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Edinburgh Fringe 2022 

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Ida Esmaeili  
& Nate Janis

When Will seeks out Alina’s insight for his paper on Iran, he has no idea that he will meet the love of his life. But when Alina’s visa renewal gets denied early in their relationship, the couple is suddenly faced with life-altering decisions. tenderly is the love story of an Iranian visual artist on an expiring student visa and an American writer grappling with the imminent loss of his father. An examination of how immigration complications can alter the course of families and relationships, tenderly asks the question: how far would you go for the person that you love?


Hi Ida & Nate, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping?


It’s been an absolute whirlwind. It’s our first time in Scotland, and our first time at the Fringe. We’re wearing so many different hats at once, so it’s been both exhilarating and exhausting. More than anything, and through all of that exhaustion, it’s been incredibly rewarding. It’s such a cool community here. We’ve met some of the most amazing people, seen some really awesome shows, had friends and family come out to see us, and that’s really what’s been sustaining us. 


What has it meant to you to be at Edinburgh Fringe and Greenside with tenderly after everything that has happened?


It’s really hard to put into words what it means. Ida started writing this play in 2019, and we had the intention of bringing it to Fringe in 2020. Obviously that was a dream that was put on hold. When we came back to the play (the creative team has stayed pretty much the same throughout these years), we were radically different people, performers and collaborators, and the play had a whole different meaning. To finally be able to bring it to Edinburgh feels like the perfect end to this chapter. 


Had there been any nerves ahead of your first show of the festival?


Of course! The fact that it’s such a personal play also adds to that. We both get really nervous, but we're lucky to have each other to lean on. We have each other's backs! 


On social media your Royal Mile flyering skills have been very admirable, what was it like bumping into Phoebe Waller-Bridge?


It was a major highlight of the festival, for sure. She’s The Queen of the Fringe, and we’re both big fans of her writing. She was so kind and gracious and really took the time to listen and chat with us about our play. 


The audience reaction to tenderly has been incredible, did you imagine you would get this type of response to your play?


We hoped we would! It’s always really hard to imagine the response you’re going to get from audiences that you don't personally know. We didn't have a finger on the Edinburgh pulse, if you will. Up until this point, we’d mainly performed it for our family and friends and people within our New York community. This has been a huge step beyond that, but the fact that it has resonated with audiences here is amazing. 

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Ida: can you tell me a little bit about how tenderly came about, what was it about this real life story that interested and connected with you as a playwright?


This kind of story and this kind of relationship has always been a source of inspiration for me, and something I’ve wanted to write about. I grew up around a multicultural relationship — my mother is Swedish, and my father is from Iran. Throughout my life, I’ve watched them bridge the gap between their cultures, religions and languages with curiosity and graciousness. When Nate and I started bridging our own gap between cultures… the play really started writing itself.


During the writing process what was the most challenging aspect of writing this play?


The most challenging part was separating the characters of the play from their real life source. I wanted to make really sure that they were as different from us as possible, because otherwise I think it would've been too vulnerable and too personal for either of us to perform. There are aspects of their stories and personalities that intersect with ours, but on the whole, they are radically different, and I wanted to make sure of that. My dramaturg, Anisa Rose Threlkeld, also helped me in that. 


Did you have any apprehensions about writing a play that was based in real people as well as having those people perform in the piece?


Definitely! We didn’t really know what to expect, because we’d never worked with each other in that capacity before. However, we have an amazing director, R. Lee Kratzer, who made certain that our work life and home life were separated from very early on in the rehearsal process. 


Nate & Ida: has it been cathartic in some ways for you performing in tenderly and looking back at this time in your relationship?


I don’t know if we would say that it’s “cathartic,” per se…More than anything, it’s been really fun to share this story with other people and find connection in it. 


What has been the most interesting thing you have discovered about yourself after writing and performing tenderly?


I’m really tenacious. I think that’s something most people have learnt about themselves throughout these last couple of years. With regards to this play, there were so many moments where the opportunity arose to let it go, and we never did. 


With a fringe show like this have you allowed yourself much flexibility with the material once the show started running?


We did two runs in New York City before we brought the play to Edinburgh — once at Columbia University in May, and once at The Tank in July. The rewriting of the play happened in the rehearsal process leading up to that first production in May. We wanted to make sure that by the time we got to Edinburgh, the script was solid and we felt really confident in it.

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"Weve had people respond to many different parts of the play, some unexpected."

Have you always had a passion for theatre?


Ida: Yes! As a child, my living-room was my stage, and I was its headlining star. My parents couldn’t get me to stop performing, even if they’d tried. In all seriousness, I started singing and acting in musicals when I was in elementary school, and I started seriously pursuing writing in college. I can’t imagine doing anything else. 


Nate: My passion for theatre really started in college. I’d acted in things when I was younger, but I was always more into other things like math, politics, and sports. Eventually, I reached a point where I was feeling burnt out and I came to acting to try to something new, and it lit a fire in me. I fell in love with it. 


What has been the best piece of advice you have been given?


“Replace judgment with curiosity.” — Lynn Nottage


Nate & Ida: do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone who might find themselves in a similar situation to yourselves?


Performing with your significant other? Be patient and kind with each other. Remember that performing with your partner is really special, so make sure you take the time to appreciate that. 


Performing at the Fringe? Take time to rest. Take time for yourselves. Plan ahead. 


And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from tenderly?


We hope they leave with empathy and understanding for people in this kind of complicated situation. But really, we just hope they find something true and meaningful to them in it. We’ve had people respond to many different parts of the play, some unexpected. That’s the coolest part, when people tell you the loved something or saw themselves in a moment that we didn’t think would resonate in that way. 

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