubi left Iran in 2009, first moving to Montreal and later settling in Metro Vancouver. But this TV show remained with her. And it has inspired a trilogy that she’s writing about three women—Tara, Evina, and Hilda. Each explores how their childhood wounds have kept them stuck in past behavioural patterns, and how they can free themselves.

The first play, Tara’s Barrier, was developed with the support of the Canada Council and Rumble Theatre. Ruby Slippers Theatre is presenting the second, Evina’s Barrier, in a staged reading. It will be at the Advance Theatre Festival on Tuesday (February 6) at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts.

Yaghoubi

Yaghoubi hopes trilogy is produced in a row

Yaghoubi describes Evina’s Barrier as a play within a play. Evina is the central character. She is writing a play about the time when she had the only speaking role in production, but she was unable to utter any words, resulting in the cancellation of the show.

Daniela Atienca is directing Evina’s Barrier, and Sarvin Esmaeili, Raugi Yu, Katee Ely, and Grant Vlahovic are the performers. Yaghoubi’s play was developed with the support of the B.C. Arts Council. Meanwhile, she is currently working on the third installment in the trilogy, Hilda’s Barrier.

According to the playwright, audiences will follow each central character in the plays as they work through their issues.

“By helping them in their healing journey, I also am healing, which is the best part of creating this trilogy,” Yaghoubi says. “And I hope watching their story will do the same for my audience, because I want to be part of people’s healing journey.”

Yaghoubi studied acting, directing, and scriptwriting at the Samandarian Artistic Educational Institute in Iran. She has an audacious goal with her three plays.

“I’d love and hope for this trilogy to be produced simultaneously here in Canada as they are interestingly interrelated,” Yaghoubi says. “Although each is complete, watching them in a row would be ideal because there will be a feeling of solving a puzzle. There will be a feeling of knowing these characters and connecting with them on a deeper level, which is a good practice for us in a world that encourages staying on the surface and engaging in meaningless activities.

Challenging playwrighting conventions

“I think all writers are teachers,” she continues. “Some resist accepting that the nature of writing is teaching, but I think whether a writer calls themselves a teacher or not, their story affects people. Also, whether the audience acknowledges it or not, they have been affected by the stories they were told.

“I want to be part of people’s healing journey with my stories. That’s the kind of effect I want my stories to have on people. By helping my characters in their healing journey, I am also healing, which is the best part of creating this trilogy,” Yaghoubi says.

As a result, she’s intentionally gone against cardinal rules of storytelling that she’s been taught. For example, therapists in her plays tell things to the lead character rather than having things revealed through movements, interactions with the outside world, or plot devices. In addition, she’s broken another convention that the main character must experience adversity from the outer world rather than from their inner world.

Yaghoubi believes that these rules of storytelling are robbing some writers of their authentic voices.

“It’s also somehow robbing the audience,” she insists. “By telling, I can pass my message directly and clearly. Why are we assuming that the audience is not up for it? Why are we assuming the audience is not interested in a direct conversation? I am challenging these assumptions in my trilogy.

“Stories are powerful tools, and we can use them to improve the mental health in our society, and that is what I’m trying to do,” she adds. “Through my stories I encourage my audience to connect with themselves in a deeper level.

“Integrating performers and audiences by creating roles for Iranians and non-Iranians. Evina is of Iranian descent. Iris and her father are of European descent. The therapist is of any descent of the director’s choice. That is how I advocate diversity and integrate different nationalities on the stage.

“Integrating generations by bringing them together in my stories, I am going against so many accepted and normal rules. I believe different generations can learn from each other, and by holding each other’s hands, we can experience healing collectively.

“I create roles for young, middle-aged, and older actors. Having different generations going through a healing journey together has a strong effect on actors and, consequently, on the audience.”

Ruby Slippers Theatre will present a staged reading of Aki Yaghoubi’s Evina’s Barrier at the Advance Theatre Festival. at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday (February 6) at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. For tickets and more information, visit the centre’s website.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.