Meet the Artist: Shahana Jan

Shahana Jan  Photo by Humayun M.

Shahana Jan

Photo by Humayun M.

Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing actor, director, and writer Shahana Jan.

Shahana is an actor and director from Islamabad, Pakistan. Jan studied film and TV production in Cape Town, South Africa, and later trained in acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York City. Her work has taken her to Turkey, Serbia, Italy, South Africa, Thailand, and Kazakhstan. Her most recent directorial work was the music video for Walk The Moon’s We Are the Kids. She was seen on stage for the Philadelphia Young Playwright’s Mouthful Monologue Festival 2018 and will be seen on TV in an exclusive PBS series this Fall.

LL: What brought you to Philadelphia?

SJ: I got married! Plain and simple. My husband, Gibran, is from here. Thankfully, this was a welcome move. Philly is great. I’ve come to really like it.

LL: This is our second show together, what keeps you coming back for more?

SJ: What’s not to love about EBP? For me, I think it’s this wonderful space that EBP provides: the space to be open, non-judgmental, accepting, and collaborative. It really is a place to give voice to honest vignettes of the human condition. Particularly in the shows I’ve done with EBP, I’ve felt a certain fellowship, a bond with this strong, empathetic female narrative. And that’s just a really nice place to be creatively and more importantly to connect with others on a human level.

LL: In Mother/Daughter you’re performing a piece that you wrote about your mother’s immigration story. What inspired you to share such a deeply personal story?

SJ: Moving here, I’ve had to undergo a life transformation, as all immigrants do. I realized that while I was going through the struggles of finding a new life, so was my mother, but on an altogether different level. Uprooting your entire life to begin again somewhere new is hard for most people, but we don't hear enough about older immigrants. We talk about younger immigrant stories because we love to hear how they made it in the new world through years of hard work, etc. The American Dream, yes? But what about those who’ve already lived a full life; lived their so-called glory years? How does the American Dream apply to them? I witnessed this first-hand with my mother.  The piece is a bittersweet revelation.

LL: Woman. Pakistani. Immigrant. How do these labels inform your work?

SJ: When I moved to America from Pakistan movements like #MeToo and Time's Up were just surfacing. Having arrived in a country that boasted a lot of freedoms I didn't have growing up in Pakistan, I was already in the process of discovering what it meant to be a woman. The timing of my arrival was rather serendipitous. I often say I feel like I’ve woken up from the matrix: I'm questioning and reevaluating the way I look at and respond to things trying to determine if they're conditioned by a patriarchal society or my own personal beliefs. I guess that ties into how I feel about being a Pakistani, too. 

I love Pakistan. It's home. And there’s so much that I value about it culturally.  I want to hold onto that. I think for me, it's a matter of finding the right balance. 

As for being an immigrant, that’s a whole other thing. The fact that I’m labeled by a color in America is still something I'm getting used to.   

And then there’s the constant fear of being boxed in by all the above labels. For me, in terms of my work, it's most important to shed a light on my heritage and identity as a Pakistani but to also show that identities evolve and grow and that that’s okay. As a woman, I want my work to now explore things I wasn’t able to previously. It's the right time to be a woman of color in America.

LL: What role do you think art and artists play in times of social and political unrest?

SJ: From what I’ve known, Art has always been a response to the world it was born in. It's a reflection of the current state, a snapshot of the world as it was, and a beautiful time capsule to look back on. Artists have the ability to enlighten, to connect people during social or political unrest. It’s one of the best way to tap into the hearts and minds of humanity to actually effect change. I think Art and Artists play a vital role in documenting and preserving the human story and legacy.

LL: Would you rather be in front of the camera/onstage or behind it (writing, directing, shooting)?

SJ: Always in front of the camera/onstage! I love the direct connection an actor has with an audience; living out the lives and telling the stories. It's exhilarating! It makes me feel alive in the moment. Having said that, there is a Storyteller in me and I enjoy the process of making things happen,  so I will most definitely be writing and directing my whole life.

LL: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Fringe Festival?  

SJ: Honestly, our show! I haven’t been able to run through the Festival program yet but I’m going to get on that soon!

LL: Where can audiences see you after Fringe? What’s next for you?

SJ: Hopefully on a TV Screen this Fall! I’ll be on an exclusive PBS series. Stay tuned!

LL: I want to thank you and your mother for sharing your stories. I am so looking forward to meeting her.

SJ: Thank you for being the wonderful Lauren Leonard.

Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)