Water, Baby! is a new Halifax play about swimming and sapphic love (and other things.)
To conceive her first ever screenplay, writer and actor Trisha Malik (she/her) drew from personal experience with sexuality and self-discovery.
Malik has been interested in theatre from a young age; she initially moved to Halifax from Mumbai, India to pursue acting at Dalhousie’s Fountain School. After a brief foray into the program, though, she shifted her focus to writing, which she calls her “main passion.”
Fittingly, Water was first written as a short story before taking the stage: “It came to me a couple summers ago, the first time I was like, having my first crush. I wrote a story about these two friends who go swimming together. And it was very queer, but still kind of this nameless, everyone's-story situation,” Malik said.
Malik sculpted story into screenplay after hearing of a local opportunity: “A few years later, there was an opportunity to work with OUTFest at the Bus Stop Theatre, and I applied with an outline based on the story.”
“India cannot be separated from my art. I'm Indian. I speak about the Indian experience.
She pitched Water as a “pretty and simple” play, exploring familiar feelings of sexuality and romance through the lens of a queer brown woman. “I really liked putting the human first in the creation of art —so that the art can be its best self.”
A few months (and many pages) later, Malik developed the final script with friend and director Rooks Field-Green (he/they). Malik noted, “As the drafts progressed, I started removing myself and making it more of a story while still having the emotion of the self.”
The final product deals intimately with racial and sexual identity, though it’s careful to maintain the “everyone’s-story” feel of its predecessor. For Malik, the two aren’t mutually exclusive:
“India cannot be separated from my art. I'm Indian. I speak about the Indian experience. For this piece specifically, it was very important to have the protagonist be brown without that being the theme of the story. There’s such a lack of content about brown people just being brown people.”
This idea — brown people being brown people — captures the ethos of Malik’s work.
“Would you say [the play is] a personal encounter with something that’s maybe more universal?”
“Exactly,” she answered, “Yeah. It comes from a really vulnerable place in my own life — it's a tender story about being in love for the first time. But it also happens to be queer love, which is what I like.”
“So the queer aspect: is it one part of the experience, not the whole conversation?”
“Queerness was an important character in the story, because I hadn't written about it before. So it's significant, but I don't think it's the subject. The subject is just love and humanness and feelings.”
Dealing with personal experiences of intimacy on a public stage, Water relies on a close-knit cast to maintain emotional vulnerability. Auditions — which took place less than two months ago — were “an insanely positive experience.” Halifax’s theatre scene was fertile ground for the young playwright, who found a dedicated and collaborative team.
“Ultimately, we all believe in the goodness of art and making art — whether it's straight art, queer art, BIPIOC art, whatever. No matter where I go in the theatre community, everyone cares about the project. Everyone cares about the makers and the creators.”
I asked Malik how she felt about the play’s upcoming debut (at the time of writing, just one week away).
“Nervous and really excited.” She confessed: “This is my baby! It feels personal and private, and it’s my first venture as a writer and actor. But I have a brilliant team: my friend Griffin Bjerke-Clarke (he/him) is shooting visuals, Jess Hannaford (they/them) is stage managing like a pro, a good friend Rooks Field-Green (he/they) is directing.”
“I love that; it's a fruit of community. So what can someone with a ticket expect? Are they gonna laugh, cry?”
“God I hope they cry. That's my like, secret goal,” Malik joked, “people should expect a tender story about young love and water. Let me know what you think [water] stands for.”
Intrigued? Water, Baby! opens on Wednesday, April 26th at the Bus Stop Theatre Co-op, 2203 Gottingen Street. It runs through April 29th. Tickets and showtimes are here.
CORMAC NEWMAN studied English at the University of King's College and Dalhousie University in 2023. He’s passionate about arts, style, and culture.