Write what you know. That’s exactly what Anusree Roy is doing. A Dora Mavor Moore award-winning playwright who emigrated to Canada from India when she was 17, Roy often looks to bring her own experience and stories into her work. Her stage work includes the plays Breathlessness, Sultans of the Street and Brothel #9. After spending several years writing, directing and producing plays, Roy eventually brought her stories into television writing rooms as she worked on both Saving Hope and Remedy. Most recently, Roy joined the Killjoys team for their fifth and final season, and is currently writing for the new Global series Nurses.
She joined The TV Junkies for our Women Behind Canadian TV series to share her experience working in both the theatre and television worlds. Roy tells us why she thinks and feels a shift being made in the way diverse stories are being told, and what it was like to join the diverse room of Killjoys in their final year. She also shares her advice for young writers and discusses the biggest hurdles for young, diverse writers.
This interview has been edited and condensed
The TV Junkies: Can you first just share a little bit about your background? I know you also are a very successful playwright, so how did you end up writing for television?
Anusree Roy: My family and I immigrated to Canada, from India, when I was seventeen. I studied theatre at York and then went onto do my Masters at U of T in Drama Studies. I’ve always wanted to write for television, because I’ve always wanted to tell diverse stories to a wider mainstream audience, so when the opportunity came up during Remedy I was really excited!
TTVJ: What are some of the biggest differences in writing for TV versus the stage? Do you hope to keep writing in both mediums?
AR: Writing for theatre is private – it’s you and the blank page. What’s amazing about that is the content you put on that page is whatever you want. No one will change it. Television is so collaborative, and when a room is vibing, its magical what comes up on the page. And yes, of course, I will keep writing for both mediums. I love theatre and I love the electric pace of television — I am grateful to be able to expand to this medium and I’m excited by the opportunities where I can create diverse characters.
TTVJ: We’ve seen and heard a lot about the lack of women behind the scenes in television. How does television compare to the theater world from your experiences as far as diversity?
AR: In my experience change is coming to both mediums. It’s been a slow process, but it’s coming. Finally diverse stories are being demanded and put on the same platform as non-diverse stories, which has been such an exciting change. When I started to write in 2006, stories from people of colour, especially women of colour, were programmed with caution and mostly to check programming boxes so that more funding would be available. In some regard a lot is still the same, but I’d say in the last five years, there has been a huge shift in the industry in regards to how stories are being told. I am truly so excited by this.
TTVJ: Have you found yourself being the token woman in the room or the token minority? If so, what’s your strategy for dealing with those situations?
AR: Yes, I have. To be honest with you, I have never had a “strategy” per se, I’ve always advocated for stories about women of colour, and to share diverse content with a responsibility towards being respectful and authentic. I’ve had amazing mentors in theatre and television who have gone on to become my bosses and who have been great allies.
TTVJ: Do you feel as though there were any opportunities you missed out on because of the fact you’re a young female POC?
AR: Yes, absolutely. It’s disheartened me but it’s made me work harder. I’ve been in work situations where I was told to my face that my skin colour will always make me “less than”, and that I should do something more useful with my time because “immigrant stories” are “too whiny and overdone”. Then again, if a writer believes every negative thing that was told to them, could they keep writing? No. So, I will keep telling my “immigrant stories” with pride, because that’s what I know best, because that’s who I am.
TTVJ: What was it like joining Killjoys when it was already established and headed into its final seasons? What were some of the challenges that created for you?
AR: It was amazing. Truly and genuinely. The people in that room were so supportive, inclusive and smart that they made it so easy for me to join the team in the last season. Michelle Lovretta and Adam Barken were a dynamic duo and I was grateful to have made so many new friends. The only challenge was catching up on forty episodes that already existed before I joined the room and to know it so well that I could pitch stories without getting confused.
TTVJ: Killjoys had a very diverse writing room, something that’s still not the norm across the board. What do you think their secret was and how can other shows learn from what they did?
AR: I think the secret was in their desire to hire diverse writers and then invest in them. That’s the key.
TTVJ: Where do you still see as some of the biggest hurdles that need to be overcome as far as diversity and the industry?
AR: Not enough senior diverse writers exist because fifteen years ago, so few were being hired. So, now, young diverse writers need to be hired and trained so that they can become senior writers one day and bring their world view into content that they can create.
TTVJ: On the other end of the spectrum, what positive changes are being made with regards to diversity in the industry that are really having an impact?
AR: There are some amazing initiatives out there with the WGC, ACTRA, Playwrights Guild that are allowing creators of colour a platform that didn’t exist before.
TTVJ: Do you have any advice to share with young people looking to break in?
AR: Study the craft. Watch as much television as possible and after you watch the shows read the scripts to learn from them. E-mail senior writers you don’t know and take them out for coffee —- I did that numerous times, and many incredible writers were so gracious and generous with their time. And most importantly, polish your samples and write as much as possible.
TTVJ: You’re also working on the upcoming Global series Nurses. Can you share with us anything about what to expect there?
AR: You can expect a really fun show, with great heartfelt stories!
TTVJ: Are there any other projects you have coming up that we should know about?
AR: I am excited to share that I am currently working with New Metric Media on my own show The Complex.
Thoughts? Share your comments below!
Nurses will air on Global in 2019. Read more from our Women Behind Canadian TV series here.