The next interview in our stagey chat series, is with the incredible Aisha Josiah. Aisha is both a writer and a producer. Her hugely successful play, Dickless, opened at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2017, and is now set open as part of the Bitesize Festival at the Riverside Studios on 30th January.

Get yourself comfy and join us for the next segment of Stagey Chat!

Hi Aisha, thank you so much for chatting to Stage to Page today. Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us how you first got into writing and producing?

Sure! I am a British-American playwright and dramaturg who was raised largely between New York and London. When I was five, I began figure skating and spent the next twelve years or so as a competitive singles and synchronised skater. In my late teens, I began to drift away from skating and I writing gradually filled the void. I'd always been an avid, torch-under-the-duvet reader, so outside of angsty poetry and journal entries, I began writing short stories, the beginnings of epic fantasy novels (I'll get back to them one day) and the occasional radio play. 

At some point, I managed to land a fashion internship at the BBC which was far more interesting than sixth form, and that introduced me to film & TV production. I actually saw my first 'proper' play at 19. It was 'When the Rain Stops Falling' at the Almeida Theatre in Islington. It was a particularly rebellious, lonely time for me as a teenager; I'd moved out of my parents home and was really searching for meaning. I had little to do outside of work and would walk the streets for hours, just for something to do. So there seemed something fateful in discovering the Almeida one day and realising that I had exactly £8 in my pocket which was the price of a restricted-view seat. I remember sitting with my head craned around a pole for two hours and I was just awestruck. So after that, I got involved with the theatre's Young Friend's program and started writing plays. From there, I got an internship in TV production at Roundhouse Studios and then applied and got into the Dramatic Writing programme at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and things just carried on from there. So, it was quite a convoluted path!

Dickless has been on my radar since my visit to Edinburgh in 2017, so I'm incredibly excited it's here in London next month. Can you tell us more about the play?

Dickless was written at a moment of transition; I was in my final year of Tisch and full of that panic I think many students feel— What's the plan? What am I going to do next? How am I going to live? The uncertainty wasn't new; but after four years of art school, I'd somehow managed to become less confident. I'd matured (a bit) and knew far more about what I didn't know as a writer. I'd also unknowingly developed an endocrine disorder which really made me feel like a stranger in my own body much of the time. I remember sitting down on my bed to write one day and after struggling for hours, thought, "I wonder what it would feel like to be as blindly confident as when I was as a teenager?" I started trying out different mannerisms and swaggers and landed on the voice of Kelly from Misfits (played by Lauren Socha), which was my favourite show at the time. That iconic line she says to Nathan (Robert Sheehan): "You do that again, I'll kick you so hard in the c**t, your mum'll feel it"— that just lit up my brain. I repeated it on a loop, and somehow, it led to the character of Saff. In many ways, Saff is me then— full of bravado and constantly on the run from something that I could never quite articulate.

What inspired you to write this story and then bring it to the stage as a one-woman show?

When I graduated from Tisch, I'd written Act 1 of Dickless. I'd only intended it to be a one-act but it felt unfinished. So, I tinkered more with it over the next year, developing The Oli’s character and Act 2, and ended up presenting it at a scratch night called Poetry Electric at La Mama Theatre Club in NYC. I had no money to pay an actor, so I performed it myself; and I think that experience was where I really learned how to tell a compelling story.

After Dickless' amazingly successful run at the Fringe, is there anything you've changed about the play before it's run at the Riverside Studios?

While some dialogue and has definitely changed and been refined, the core of the play is largely the same. Since 2017, I've also written a one-act called Drowners that occurs in the same town on the same night, and while that's not being performed at Riverside, it's sort of widened the Marvel-universe of the story.

Are you currently working on any other projects right now? If so, we'd love to hear more about them!

Always! I've got a play in development called Drum Circle. It's another black comedy about female film producers which looks at ambition and power in the movie industry following #MeToo. I'm also working on a TV pilot about a young woman who has either landed a mysterious private detective job or is completely losing her mind after experiencing a random assault. Like Dickless, both are based on small kernels of truth blown up to horrifyingly hilarious proportions.

And what does the writing process look like for you? Is there a certain way you plan your writing?

It's almost always dialogue first. I'll hear a word or phrase or rhythm and it'll become an ear-worm, repeating endlessly until I can find some character and context to justify it. Plot-wise, I tend to work out the beginning, sketch out an ending, then fill in the gaps in the middle, and then redo the end. It's not so much a plan as me being impatient to get to the good/climactic stuff!

My blog is called Stage to Page. But if you could turn any book, from page to stage, what would it be and why?

It feels like a cursed chalice to turn your favourite book into another medium; it never sits in your head quite the same way again, does it? That said, I'm mildly obsessed with Michel Tournier's "Friday" (originally, "Vendredi ou la vie sauvage"). It's a sort of retelling of Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" which immediately departs from the familiar shipwrecked-man-conquers-nature narrative and instead details the (far more realistic and interesting) shipwrecked-man-understandably-suffers-mental-breakdown-and-leaves-us-wondering-what-if-anything-is-real-anymore. For me, it reads as this beautiful psychological horror; some of the scenes literally make me shudder because the depiction of mental collapse is so visceral. I'd love to put that on a stage. That, or "Gone Girl! The Musical".

And finally, what do you hope audiences take away from the show, and why should they book a ticket to Dickless?

My favourite aspect of Dickless is that any moral compass you expected is pretty much flung out of the window from the start. The characters are all flawed and messy and compelling— like watching a brawl on reality TV. These antiheroes seduce you, make you complicit, then shove you in front of a mirror to see the carnage. It's a wild sixty minutes and I hope audiences will leave slightly windswept, questioning, "Who the hell am I?"

You can book tickets to see Dickless, at the Riverside Studios here.

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