Sara Shaarawi discusses her new work for Young Co.

The latest production from the Citizens Theatre Young Co., PAL: Your AI Care Companion, opens next month at Tramway. Written by Sara Shaarawi, a playwright from Cairo, based in Glasgow. Sara was also a mentor and writer on the Young Co. Press 2 For Help production in 2022. 

Here she tells us what she's been up to since then and what has inspired her to write PAL!

Sara in PAL rehearsals. Photo by Alasdair Watson.

It's a year since Young Co.'s Press 2 For Help. What have you been working on since then?

I've been lucky because I've actually been pretty busy. Last year my play Sister Radio opened at Pitlochry Festival Theatre followed by a tour around Scotland and Derby. It was co-commissioned by Stellar Quines and Pearlfisher then co-produced by Stellar Quines and PFT. I also was invited to write a piece for Wonderfools' brilliant project Positive Stories for Negative Times, I wrote a piece for their third season which will be performed in the summer. I've written a little piece for audio which was lots of fun, as well as writing PAL which was is just so great. There are other things here and there but this has been the bulk of my work and I'm so very grateful for it.
What were your inspirations or influences when writing PAL?
In terms of genre, it was definitely Sci-fi and Dystopia. I've always enjoyed the genre and lately I've been feeling like I want to explore that more. I've always been interested in truthful storytelling in non-naturalistic worlds, in the fantastical. The other inspiration came from conversations I'd had with members of the Young Co. We initially began with chatting about the effects of social media on young people's mental health and somehow ended up with an interest in automated healthcare, the link for me is that both operate within a capitalist framework of care that preys on people's vulnerabilities. I know this all sounds quite grim, but I think the play has a lot of warmth as well as darkness, and I think it's important to talk about difficult things in theatre so I hope this play offers the space for that.
Do you think AI technology poses a threat or opportunity for theatre makers and creatives?
This is what everyone's talking about now! I really don't know. I don't know enough about it all to have an informed opinion. I guess with any technology, it'll probably be a bit of both, and as ever I'm much more concerned about the corporations in charge of the tech than I am of the tech itself. Which is something that comes across a bit in PAL actually.
What have you enjoyed most about writing/collaborating with the Young Co?
I've really loved getting to know the members of the young co both individually and as a group, they have a really great energy and spark. I just really enjoy the space they've created for themselves, and the generosity they brought to the room, as well as the curiosity they brought when we chatted about the themes of the play and about what kind of theatre and art we enjoy, and they threw themselves into any task we asked them to. As a playwright, there's really nothing more you can ask from collaborators. I'd go home with my head buzzing with ideas for the play but also with thoughts about why theatre exists, and why we continue to make it beyond the capitalist framework of "bums-on-seats."
PAL rehearsals. Photo by Alasdair Watson.
What can audiences expect from PAL: Your AI Care Companion?
It's a piece about young people trying to negotiate a harsher version of the world that exists now, where care (in all its forms) is a commodity, it's funny and dark and maybe a bit unsettling, but it also has a lot of heart. I can't wait for everyone to see it and maybe have a chat about it afterwards.