An unfiltered look at homelessness | Jacob Piccinino on Zayden

Playwright-director Tyrone Grima and actor Jacob Piccinino speak to TEODOR RELJIC about Zayden, an upcoming theatrical production dealing with homelessness in Malta

Jacob Piccinino plays the title character in Zayden, an upcoming drama dealing with homelessness in Malta and staged at The Splendid in Valletta
Jacob Piccinino plays the title character in Zayden, an upcoming drama dealing with homelessness in Malta and staged at The Splendid in Valletta

Could you tell us a little bit about your trajectory as a writer up to this point? How did you first get into writing, and what would you say were your main motivations going in?

Tyrone Grima: Ever since I was a child, I had always dreamt of becoming a writer. I actually ‘invented’ narratives with the intention of writing them up when I grow up. Somehow this dream was shelved. I actually ended up in a position where I had to put pen to paper in my initial attempts as a director in school productions.

From there, I moved to writing my first plays for a more ‘professional’ setting. The first few plays I wrote were essentially an interweaving of different texts to create a new piece. I think the one in this phase that is mostly at heart is In Search of Simone in 2007, which dealt with the writings and life of Simone De Beauvoir, and which I directed for St James Cavalier in Valletta.

The shift to writing entirely ‘original’ plays happened the year after, where I penned and directed the first LGBT play in Maltese, Michel. In the same timeframe (more or less), I published my first novel in Maltese called Celibacy and followed it with two publications of short stories, co-written with Justin Schembri.

In 2013 I wrote Bep, one of the first LGBT novels in Maltese. Socio-political issues, and their interface with spirituality, have always been my main interest. It was the need bubbling up within me to express myself about these dynamics through narratives, some of which were addressed through theatrical writings, and others through the writing of novels/short stories, which motivated me to write.

What attracted you to Zayden, and what was the process of embodying such a particular character like?

Jacob Piccinino: When Tyrone first described some of the events that this character has experienced, it was hard not to be attracted to him. Perhaps ‘attracted’ is not the right word in this context, but I guess I was drawn to how different we were, to how lucky I have been to have had a roof over my head and unburdened by worries and finally, how ignorant I was about what was happening just a few kilometres away from where I live. Another thing was that Zayden doesn’t seem to have a filter for his story-telling, and this is something that is very different from myself.   

Jacob Piccinino
Jacob Piccinino

Do you believe that dramas like Zayden can help to highlight upsetting and often overlooked elements of contemporary Maltese society?

TG: I think it is essential for the theatre to bring these untold stories to the surface. This has been the function and the responsibility of the theatre over the centuries. History provides us with ample examples. Theatre is brave enough to venture into those areas that we ignore or whose realities we don’t want to confront, for whatever reason. But since it presents us these stories through a narrative, the theatre offers us a vehicle by which we can relate more to these realities. It is not a cold analysis presented in a text-book. It is happening  right before our own eyes and places us in a position where we can no longer deny that this is true, and hopefully, this will lead us to take action. Up to a certain point, the theatre places its audience in a situation where it has to act and react.

JP: I must admit that since this is the first time I shall be doing this kind of drama, I am unsure of what the general perception of people will be. Zayden will hopefully bring awareness to a subject which – speaking from my own experience – has somewhat been given the cold shoulder. By recounting his past anecdotes directly to the audience, this character aims to be on par with his viewers in the sense that he ignores/forgets the prestige which divides him from them and simply says his story as it is.   

Jacob Piccinino
Jacob Piccinino

What do you make of the local theatrical scene? What would you change about it?

JP: Malta’s theatrical and cultural scene has recently seen quite a boom, in that both artistic creations and audience attendance have flourished. However, a nagging question I keep having is this: how can we attract my parents’, aunts’ and uncles’ generation to come watch certain theatrical works being produced today? What’s also worth noting is that not all that much was happening on the scene up until a decade or so ago, and now certain artists are even making a living out of the profession… something that was unthinkable back then.

What’s next for you?

JP: Not sure, I wish I could say but… I’m not sure.  

Zayden will be staged at The Splendid, Strait Street, Valletta. Premiering on July 25 at 8pm, the show will continue with two performances a night – at 7.30pm and 9pm – on July 26, 27 and 28. Bookings: