Arakan Creative is the first theatre company of its kind in Bradford and the North of England
specialising in stories within the Islamic world. The production company’s Director, Conor Ibrahiem tells us more about its work and achievements.
What is your project about? What are its aims?
Arakan Creative is an Islamic theatre and film production company, established with our debut play entitled ‘Hijaab’ in 2009. The aim is to shine a positive light on the Muslim world with stories from today’s world and our history to entertain, educate and crucially, de-hate the haters.
When and how did your project start?
The idea was born sometime in the mid noughties and it remained in my head, not knowing how I was going to make this happen. That is, start an Islamic theatre company. I knew it could be done though thanks to the inspiration of the Khayaal Theatre company in Luton. They were the first and are the pioneers, so I’ll always pay homage to that.
What pushed me forward was the constant annoyance of auditioning for terrorists or taxi drivers and seeing pretty much one narrative being platformed by Western media – that Muslims are the baddies. Yes I was an actor before I decided to produce my own work. Then I saw an opportunity locally in Bradford to help new businesses go from ‘page to stage’ as it were with seed funding. I applied. I failed. Then around 6 months later, a new staff member from the same organisation where I could have gained the seed funding was looking over old applications and called me. She said she saw potential in the idea…she helped…I re-applied…and this time I got the funding.With their funding and my own savings I produced our debut play, Hijaab. It premiered in Bradford and a number of outings after that. After Hijaab, we were commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to produce a play based on their recent research findings and from there were secured future commissions. Alas regular/core funding was never forthcoming and I was rejected by the Arts Council a few times.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Our debut feature film, Freesia, the first UK film about Islamophobia. We did that on only £27,000, which is about 1% of a standard British film. Quite difficult when you think of the odds but hey, since when I like to do things the easy way. We filmed it in 13 days and were exhausted but it was worth it. We got 17 festival nominations and won 4 awards, toured to 10 UK cinemas and even featured on BBC Breakfast, masha’Allah.
How has COVID affected your project/organisation? Have you amended your offering?
It hasn’t. Due to lack of funding we haven’t produced anything since 2018, which was a series of primary school workshops delivering a new comic book project about Abrahamic superheroes. Naturally if I was to secure another commission I would exercise the protocols to factor in COVID. What has affected Arakan’s offerings is lack of new funding and, surprisingly, a lack of interest from sections of the Muslim community to really push the arts/media by self-creators. There are many who complain of lack of representation and constant stereotypes but are somehow silent when it comes to supporting Muslim artists. But since when did that stop me? I have Allah and what will be will be.
Do you currently have any voluntary opportunities in your organisation? How can people get involved?
No, unfortunately. Arakan remains in the wings until our next calling. Or maybe it won’t happen. I have a ‘day job’ now and focus on scripts in my spare time so we shall see. I always want to give opportunities and volunteers are worth their weight in gold – but – they are rare for me as I have always paid my staff with the odd exception.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to others who are involved in/starting social projects?
Focus on your idea. Focus some more. Keep doing that till it’s perfect. Then start with the resources you have (clue: a phone, a social media account). Get some traction, build your credibility and then apply for funding (yes, even the Arts Council). If you only have you at the end of this effort, check in with your passion. Still got it? Good, then pick yourself up and do it all over again. And make any tweaks to your next approach if needed. Importantly, make your idea original. There is always room for good people with good ideas in the world.
To see Arakan Creative’s listing and contact information, click here.