I learnt so much from listening to Dr. Nazneen Ahmed and Dr.Mohammad Ahmedullah on Thursday at the Brady Arts Centre that I need to share. I learnt much from esteemed audience members too. The whole point of my getting involved in this the tenth year of “A Season Of Bangla Drama” sponsored by Tower Hamlets London Borough was to expand my knowledge of international drama bearing in mind that most stories acted out on stage are universal ones and are continually refreshed through innovative theatre. I also believe that to learn about another culture one must reach out to know about it through dance, drama, literature and its people of course. Sounds elementary but for me it means delving into Tagore’s life and work and learning more about the political make-up of Bengal vis a vis Bangladesh.

My exposure to east end life includes the blockbuster film “Brick Lane”, the comedy “East is East”, the book and TV film “White Teeth”, a fabulous TV docu-series recently with Alan Cumming “Urban Secrets”,  personal poetry inspiring visits to Brick Lane hip hop clubs, Suggs’ miniseries about London showing the transition from Jewish to Bengali neighbourhoods, talking to my elderly Indian Jewish ex-tailors in Whitechapel and many exploratory walks especially with Clive Bettington arranged through The Hackney Museum, joining the Hermitage Community Moorings project in Wapping to learn abot the Lascars, and attending multi-cultural events in the past at the Brady Arts Centre , and in the Rich Mix where hipsters congregate.  All of these experiences obviously shape my perceptions and realities about people in Whitechapel now.

In reality I have hardly met Bangladeshis and they have not met or endeavoured to meet me. Watching any Asian singing and dancing  i.e at Eid and Diwali celebrations in Waltham Forest and struggling through the boredom of the Darbar Festivals 2011 and 2012 on SkyArts can never give me anything except a superficial insight into other people’s lives. I am on a personal journey of fulfillment, that’s all.

The Brick Lane Circle appears to be interesting. Sounds like a reading group…groan. Dr Mohammad Ahmedullah did not give coverage about Bangla Drama in the UK now at all. He spoke about Bangla Drama as it was around the decades before The Millenium in Tower Hamlets which was known not as that then. Even now I meet people who live in Leyton and have no idea what is or where lays Tower Hamlets. They’ll relate to McDonalds “A Taste of India” this week and imagine they went to Spitalfields! Having said that most people I meet in Whitechapel have no idea where Leyton is on the perimeter of The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (2013). Waltham  Forest may as well be in Sherwood.

Back to Bangladesh.

One vocal audience member who knew his facts about dramatists from Moliere to Tagore and was a playwrite himself complained in the best possible way that the comparative study did not touch on the Midlands and Scotland . For a one  hour free exposition and slide show there was enough to absorb, I said to myself.

So before,  there were pockets of “cultural studies” going on in Whitechapel and environs pulling in youth and elders and appealing for women to come in to the community centres such as Toynbee Hall. The youth were and are interested in writing plays in English: They are after all second and third generation Bangladeshi boys and girls. Beautiful people. Dr Ahmedullah highlighted that the councils at the time were not giving generous funding and at that point we were alerted to an old book Naseem Khan’s  “The Arts Britain Ignores” all about minority cultures struggling to give identity to their cultures through the arts. We should remind ourselves that  in the eighties, Tharcher was cutting drama teacher posts. Dark times. In 2010 Hackney Empire turned off its own lights.

Looking to the future, there were three areas which need to be addressed if Bangla Drama is to survive outside the council promoted SOBD (Season Of Bangla Drama)  and these provoked audience participation and personal memories of an arts struggle. (It’s all up there with “Do we still need a Black History Month?”).

One area we needed to note is  finding ways  to overcome  the perennial problem of recruiting women into performance arts. Another  area for urgency is the  creation of opportunities for an interested youth but the drama as formal theatre is hampered by the lack of skills for drama work in the Bangladeshi community. Skills, money and time are essential if Bangla Drama is to belong to its population. At this point the audience knew there was a real dilemma and we could have slid easily into the depths of negativity. We didn’t.  Men related their own glory tales of a bygone cultural heyday. Someone’s mobile went off and we were jolted back into the Brady Arts Centre, November 2012.

At the same time in the UK national news Boyle was putting forward the case for provincial theatre and arts funding and condemning the arts minister, Maria someone saying that she never once asked to listen to Boyle and the big guns about the necessity for arts in the community. The wheel keeps on turning.

So do you know what Brady did?

Gillian Lawrence is a UK  graduate in drama and education.(Univ.of Leicester)