Posted: 29 April 2024

Artist Spotlight: Actor, Puppeteer, and Writer, PEYVAND SADEGHIAN

With performance at the core, Peyvand is an Actor, Puppeteer, and Writer evolving a multi-disciplinary practice encompassing the stop motion animation, film and digital technology.

A small woman, loud cockney, ethnically ambiguous. The child of an immigrant and refugee, London-born-bred, yet not born British, Peyvand sits at an intersection between the colonised and coloniser. Their work is informed by real-world research, geopolitics, social theory and lived experience. Embracing an approach that is inquisitive, and responsive, she seeks to make work for a similarly curious audience. Believing in the communal act of theatre to root those present, in the present, and the potentials for exchange this offers, invitations to an audience are made to engage, invigorate and proximate. 

What came first for you – acting or writing? And what’s it like doing both? 

Acting came first – mostly because that is often the only option when coming into performing arts when you’re young. But even then, I was always full of ideas and drawn to devised and new writing projects. In my early career, I was often the actor brought in to work with new work at the R&D stage, and loved the collaborative approach and seeing my imprint on a work through to production. I just hadn’t considered myself a writer before in the traditional sense. 

I thrive on doing lots of different things (although sometimes to my detriment) and can’t imagine having to pick one or the other. Both involve research and reflection. As a performer, it really depends on the project nature, team and medium as to how much you’re involved in shaping it. For instance, as an actor for screen, you are not the final building block; you provide a palette for the editor and director to work from, whereas in theatre, that responsibility often lies with you, as the final impression left with an audience. And as a writer, my experience is still very early days, but it’s very different writing for yourself. Something I’ve found particularly liberating is writing with no intention of performing it myself – it’s been really exciting to hand over my words to a creative team to realise. 

Your play Dual دوگانه , which drew on your personal experience as a dual citizen of the UK and Iran, opened at Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year before going on tour across the UK. Why was it important for you to write the piece?

This piece began with my 2019 residency at Camden People’s Theatre’s Starting Blocks program and marked my first step as an independent theatremaker. The impetus came after hearing many Britis complain about the limitations of a UK passport or the potential of a £20 visa-on-arrival fee for holidays. They seemed oblivious to their inherent passport privilege. Regardless of our feelings, nationality shapes us all. I wanted to use my own experience to start a conversation about passports, official “Identity,” and how these factors impact the trajectory of our lives. I aimed to share the complex, contradictory feelings surrounding multiple nationalities – circumstances often beyond our control, yet deeply influential. 

While these themes were always relevant, the political landscape has shifted dramatically since the play’s Vault Festival 2020 debut. The Woman, Life, Freedom movement in Iran, sparked by the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini in September 2022, has brought a new urgency to the piece. Dual دوگانه aims to empower audiences to advocate for their own causes and stand in solidarity with others. I’m feeling this acutely right now, witnessing a concerning lack of understanding about how global these struggles are and how nothing exists in isolation 

Proudest moment so far? 

Partnering with Amnesty UK during the tour of Dual دوگانه was especially meaningful. I asked people to send in videos saying “Woman, Life, Freedom” in different languages. The range of support from was incredibly touching, and my family in Iran felt that love deeply. 

Another highlight was being commissioned for a horror monologue by Terrifying Women. My (anonymous ) pitch was bold – the actor would need to submerge their head underwater, and it had to be for a meaningful reason! I was busy with another acting job, so I handed the project over to Director Nicky Allpress and performer Maia Tamrakar. They absolutely nailed it! I loved sitting anonymously in the audience, hearing the reactions – it was thrilling. 

What is the most challenging thing about being a creative freelancer for you and do you have any top tips on how you deal with this? 

Paying bills while avoiding burnout! I haven’t perfected the work-life balance, but I firmly believe that much of this industry is beyond our control, regardless of how talented we are. So I would say: 

  • Follow your genuine curiosity: This is what will sustain you in the long run.  
  • Maintain your identity outside of work: Having interests and passions beyond your career gives you a sense of self and purpose that isn’t solely tied to the unpredictable nature of freelancing. 

Who were your creative inspirations growing up? 

I was obsessed with anything Roald Dahl and knew his Revolting Rhymes off by heart. The mish mash of cherry-picked and, at times, very unreliable hand-me-downs of culture from two immigrant parents. Punk and Poly Styrene.

What was the last play you saw? 

I’m embarrassed to say, Minority Report. Not my usual choice – don’t judge me.

What was that one moment when you knew you wanted to work in arts/theatre? 

When I was told for the umpteenth time at school to get back in my seat and stop acting out the thing I should be sat in my seat writing. 

What was the last compliment you received?  

I just got a fresh hair cut , so it was for that!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into theatre? 

Consider all the other roles that go into making a piece of work, because you might be surprised at what you’re also interested in pursuing.

What’s coming up next for Peyvand Sadeghian? 

I’ll be bringing Dual دوگانه back for a performance at Derby Theatre/In Good Company’s Departure Lounge Festival in July. 

Acting in Laura Horton’s new play Lynn Faces at Summerhall Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it combines two of my nerdy niche loves – Alan Partridge and punk. 

Then I’ll be at the Unicorn Theatre in a new piece by Tim Crouch that I had the pleasure of R&Ding last year. 

And I’m developing a new piece which will have an extract sharing through CRIPtic Arts Launchpad programme at the end of the year.