Middle Eastern American Theatre: History, Playwrights and Plays

 

Forward

by Holly Hill

In the 2008-10 American theatre seasons, two events occurred that would have been impossible a decade earlier.  The first was announced in spring 2008: Middle East America (MEA): a National New Plays Initiative, a partnership between the Lark Play Development Center in New York, Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco and Silk Road Theatre Project in Chicago.  The winner of the first MEA Distinguished Playwright Award, announced in October, was Adriana Sevan, a New York-born artist of Armenian, Basque and Dominican heritage.  She received a $10,000 commission to write a new play, with intensive developmental support from the Lark and workshops/readings and possible productions at Golden Thread and Silk Road.  Due to the excellence of the applicants, Special Jury Prizes of $1000 were also awarded to Turkish American Sinan Ünel and Lebanese American Leila Buck.(1)

The second unique event was Salaam.Peace: an Anthology of Middle Eastern American Drama, published in the fall of 2009 by Theatre Communications Group.  Including plays by American writers of Egyptian, Armenian-Iranian, Iraqi, Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian heritage, the collection was the first of its kind.

The emergence of individual artists, of institutions and programs and of the anthology dedicated to work by Middle Eastern Americans in the first decade of the 21st century adds strong and vibrant new threads to the American theatrical quilt woven in the previous half-century by African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans.  This essay offers a history of Middle Eastern American theatre development.

I am co-editor of Salaam.Peace, and the information here is a further development of the Introduction I wrote for the anthology.  Since I have not, alas, seen most of the productions or met the artists and theatre personnel cited, the research is based on information accessed online, and in phone interviews, as will be noted.

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In addition to the End Notes, there are Bios of artists whose names are printed in boldface the first time they are mentioned.  Lastly, an Annotated List of Plays by (self-designated) Middle Eastern American authors is offered, with production data (number and gender of actors, sets, special requirements).  My hope is that this essay and the additional information included here will further the production of plays by Middle Eastern American authors and the study of Middle Eastern American theatre.

I am deeply grateful to my longtime colleague and friend Sharon Jensen, Executive Director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, and to her colleagues at the Alliance, for giving this material a home base.

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Background:  Native Language Theatre

Before Middle Eastern American (hereafter MEA, not to be confused with the program mentioned in the first paragraph) dramatists began writing plays in English, émigré speakers of Arabic and Farsi (the language of Iran, also called Persian) began theatres in their native languages to celebrate their culture, address problems of passage and assimilation and build bridges to American culture.

Iranians came to the U.S. in two waves, first at the time of the Islamic Revolution (1978-79) and second between 1980 and 1990.  By 2000, over half of all immigrants from Iran lived in California. (2)  Los Angeles is called “Tehrangeles,” by the largest exile community.  There, a stellar couple has devoted much of their careers to Farsi theatre.  Shohreh Aghadshloo became the first Iranian “crossover” artist when she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 2003 for her portrayal of Ben Kingsley’s wife in House of Sand and Fog.  She and her husband, actor/playwright Houshang Touzie, formed a group they called Drama Workshop ’79 after the Teheran studio where she began her acting career.(3)  Touzie writes and one or both of them has acted in a series of dramas and satirical comedies about immigrant life that tour, mostly to Iranian communities, nationally and internationally. (4)

The Bay Area of California also boasts a large Iranian population.  In Berkeley, writes author/actress/director Sepideh Koosha: “In 1985 a group of us theatre lovers got together and formed a Farsi-speaking theatre group.  We called it ‘Darvag’ which [means] a frog thrashes and croaks to announce the coming of the hoped-for rain.” (5)

Darvag’s productions have ranged from classical and contemporary Iranian dramas to new works by company members and translations of Pinter, Ionesco, Dorfman, Chekhov, Brecht and Marsha Norman. Among the new works was Suitcase, written by Darvag co-founder Farhad Ayeesh and subtitled An Iranian Tragicomedy with Global Reverberations. (6)  San Francisco Chronicle critic Robert Hurwitt described the play as taking place in a “skewed-perspective, distressed-concrete room [where] each character entered carrying an old suitcase, briefcase or hatbox.  The psychological dislocation of the immigrant takes on the physical form of a No Exit.” (7)

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In 1994, a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation enabled the group, which hoped to introduce Iranian drama to American audiences, to mount its first bilingual production. (8)  “We have to relay our vision to more than Iranians because we ourselves have been outside of Iran for so long,” said Darvag actor Ali Dadgar, who left Iran in 1977. (9)

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jonathan Curiel commented: “Darvag is well-known to the estimated 200,000 Iranian Americans who live in the greater Bay Area, but it’s only been in the past several years, as Darvag has performed more plays in English, that more non-Iranians have discovered the company’s artistically provocative work.” (10)  These have included an English version of Suitcase and a contemporary Iranian classic, Death of Yazdgerd.  Bahram Beyzaie wrote the 1980 drama about the mysterious death of the last pre-Islamic shah in 651, just as Persia was conquered by Arab invaders, using an ancient story to reflect on the overthrow of the more recent shah and another Islamic takeover. (11)

Among Arab Americans, the most culturally active community is in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan. (12)  It houses the Arab American National Museum, the Center of Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the Arab American News, the Arab American Friendship Center and an antic theatre company called AJYAL (“new generation”).

Since 1989, AJYAL has produced original comedies in Arabic, with such success that it has performed for audiences in Arab communities across the U.S. and in Canada, Australia and Lebanon.  The plays are broadly humorous views of the challenges facing Arab immigrants to America.  Some of their English titles are Arabic and Broud; Me No Terrorist; Smile You’re in Dearborn; Habby Bairday and We Became American, Finally. (13)

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English occasionally pops up, as video clips available on the company’s website demonstrate.  An immigration officer asks an old woman named Im Hussein what she has in her luggage and she replies “peanuts,” but the officer thinks she is saying “penis.”  An Arab woman tells an American man that her first name is Victoria and that her last name is Arabic and sounds like “secret.”  He responds: “Oh, so you’re Victoria’s Secret.”

The plays are the creation of Najee Mondalek, who founded AJYAL in 1988 with community college friends.  In 1994, Mondalek wrote the character of a Lebanese matriarch named Im Hussein (Mother of Hussein).  The actress playing the role had to leave suddenly when her father died and Mondalek threw on a dress and headscarf and went on for a performance.  He was a huge success and has since written and performed Im Hussein in four more plays. (14)  Robert K. Elder in the Chicago Tribune noted that “Im Hussein has become [Mondalek’s] Dame Edna.”(15)

While these and other Farsi and Arabic theatres (16) have not directly generated today’s Middle Eastern American artists, their portrayal of émigrés’ personal and cultural concerns through theatre has built bridges for the new writers, actors, directors and producers who choose to work in English.  Torange Yeghiazarian, founder of Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco, says: “The fact that Darvag had already created a strong theatre audience in Berkeley through twelve years of work in Persian made the Bay Area a fertile ground for Golden Thread’s work.  Having an audience that was ready to listen, watch and respond and, more importantly, provide financial support, made all the difference for us.” (17)

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Golden Thread Productions

Yeghiazarian is the Margo Jones founding mother figure of Middle Eastern American theatre. (18)  Golden Thread Productions evolved from a production of Yeghiazarian’s San Francisco State MA thesis play, a Middle Eastern adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata called Operation No Penetration.  “It was important to me to attach a name to the company, and as I was reading Greek mythology at the time, I was inspired by the tale of Ariadne giving Theseus a ball of golden thread to lead him out of the labyrinth.  For me, theatre is that golden thread that helps you find your way in life.” (19)

She describes the 1997 company debut modestly: “Operation No Penetration was about Israelis and Palestinians getting together and going on a sex strike to end the conflict.  It was a shoestring production—the technical values I would be ashamed to describe—but it was spirited, with great music and nice dance sequences, and we gave it everything we had.  We had full houses for the six performances we gave at the Next Stage Theatre in San Francisco, which was surprising and encouraging.”

Each year from 1997-2000, Golden Thread Productions did one play, including three world premieres. Six Plays-en short in 1999 was its first program of staged readings of one-acts, which by the next season evolved into an annual ReOrient Festival.  They performed in rented spaces where, with the financial and hands-on help of colleagues, family and friends, Yeghiazarian piloted the ship while working full time as a clinical biologist doing research on AIDS. (20)  In 2001, Yeghiazarian says, “We were just ready,” and she quit her day job, recruited a Board of Trustees and established Golden Thread as a not-for-profit theatre.  Their mission: To present theatre that explores Middle Eastern cultures and identities as represented throughout the globe.

Among Golden Thread’s achievements in 2001 was its West Coast premiere of Deep Cut, a drama by Egyptian/British/Canadian playwright Karim Alrawi that had previously been produced at Wooly Mammoth (D.C. 1995) and LaMama (NY, 1996).  The drama told the story of a young woman who realizes that her liberal American father allowed her Egyptian mother to have her circumcised and questioned the issue of selective intervention at the individual and national level.  After that successful run, the company looked forward to its ReOrient short play festival, to begin on September 27—as it turned out, just weeks after 9/11.

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The company issued a statement condemning the “inhumane and atrocious acts,” expressing sympathy and condolences to all who had lost loved ones in the tragedy” and affirmed: “Now more than ever it is crucial to go forward with a cultural event that we hope will foster a deeper understanding of our shared humanity.”  The six plays in ReOrient 2001 included Yeghiazarian’s Abaga, about forbidden love between an Armenian man and Turkish woman in 1915 Istanbul and between their child and a Jewish immigrant in 1935 Jerusalem; Yussef El Guindi’s adaptation of Chekhov’s A Marriage Proposal and Stoning, a story of possible adultery during the Iran-Iraq War by Ghazi Rabihavi, a U.K. immigrant whose writing is banned in his native Iran.

ReOrient works have dealt with such post 9/11 problems for Middle Eastern Americans as suspicion, hostile stereotyping, surveillance, suspension of civil rights and rendition.  There have also been comedies—from classical Egyptian author Tawfiq al Hakim’s The Donkey Market to a reality-based tale about an MEA singer told she has to Learn to Be Latina to have a successful commercial career.

The Festival is an integral, ongoing feature of Golden Thread, a venue for established and emerging writers.  In 2004 Betty Shamieh’s first play Chocolate in Heat was one of the offerings, with Shamieh giving a special performance of her work in the opening week.  2004 also began Golden Thread’s collaboration with Naomi Wallace, the 1999 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship winner, through the production of Wallace’s Between the Eyes, about an Israeli’s memories of his father’s mistreatment of their Palestinian housekeeper. Yeghiazarian’s Call Me Mehdi debuted at the 2005 ReOrient Festival, which also included works by Naomi Wallace and Yussef El Guindi.  Laura ShamasPistachio Stories, a play inspired by her receipt of nuts and a mysterious note from Syria on the day after 9/11 (21), was done in 2006 and 2007, and in the latter season were plays by Wallace and El Guindi.

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In addition to El Guindi one-acts in the ReOrient Festivals, Golden Thread has given World Premieres of two of his full-length plays, Back of the Throat (2005) and Jihad Jones and the Kalishnikov Babes (2008).  Among its other mainstage productions have been Leslie Ayvazian’s Susan Smith Blackburn Award-winning play about an Armenian-American family, Nine Armenians (2002), a tale based on a 10th-century Ismaili Islamic fable Island of Animals (2006) and an international collaboration, Benedictus (2007).

A world premiere that played in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Benedictus was developed over two years by Golden Thread’s Artistic Director Yeghiarzarian, Theatre Without Borders founder Roberta Levitow, leading Israeli playwright Motti Lerner, Iranian-American director Mahmood Karimi-Hakak and Broadway theatre designer (Spring Awakening) and trained mediator Danny Michaelson.

The collaborators were interested in exploring the relationship between Iran, Israel and the U.S.  They crafted a story about two childhood friends, one Jewish and one Muslim, who are on opposing sides after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  Facing an imminent U.S. invasion of Iran, they meet secretly at a Benedictine monastery in Rome to try and negotiate an agreement for safety and freedom.  Bay Guardian critic Robert Avila commented: “Our perspective as audience—implicated in but also outside the power games that define the limits of the possible onstage—allows perhaps for another set of possibilities for transcending the old discourse and inaugurating another, built (like the play itself) on new alliances across an overwhelmingly common interest.” (22)

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Golden Thread’s Youth Program began in 2002 with a short summer camp for children from the local Iranian community and expanded the following year to a camp in an Armenian school.  The program now includes The Fairytale Players, an ensemble that creates and performs plays based on children’s stories from the Middle East.  In addition, each GT season includes special events—a playwriting workshop with Naomi Wallace, two nights of work by Emerging Iranian Playwrights , an evening of poetry, theatre and dance celebrating International Women’s Day.

“I’d say that at least half of our audiences are white and younger,” Yeghiazarian comments.  “We get a lot of students.  We do outreach to campuses, we provide students with big discounts, we hire them as interns.  Our Middle Eastern audiences vary from production to production.  When we did Nine Armenians, I’d say 90% of the houses were Armenians, and then none of them showed up for other productions.  If we do an Iranian play we get Iranians.  We haven’t marketed to the mosques or to the conservative community, except when we did Island of Animals.  The Islamic community was very supportive of that production; then some came to ReOrient and it was too much for them.  You can understand that—Island of Animals was about everyone learning to get along and who can take issue with that?  ReOrient is all about questioning and confronting.”

People outside Middle Eastern American communities often think of insiders monolithically, as “Arabs” and “Muslims.”  Inside, identities are much more complex.  In 2006, Torange Yeghiazarian wrote about herself for Iranian.com: “First name, Persian.  Last name, Armenian…In Iran, people always asked: Are you Iranian or Armenian?  In the U.S. they ask: Are you Moslem or Christian?  I always give the same answer: Both.  For years I worked in hospitals and laboratories.  Then decided to change careers and focus on Theatre.  Adding one more dichotomy to my identity, that of the scientist versus the artist.  When people ask which are you? I answer: Both.” (23)

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Silk Road Theatre Project

Complex genealogies and experiences also characterize Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani, two Chicago businessmen who founded their Silk Road Theatre Project in 2002 as a response to 9/11.

Born in Chicago, Khoury is the son of a Polish American mother and a Syrian-born Orthodox Christian father.  In September of 2001, he was a cross-cultural trainer for an international relocations consulting firm, preparing clients for overseas work assignments.  He loved theatre and was working on a play, but had no expectation of theatre as his life work.

Neither had Gillani, who was born in Pakistan to Shia Ismaili Muslim parents of Syrian heritage.  Shortly after 9/11, Gillani found that strangers were crossing the street when they saw him coming; one of his employees at his family business quit because he didn’t want to work for a Muslim; photographs of Osama bin Laden with darts through his head were placed in an office he frequently visited. (24)

Khoury and Gillani wanted to do something to counter anti-Arab and anti-Muslim feelings and, in classic American tradition, they decided to put on a show; an idea which, by the summer of 2002, blossomed into founding the Silk Road Theatre Project.

Silk Road takes its name from the trade route from Japan to Italy traversed for over eighteen hundred years. There were more than 1.5 million people of Silk Road heritage in metropolitan Chicago, but Khouri and Gillani recognized a void of representation in the city’s thriving theatre community.  “We feel it’s a very strong and compelling mission,” Khoury states.  “We are specifically interested in telling stories of Silk Road people and their diaspora communities.  We do plays by people of Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean backgrounds who are writing about said backgrounds.  In the work we select, the playwrights have been very directly affected by their upbringing, cultural milieu, family, heritage—all that has become a part of their voice.”

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Silk Road officially came into existence in the summer of 2002 and its first production was of Khoury’s play Precious Stones, which opened in January 2003.  The title, Khoury told Sura Faraj, (25) “evolved from images of what stones represent, from stones as tools of liberation during the intifada to stones used for building, the holy Ka’aba stone, the Dome of the Rock, or the Jewish tradition of putting stones on graves.  The significance of stones touches on gay history, too…Among other things, stones were thrown during the Stonewall uprising in New York City.”

The play was set in Chicago in 1989 (during the first intifada, the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule) and was about a Jewish and a Palestinian woman who organize a Jewish/Arab dialogue group and find themselves falling in love.  Based on issues that Khoury had faced growing up as an Arab American and self-described queer feminist, working and studying in the Middle East for five years and living with his life partner Malik, Precious Stones explored the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and issues of sexuality and class.  After a seven-week run, the play went on a college tour.

The business and marketing skills of Khoury and Gillani, who became, respectively, Artistic and Executive Director of Silk Road, brought their theatre early dividends.  Gillani contacted the Rev. Philip Blackwell at Chicago Temple about buying group tickets to Precious Stones.  Some weeks after the run ended, Silk Road was invited to become the resident theatre at the Temple, a United Methodist church that had a diverse congregation, was open seven days a week, and wanted to house a secular multi-cultural arts organization.  Silk Road moved into its home, a flexible 99-seat theatre space in an historic building at the center of Chicago’s Loop theatre district.  Chicago Sun-Times writer Cathleen Falsani speculated: “Who knows?  Planting its roots in a church basement worked for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company….” (26)

Silk Road’s season has grown from one major production in its 2003 season, to two in 2004-07 and three in 2007-08. Three of these have been plays by Yussef El Guindi.  In 2003, the Project launched an annual staged reading series.  “Al Kasida” (“the ode” in Arabic), was chosen as the series title, Khoury explains, “to evoke the rich tradition of storytelling and epic poetry in the lands of the Silk Road.” The series has included work by El Guindi, Nathalie Handal, Rana Kazkaz and Iranian dramatist Mohsen Yalfani.

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Silk Road has become an important citizen in Chicago’s cultural life.  Lyle Allen, Executive Director of the League of Chicago Theatre, observes that “for a new theatre to be at such a level speaks to the vision and dedication of Jamil and Malik.” (27)  One example of the partners’ entrepreneurship is their 2008 initiative Looks Like Chicago.

Khoury and Gillani, in conversations with journalist Novid Parsi, helped inspire a cover story in Time Out Chicago (July 27, 2006) about how the city, with no ethnic or racial majority, failed to reflect this diversity in its theatre scene.  The magazine suggested that its theatre did not, in effect, look like Chicago. (28) So Khoury and Gillani  created Looks Like Chicago to encompass the under-represented non-white residents and theatre artists in the city.  Looks Like Chicago offers a $98 subscription to see four shows from four different theatres—Silk Road, Congo Square (primarily dedicated to work from the African Diaspora), Teatro Vista (Latino culture) and Remy Bumppo (devoted to the Anglo American tradition).  Subscribers can choose the plays and dates that suit them, and are invited to a Town Hall forum to discuss the season at its end.  “I’m not familiar with another program like this in the country,” says Lyle Allen.  It’s very innovative and I can see it as a promotion for years to come.”

In February of 2008, Silk Road received the League’s 2008 Broadway in Chicago Emerging Theater Award of $5000 and a marketing support package.  Barely five years after its first production, the Project’s honors also include the 2008 City of Chicago Human Relations Award, a Chicago Community Trust “HOPIE” for creativity and inspiration, a 2007 Columbia College Arts Entrepreneurship award. (29)

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Golden Thread and Silk Road have been of incalculable value to MEA playwrights.  In a 2003 online panel sponsored by the Non-Traditional Casting Project, Yussef El Guindi said of his writing career: “My biggest challenge is finding theatres open to doing Arab American plays…the more theatres like [Golden Thread and Silk Road] that spring up, the more inclined I am (and other writers I’m sure) to explore issues around immigration and the Middle East.  Before the creation of these theatres, I was somewhat hesitant to tackle subjects that I felt would not get past the first reader at a theatre.” (30)  In April, 2008,  Silk Road co-produced “Political Acts; The Emerging Arab American Theatre Movement,” a panel discussion with El Guindi,  Betty Shamieh and Heather Raffo.  Co-producers Next Theatre Company and the Museum of Contemporary Art then produced the Chicago premiere of Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire. (31)

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Nibras

The pioneering Middle Eastern American theatre triumvirate is completed by a New York–based community of artists that calls itself Nibras, meaning lantern lighting the way.  One of the founders, Maha Chehlaoui, an actress and director whose father is Syrian and mother Filipino, was inspired by the work of Ma-Yi, an Asian American theatre in New York that did only Filipino work in its early years.  “I wondered if Arab Americans had stories worth telling.  I was learning that when you get people of a shared heritage together, stories come out that you might not hear in a diverse group.” (32)

What began as an online 1998 conversation between Chehlaoui , Rana Kazkaz and Dahlia Sabbour developed into a small network of Arab American artists (Chehlaoui, Rana Kazkaz, Najla Said, Leila Buck, Omar Koury and Afaf Shawwa), who got together in June of 2001.  They chose the name Nibras and began planning a documentary theatre piece based on the question “What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Arab?” (33)

Most members of the group went off that summer to visit family abroad, and came back to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  “When we had left each other, we were so excited at finding other Arab American artists and it was very lighthearted,” Chehlaoui remembers.  “We returned to this horror, and we wanted to make sure that our voices were heard in the mourning and in the recovery.”

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Nibras members took their initial idea of a piece based on interviews asking:  “What comes to mind when you hear the word Arab?” and developed it into Sajjil, meaning record, inspired by a line from Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish’s famed 1964 poem Identity Card: “Write down!/I am an Arab.”  Says Maha Chehlaoui: “We asked people of different backgrounds and faiths, some Arab, some not.  We made a collage of perception of immigrant experience and a very immediate projection of how things were different.”  Directed by Chehlaoui, 34 produced and acted by Nibras members, Sajjil was performed in the New York Fringe Festival of 2002 and won its Best Ensemble award.  “It was very well received,” Chehlaoui recalls.  “People at that time were hungry for any work by actual Middle Eastern people who were often being spoken about and spoken for.  It was quite interesting after that, because we didn’t have to do much; we just had to show up and a lot of attention was being paid.  Sajjil brought a lot of confidence to people in our company and to individuals who had been doing work alone.  Part of it was that there were many talented American Middle Eastern theatre artists who came out of the woodwork.  I think that doing even one show can create a movement whether you intend to or not.”

Nibras has never sought its own 501(c)3 status, instead operating on donations, creating workshops and reading series with members sharing responsibilities for the projects.  Nibras members (including newer members playwrights Nathalie Handal and Samir Younis) present work within and outside of the collective’s banner. Founding member, Leila Buck, for example, performed her one-woman show ISite at the Martin E. Segal Theatre of the City University of New York Graduate Center in 2003. Buck, the daughter of a Lebanese mother and American diplomat father, first developed ISite as a senior thesis at Wesleyan University. She described it as  “a piece based on my father’s experiences moving from Lebanon to Oman to Iraq under Saddam to Saudi Arabia to Canada to the U.S., struggling to define identity and home somewhere in between.” (35) Starting in 1999, Buck had performed ISite at colleges and conferences across the country and internationally before its New York debut at the Segal.

The event was co-sponsored by Nibras and the Graduate Center’s Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern American Center, established in 2001 as the only U.S. center to incorporate Middle Eastern American experience into Middle East Studies.  The Segal Theatre has subsequently welcomed many performances, Q&As and forums by Middle Eastern American artists and scholars, including Handal, Raffo, Yeghiazarian, Shamieh and Elmaz Abinader.  Readings of Shamieh’s new plays, Territories and Kingmakers, and a panel about the politics of success for political writers were an October 2008 Segal co-presentation by The Center and Nibras. 36

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An early offshoot of Nibras was the Arab American Comedy Festival, initially co-produced by Nibras and its managing director Elias El-Hage and the Comedy Festival’s co-founders, Palestinian Americans Dean Obeidallah and Maysoon Zayid.  Chehlaoui served as artistic director of the theatre component of the first Festival (in 2003) and Nibras members performed comedic excerpts from Sajjil. Also on the opening night bill was Betty Shamieh’s Chocolate in Heat.

There was no money for publicity, but the founders posted on Arab American e-mail lists and the three-night festival sold out a week before it opened in a small theatre on New York’s Lower East Side.  The not-for-profit Arab American Comedy Festival has since enlarged its length and its venues and has discovered, encouraged and showcased Arab American standup comedians, sketch artists, film makers, actors, directors and producers (37) “Nibras was part of the Comedy Festival in its first three years,” reflects Maha Chehlauoi, “Now they’re very much their own entity and incredibly strong.”

Among Nibras’ 2005 achievements were inclusion in the Mahrajan Al-Fen—Festival of Arab World Culture, where Nathalie Handal’s The Details of Silence was performed at New York’s Symphony Space (38); the participation of Handal, Leila Buck and Elias El-Hage in the Lark Playwright Development Center’s first roundtable on developing Arab voices in theatre, (39) and co-producing (with The Kazbah Project and Al Jisser Group) six one-acts as Acts for Palestine, a benefit for Al Jisser’s Made in Palestine art exhibition.  Among the plays was Palestine, written and performed by Nibras founder Najla Said.  The daughter of scholar Edward Said, whose work on Orientalism challenged and redefined the views of the West about the Near and Middle East, she wrote the play about her first visit with her father to his homeland of Palestine. (40)

A significant turning point for Nibras came in the winter of 2006, when Chehlaoui, Buck, Said and Samir Younis each contacted New York Theatre Workshop during the furor over its cancellation of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, a play about a young American peace activist killed by an Israeli army bulldozer while she was trying to prevent its destruction of Palestinian homes in Ramallah.  The controversy was long and complicated, with NYTW receiving a great many angry emails from activists around the world. Nibras members “reached out individually as artists and Arab Americans,” recalls Leila Buck.  “I took the moment to explain why people, not primarily Arab Americans, but many from the theatre communities, were so angry.  Whether NYTW was doing so or not, theatre about and from Palestine was actively censored in America.  People might have been misplacing their anger, but their outrage came from years of experience.”

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NYTW’s artistic director James Nicola was immediately receptive, and Chehlaoui brought in more Nibras members to dialogue with him and NYTW associate artistic director Linda Chapman.  NYTW and the Lark Playwright Development Center, invited Nibras members to participate in panels and other activities on Middle Eastern theatre.  When New York’s Public Theater asked NYTW to present two evenings of play readings in The Public’s 2006 Arab Israeli Festival, NYTW brought Nibras in as a co-producer.

Handal’s Between Our Lips, Buck’s In the Crossing (based on Buck’s being with her Jewish husband in Lebanon under Israeli bombardment during the summer of 2006) and Said’s Lebanon and Palestine were among the plays presented, Chehlaoui was among the directors, and both performances were followed by panels moderated by James Nicola. (41) Performing at the prestigious Public Theater “was an amazing opportunity for us,” reflects Buck.  “New York Theatre Workshop was the reason we were on that stage—and they saw that we belonged there.”  Handal, Buck and Said were invited to become NYTW Usual Suspects (the term for its extended family of affiliated artists).

Soon after the evenings at the Public, Nibras became a company-in-residence at NYTW.  The journey from an initial meeting among Middle Eastern American theatre artists eager to know and help each other and their community to residence at one of New York’s premier institutional theatres was accomplished in just five years.

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Nibras’ first project in partnership with NYTW, along with the Drama Department of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, was Aswat: Voices of Palestine, staged readings of eight plays from or about Palestine. Catherine Coray, a Lebanese American Tisch assistant professor of acting, who was a producer of Aswat and a moderator, relates that: “The discussions sometimes got very heated.  It was a wonderful opportunity to explore a lot of different perspectives about Palestine.  One play was about a woman trying to get her dog across the Israel-West Bank border and how she dealt with the guards.  It was very personal and touching but also very funny.  That was a unique perspective for audiences.  In my view, my Arab American playwriting colleagues are rich with irony in their writing.  They often write metaphorically, and deal a lot with farce.” (42)

Following the reading series, NYTW presented a mainstage production of Betty Shamieh’s The Black Eyed in 2007.  Leila Buck and Najla Said were chosen to develop their work at NYTW’s summer retreat and Nathalie Handal was invited to develop her new play, Oklahoma Quartet, in 2008.

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Israeli American Theatre

NYTW also did a 2007 staged reading of Israeli American Rebekah Maggor’s first play Two Days at Home—Three Days in Prison.  Maggor, who was born in Colorado, raised in Israel and did her service in the Israeli Defense Forces before attending Columbia University, was chosen as a 2007-08 Playwriting Fellow by the Huntington Theatre in Boston, where she performed her one-woman show Shakespeare’s Actresses in America.  She has since written two new plays, the latest on commission from MIT. (43)

There are not many playwrights who self-designate as Israeli American.  In addition to Maggor and to Misha Schulman, there are Iris Bahr, whose remarkable Dai (Enough) has enjoyed acclaim Off Broadway and at the Edinburgh Festival (44); Zohar Tirosh, whose Pieces was presented in tandem with My Name Is Rachel Corrie in Boston’s New Repertory Theatre and Meron Langster, whose b’Shalom received a reading at the New Rep. (45)

All but one of these playwrights had volunteered for service in the Israeli army.  Another Israeli Defense Forces veteran, Ami Dayan, whose father is Israeli and mother American, settled in the U.S. in 1999 but has had an international career as a playwright, director, performer and producer.  He is primarily known in America as an adaptor and director—his Off-Broadway staging of Israeli writer Ilan Hatsor’s Masked, about three Palestinian brothers in the Intifada, was recognized by New York magazine as one of the three Theatrical Events of the Year in 2007.  Asked why finding playwrights who self-identified as Israeli American was difficult, Dayan commented: “This category may confine a writer to the ‘conflict’ and/or ‘Jewish’ themes.  It is said that ‘One is the reflection of one’s homeland.’  I’ve always identified with this line and feel very much Israeli.”46

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Though their members do not identify themselves as Israeli American, there are established Jewish theatres in the U.S. that have welcomed Middle Eastern/Middle Eastern American issues and artists.  San Francisco’s Traveling Jewish Theatre (Aaron Davidman, Artistic Director), a collaborative ensemble, researched and created Blood Relative, about Israel and Palestine from both perspectives, for its 26th season in 2005. (47)  In the past decade, Washington, D.C.’s THEATER J (Ari Roth, Artistic Director) workshopped and produced many works dealing with the conflict in the Middle East.  Among its Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival plays for 2009 are Iris Bahr’s Dai, and Benedictus, the play premiered in 2007 at Golden Thread Theater.

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Additional MEA Productions

Ellen Stewart’s LaMama ETC has presented plays by Israeli authors since the 1970s, and productions of work by noted contemporary playwright Motti Lerner have been seen at LaMama, Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE, Theatre J and the Williamstown Theatre Festival.  It has been harder for other Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern American dramatists to find welcomes in U.S. regional theatres.  “For the longest time Arab issues or Muslim issues had not been on the radar…they were regarded as too complex,” Yussef El Guindi told New York Times reporter Dinitia Smith.  Then came 9/11 and, he said, “Suddenly there were calls for plays.”  Smith commented that El Guindi “is one of a small group of Arab’American playwrights who have gained a higher profile since the terrorist attacks. (49)

In New York in January 2002, four months after the attacks, the New Immigrant Theatre Project of New York produced its 6th New Immigrant Theatre Festival, an event it had been developing for nearly a year.  “Unexpected Journeys,” presented seven plays by women who had grown up in or been influenced by Muslim cultures.  Among the offerings were Yeghiazarian’s Abaga, Palestinian-American Betty Shamieh’s The Black Eyed and Armenian/Egyptian—American Nora Armani’s Bermuda Triangle. (50)

In March, Kathryn Haddad, a Lebanese American who had founded Mizna (meaning Desert Cloud), the first Arab American journal of literature, co-produced and gave a dramatic performance in a Minneapolis program, Beyond Belly Dancers, Bombers and Billionaires—Arabs and Muslims Out Loud!. (51) Haddad and Juliana Pergues authored the first Midwestern MEA play, With Love from Ramallah, produced in Minneapolis in 2004,52 and that same year saw San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center’s staging of Saleem’s Salam Shalom…A Tale of Passion. (53)

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In 2005 Los Angeles’ Fountain, an intimate theatre esteemed for its staging of new, modern and classical work, staged Acts of Desire, Yussef El Guindi’s adaptation of two stories by Egyptian writer Salwa Bakr, (54) and the Antaeus Company in Noho, California, presented Turkish American Sinan Ünel’s Pera Palas. (55).  The Fountain has continued to be supportive, presenting Taxi to Jannah, a comedy with a Muslim hero by Mark Sickman (2006) and works by Egyptian/Armenian/American Nora Armani (2007). (56)

Theatres in Pennsylvania have been supportive—Dina Amin directed a staged reading of El Guindi’s Karima’s City at the People’s Light and Theatre Company in Malvern (2002)57; Dr. Nabil Bahgat and the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble collaborated with WAMDA, an Egyptian puppet theatre from Cairo , to create a bilingual show that played to over 40,000 people at schools and colleges on the East Coast and at two national conferences in 200758, and the Touchstone Theatre in Bethlehem crafted Tales from the Middle East from Arab and Jewish folk tales, for young audiences in 2008 (59).

In New York, Yussef El Guindi’s Back of the Throat played at Off Broadway’s Flea Theatre in 2006. (60) The Lark Play Development Center has presented work by El Guindi in its annual Playwrights Week and its Studio Retreats.  The full-length version of Laura Shamus’ Pistachio Stories was presented in the 2007 Playwrights Week. and Betty Shamieh was a Lark Featured Writer in 2008 (61). Rob Urbaniti’s Immigrant Voices Project at the Queens Theater in the Park has helped develop Taxi to Jannah, Browntown and Nine Parts of Desire. (62)

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Cornerstone Theatre Company

A unique exploration of MEA concerns has been pursued during four seasons by the Cornerstone Theatre Company in Los Angeles.  According to Bill Rauch, co-founder and Artistic Director of Cornerstone from 1986-2006 and now Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: “It was the first Gulf War that got us thinking about the need to collaborate with the Arab American community in Los Angeles.  Ghurba was a direct response to that war.” (63)

Cornerstone maintains an ensemble that operates on consensus and involves professional artists and members of specific communities in creating and performing plays, sometimes mixing classical texts with peoples’ own stories.  As Shishir Kurup, the Bombay-born and Kenya-raised South Asian American who wrote and directed Ghurba explains:  “I had a group of Arab American professional actors come in and we interviewed and got stories from each other.  Then as a team we went and interviewed members of the Arab community.  Cornerstone teams with institutions that support the community we’re connecting to; for Ghurba [roughly translated, diaspora] we worked with a group called Al-Fanun Al-Arabiya, an Arab arts organization that led us to other organizations.  In the pan-Arab community there are Druze, Jews, Christians, Muslims—we were looking for their stories.”(64)

For Ghurba, Kurup took elements of Yeats’ Purgatory: “The setting was the ruin of an old house that people passed through, relating their stories (based on the interviews we’d done) on the road to Ghurba.  The idea was that the ruins of this house had to do with the history of the travelers’ migrations.”  The play ran for three weeks as part of the 1993 Los Angeles Festival and sold out.  “It was incredible,” Kurup remembers.  “They came to the play, they sang with the play, they came back to the play seven or eight times. “

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Just five weeks after 9/11, Cornerstone opened The Festival of Faith, a work they had been developing long before the attacks.  Festival explored feelings about being Muslim, as well as South Asian and Sikh (Sikhs were mistaken for Muslims and attacked after 9/11) and presented 21 theatrical offerings at a Buddhist temple, a Baha’i Center, a Methodist church, a Jewish temple and an Islamic school. (65)

“The experience was hugely shaped by 9/11,” states Bill Rauch.  “There were real issues about publicity, media coverage—photographs in the paper of the students from the Islamic school who were participating—security threats, IDs and car license plates needing to be checked, IDs of people who came to see the work.  After the attacks I remember some of my colleagues saying that they were at sea about what to do with their lives, and here we were mounting a five-venue festival of faith-based plays and it felt like the most urgent work we could possibly be doing in that moment”

For its 2002 season, Cornerstone commissioned Yussef El Guindi to write a play. The result, Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith, however, distressed conservative members of the Muslim community at its initial reading and was withdrawn. (66) Ironically, because the spirit of El Guindi’s comedy has so much in common with You Can’t Take It with You, the Kaufman and Hart classic was produced in Cornerstone’s 2003 season.

In the Muslim version of You Can’t Take It with You (the first time in the comedy’s 70-year history that the Kaufman/Hart estate approved a contemporary adaptation), the madcap Vanderhof/Sycamore family became Muslim American, the straitlaced Kirbys were rendered as Pakistani-American. “In the performance,” Shishir Kurup (who played the Pakistani mogul) remembers: “We got a lot of hijab-wearing women, sitting there and laughing, and that in itself was a coup.”

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Controversies

As artists explore Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern American culture in greater numbers and with greater confidence, sensibilities sometimes fray and flare.  At the 2001 Golden Thread ReOrient Festival, Stoning was criticized by some Iranian audience members as untimely in the context of the post 9/11 hate wave against Arabs and Muslims; some people also complained that an Iranian would never behave in the way presented in the play’s biting portrayal of the practice of stoning adulterous women. (67)  At the 2002 ReOrient, Tamam, by Betty Shamieh was assailed “as stereotyping Middle Eastern men as violent,” Yeghiazarian relates, “and we were attacked for promoting negative images of Middle Eastern families by presenting issues regarding domestic violence.” (68)  Criticism for perceived negative reflections upon Middle Eastern/American culture by its own artists is a recurring issue for audiences and artists alike.

While Jamil Khoury attracted a predominantly lesbian and Jewish audience to his story of lesbian love between a Palestinian and a Jewish woman in Precious Stones, the issue of male homosexuality that comes up in the course of El Guindi’s Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith drew criticism from the Muslim community in Chicago in 2005 (when Silk Road presented it), just as the play had in its reading at Cornerstone in 2002. (69)

When Cornerstone had done the Muslim You Can’t Take It with You in 2003, they planned to make the African American couple living with the family (daring when the play was produced in 1936) into a gay couple.  But, as Shishir Kurup recalls, “There was such a hue and cry that it was decided not to go down that road.  Within and without the theatre and Muslim community, there were people arguing for both sides.”

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Cornerstone accommodated the bruised sensibilities in 2002 and 2003, but tackled the issue head-on in 2005.  A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters by James Still, directed by Bill Rauch, was a play that included a Muslim man struggling with his homosexuality.  As Kurup relates, “The young male character was struggling with his sexuality and his faith and saying that when he was a good Muslim he felt like a bad homosexual and when he was a good homosexual he felt like a bad Muslim.  There were amazing meetings with members of the community and Cornerstones.  In that case, we chose not to leave gay people out of the play.  And there were repercussions.  There were a lot less Muslim people in the audience.” (70)

Not only that, says Bill Rauch, but “we ended up losing several cast members over the issue.  Some of them that we lost on religious grounds were part of a panel discussion that we did at the TCG Conference in Seattle that very summer.  It was pretty remarkable because the man who had played the gay Muslim and the woman who had been playing his sister and her husband, both of whom had quit the play on religious grounds, were part of the panel, as were James Still and I and Mark Valdez, who had directed You Can’t Take It with You.  It was unbelievably honest about the pain that was involved in the situation and yet there we all were, sitting together on the stage to tell the story.  It was one of the proudest moments in my life.” (71)

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Middle Eastern American playwrights must struggle with whether and how to represent many controversial issues about the communities of their heritage.  It is one thing to grapple with volatile subjects within a community; quite another to expose them to outsiders who are already saturated with negative images of Arabs and Muslims.  El Guindi comments: “Because there are so few depictions of Arab-American life in our theatre, people have wanted me to give it a very, very affirmative view of who we are…But in order to humanize a people, you need to show them warts and all.  Our humanity lives in our cracks and wounds.  How can you affirm something without talking about everything?” (72)

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Casting

Not as much an issue of controversy but of practicality is the challenge of casting productions with Middle Eastern characters.  Big cities may have growing pools of professional MEA actors, but this is rare for the majority of U.S. regional theatres.  Ultimately, and with the blessings of playwrights, however, casting can be a matter of imagination and determination.  Yussef El Guindi states: “The facts simply dictate that you have to seek other ethnicities to play your characters when Arab/Middle Eastern actors are not available.  So I absolutely have no problem with casting non-Arabs in my plays, as long as they kinda-sorta pass for Middle Easterners.  From Eastern Europeans and South Asians to Latinos to African Americans and others in between, my one criteria is that they be good actors!” (73)

Torange Yeghiazarian’s view on casting is:” Obviously, allowing non-Middle Eastern actors to play ME parts would make more productions possible. And I’m a believer in the cross-cultural exchange and the ability of a good actor to embody the experience of another. Embodying the experience of another is a big part of why I write and produce plays about the Middle East.

“Having said this, there is such a thing as cultural experience and knowledge.  There is something unique about what a ME actor brings to the process that is invaluable.  Given the huge gap of knowledge that exists between the American media’s representation of the Middle East, the stereotypical public perceptions of us and our reality, I advocate for working with ME actors whenever possible and/or bringing in people knowledegable about the specific characters and situations in the play.  Doing our homework is crucial to a meaningful Middle Eastern production, as in every production.” (74)

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Conclusion

Artists in the first generation of American Middle Eastern playwrights are building bodies of work and moving slowly toward productions in “mainstream” regional theatres.  Just a few signs of the progress in the 2007-2008 season were Shamieh’s Territories (Magic Theatre world premiere), Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire (productions by eight TCG constituent theaters), El Guindi’s ACT Seattle award for Language Rooms and the selection of Najla Said and Leila Buck for the Public Theater’s first Emerging Writers Group.

Younger authors are following.  Egyptian American Suehyla El-Attar was invited to join the Alliance Theatre’s first Atlanta Playwrights Lab in 2006; her plays have been produced in Atlanta and Alaska. (75) The Minneapolis-based Mizna presented works by Iranian American Layla Dowlatshahi (The Elevator) and Algerian American Taous Khazem (Tizi Ouzou) in 2007; both writers were recipients of Mizna’s first granting program. (76)  Also in Minneapolis, Pangea World Theater has presented Ismail Khalidi and Bassam Jarbawi’s Truth Serum Blues. (77)  Seema Sueko, co-founder and Artistic Director of San Diego’s new Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, wrote remains for its opening and has received two commissions from Mixed Blood in Minneapolis. A Muslim of Pakistani-Japanese heritage, Sueko writes on Middle Eastern subjects. (78)

Looking toward the future, there is the Middle Eastern America (MEA) New Plays Initiative and the spring 2009 production of The DNA Trail.  As Shishir Kurup describes the latter: “Jamil has come up with this amazing idea: Playwrights from Silk Road backgrounds are going to send in our DNA to be tested.  We’ll get the results back, ponder what we learn from that, and get together in Chicago.  We’ll talk about it, workshop it with each other, go home and write twelve minute plays.  Six months later we’ll come back, workshop the plays and put them on in an evening. (79)  Who knows what we’ll come up with?”

As of this writing, in spring 2009, The DNA Trail is scheduled for full production at Silk Road in the Fall. (79) Yussef El Gindi’s Our Enemies: Lively Scens of Love and Combat won the 2009 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award for an emerging playwright from the American Theatre Critics Association. (80)  Benedictus has just opened at Theater J in Washington, (81) and the Kennedy Center’s three-week festival Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World, in which Heather Raffo, Nathalie Handal and Elmaz Abinader presented their work, has just closed. (82)  Middle Eastern American theatre artists have, in less than a decade, traveled from the shadows toward full light.  They are a new generation that is realizing  what Lebanese American poet Khalil Gibran predicted when he wrote to his fellow émigrés (83) in 1926:

I believe in you, and I believe in your destiny.

I believe that you are contributors to this new civilization.

I believe that you have inherited from your forefathers an ancient dream, a song, a prophecy, which you can proudly lay as a gift of gratitude upon the lap of America.

ENDNOTES

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NOTES to HISTORY

1 http://www.middleeastamerica.org/ (accessed 2/25/09)

2 http://www.migrationinformation.org/USfocus/display.cfm?ID=404 (accessed 8/3/08)

3 Ellen Baskin, “Insight of an Émigré, Passion of an Actress,” Los Angeles Times,
December 14, 2003. print edition E-14,

http://articles.latimes.com/2003/dec14/entertainment/ca-baskin14 (accessed 8/3/08)

4 http://www.answers.com/topic/shohreh-agadashloo (accessed 8/3/08)

5 http://www.iranian.com/Dec96/Arts/Darvag/Darvag.html (accessed 8/3/08)

6 http://www.darvag.org/about.html (accessed 7/26/08)

7 reviewing an English language production of the play.  Darvag’s partner in this production was Golden Thread Productions.  “’Suitcase’ Examines Shades of Immigrants’ Dislocation,” September 14, 2006. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi?f=/c/a/2006/09/14/DDGSE… (accessed 7/26/08)

8 http://www.darvag.org/

9 Jonathan Curiel, “Iranian Americans Put Themselves on World Stage with ‘Death of Yazdgerd’,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 25, 2004. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgti?f=c/a/2004/08/27/DDGVD… (accessed 7/26/08)

10 ibid

11 Ken Bullett, “Retelling the Mysterious Death of King Yazdgerd,” The Berkeley Daily Planet, September 17, 2004, http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2004
09/article/19668?he… (accessed 7/26/08). An aside–according to Eric A. Powell in “The Shah’s Great Wall” Archaeology, July/August 2008, p. 40, Yazdgerd was not killed by the invading Arabs but was forced to flee to China.

12 U.S. Census Bureau (The Arab Population: 2000), December 2003, p.7) lists Dearborn as second (after New York City) of the ten places with the largest Arab population in the U.S.

13 The titles are comedic because there are no “p” or “th” sounds in Arabic.  Scholar Dina Amin, in a 3/15/09 email, also noted that “It is funny because second generation Americans always make fun of the first generation’s accent. Sometimes birthday is pronounced as ‘birsday’ because first generation cannot pronounce the ‘th’.”

14 http://www.arabamericantheater.com/aboutus.html (accessed 7/26/08)

15 Robert K. Elder, “Humor Conveys’Me No Terrorist’s’ Serious Message,” Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Najee_Mondalek (accessed 2/25/09)

16 including, in Los Angeles, Al-Funun Al-Aribiya (http://www.bef.use.edu/~elguindi/Funun.html accessed 3/18/08) and, in Dearborn, the Arab Theatrical Arts Guild (http://www.arabtheater.org/about.html accessed 7/26/08). Both organizations appear to have ceased operations.

17 Email and phone conversation, August 20, 2008

18 Margo Jones is credited with starting the modern regional theater movement in 1947 with her theater-in-the-round in Dallas, Texas.  She produced classics and new plays, including Inherit the Wind, until her accidental death in 1955.  I grew up going to her productions; they were the source of my love of theatre.

19 Phone interview December 7, 2000. Except as noted otherwise, all Yeghiazarian quotes are from this interview.  Except as noted otherwise, information about Golden Thread Productions comes from the interview or www.goldenthread.org

20 Among Yegziharian’s co-authored medical articles are “Quantification of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 RNA Levels in Plasma by Using Small Volume-Format Branched-DNA Assays,” Journal of Clinical Microbiology. 1998 July; 36(7); 2096-2098.  See also hhtp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/?cmd=search&db=pubmed&t…  These are among the 1,490 Google entries under Yeghiazarian’s name

21 On September 12, 2001, Shamas received two packages of red pistachio nuts from Syria.  “They were ripped apart and the address was obscured,” she recalls.  “But they were delivered to me.  There was a handwritten note: ‘You know what to do with these, George.’  It was a very strange thing to happen on September 12 and started a trajectory of odd events, including someone suggesting that the package was perhaps a terrorist sleeper cell activation signal and that I had received them because I’m part Lebanese.”  Though she called the FBI and Customs, Shamas never learned anything about the mysterious packages from Syria.  But the experience inspired her one-act and full-length versions of Pistachio Stories.  Phone interview November 26, 2007

22 Robert Avila, “Benedictus draws from a real-life meeting to explore political power games,” San Francisco Bay Guardian Online, October 7, 2007 (accessed from Golden Thread website under Past Productions, Benedictus 2007)

23 http://www.iranian.com/Arts/2006/October/Plays/index/html (accessed 7/29/08)

24 Phone interview with Jamil Khoury 11/26/07. Quotes and information about Silk Road Theatre Project are from this interview and from the Project’s website, except as noted.

25 Sura Faraj, “Lesbian Lover Affair Brought Center Stage During Israeli/Palestinian Conflict,” All about Jewish Theatre.  http://www.jewish- theatre.com/visitor/article_display.aspx?articleID=1362 (accessed 4/10/08)

26 Cathleen Falsani, “Chicago Temple Embraces Drama of Arab, Asian Worlds,” Chicago Sun-Times, April 18, 2003.  http://64.143.141.13/newsstrp2.html (accessed 4/10/08)

27 Phone interview January 31, 2008

28 http://www.lookslikechicago.com/about.html (accessed 2/11/08)

29 See Awards link on Silk Road’s website

30 Transcript of Arab Americans in Theatre, an online discussion sponsored by the Non- Traditional Casting Project (now Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts),  September 25, 2003.  National Diversity Forum/Roundtable/DinaAmin.html (accessed 2/15/08)

31 http://www.srtp.org/productions/events.html (accessed 4/10/08)

32 Phone interview April 7, 2008

33 Nibras website.  Material about Nibras is from this site and from interviews with members except as noted.

34 Edited mostly by Buck and Omar Metwally, funded by donations that Najla Said raised.

35 Phone interview April 11, 2008

36 The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center offers programs in theater, dance and film from national and international artists and scholars.  Affiliated with the CUNY Graduate Center’s doctoral program in theater, it also issues journals and other publications.

Among these, readers interested in Arabic theater might want to consult three works edited by Marvin Carlson, Sydney E. Cohn Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center: Contemporary Theatre in Egypt, The Arab Oedipus: Four Plays and Four Plays from North Africa.

37 See the website www.arabcomedy.org

38 http://www.mahrajan.org/festival/index/html (accessed 4/18/08)

39 September 13, 2005, as cited in the Nibras Company History compiled by Leila Buck, edited by Maha Chelaoui and Elias El-Hage.  emailed to me by Buck on April 10, 2008

40 October 11, 2005 entry on arab-artists@yahoogroups.com forwarded to me by dina amin

41http://www.publictheater.org/view.php?mode=eventdisplay&eventid=844&past=17return…(accessed 10/15/07)

42 Phone interview February 20, 2008

43 Phone conversation February 12, 2009

44 Ernio Hermandez, “Iris Bahr’s Dai (enough) Begins New Weekly Schedule Jan. 15,” Playbill, January 14, 2008.  http://www.playbill.com/news/print.asp?id=114240 (accessed 1/22/08)

45 Email from Bevin O’Gara, Artistic Associate at New Rep, 11/11/07

46 Emails from Dayan February 20 and April 9, 2008

47 http://kqed.org/arts/places/spark/profile.isp?id=4939 (accessed 2/14/08)

48 www.TheaterJ.org (accessed 2/14/08)

49 Dinitia Smith, “For Arab-American Playwrights, a Sense of Purpose,” New York Times, February 11, 2006.  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/11/theater/new.sanfeatures/11thro.html (accessed 8/24/08)

50 http://www.immigrantstheat.org/PLAYSunexpectedjourney2002.html (accessed 3/24/08)

51 Kristin Tillotson, “Arabs, Muslims preset art without borders,” Variety/Freetime, March 22, 2002, p.01E

52 http://www.mizna.org/events/ramallah_with_love.html (accessed 4/8/08)

53 Email frm Ed Decker, Founding Artistic and Executive Director, New Conservatory Theater Center, 2/18/08

54 The Fountain Theatre website

55 Email from Jeanie Hackett 2/25/08 and http://www.antaeus.org/antaeus/who.html (accessed 3/30/08)

56 http://www.fountaintheatre.com/pastshows.html (accessed 2/21/08)

57 Transcript of Arab Americans in Theatre (p. 4), an online roundtable discussion hosted by the Non-Traditional Casting Project, September 25, 2003.  http://www.ntcp.org/National Diversity Forum/Roundtable/Dina Amin.html (accessed 3/18/08

58 Email from Laura McCants, 3/07/08, including a summary of the work prepared for the TCG New Generations grant program

59 Emails from Vicki Haller, Education Coordinator at Touchstone, 2/18/08, 2/18/08, 3/04/08

60 Dinitia Smith article in New York Times

61 Lark Play Development Center website

62 Urbaniti, Director of New Play Development at the Queens Theater, sent me a full list of the Project’s Productions and Play Readings from 2001-2007.

63 Phone interview 3/18/08.  All Rauch quotes and information from this interview

64 Phone interview 3/17/08.  All Kurup quotes and information from this interview

65 Cornerstone Theater Company website Timeline

66 Kurup interview

67 Hazem Amy, “A Theatre of Difference?,” The Experimental (Cairo), September 27, 2004 (downloaded from Golden Thread website 4/17/08)

68 Phone interview August 27, 2008

69 Monica Eng.  “Activist Theater–Silk Road’s Goal: to Give a Voice to the Voiceless,” Chicago Tribune, December 22, 2007. http://www.cairchicago/org/inthenews.php?file=12222005 (accessed 4/10/08)

70 Kurup interview

71 Rauch interview

72 Misha Berson, “Yussef El Guindi: Are We Being Followed? His Play about Post 9-11 Arab-American Anxiety Strikes a Nerve,” American Theatre, January 2006.  http://www.srtp.org?newsreviews/review.sandfeatures/backofthethroat/fe…

73 Email April 26, 2008

74 Email April 24, 2008

75 Email from Suehyla El-Attar 2/17/08 and her website (accessed 2/13/08)

76 http://mnworldbeat.wordpress.com/2007/05/24last-weekend-for-latitude… (accessed 4/19/08)

77 http://www.prairie.org/events/14659/truth-serum-blues-play-ismail-khalidi-and-bassam-jarbawi (accessed 3/14/09)

78 Emails from Seema Sueko February 28 and March 1, 2008

79 Participating playwrights are Kurup, Khoury, Philip Kan Gotanda, Velina Hasu Houston, David Henry Hwang, Lina Patel and Elizabeth Wong.  Email from Khoury, October 14, 2008

80 http://www.americantheatrecritics.org/2009.Osborn.pdf (accessed 6/30/2009)

81 Theater J website

82 http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/festivals/08-09/arabesque/arab_events.cmf?genre=THT”> http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/festivals/08-09/arabesque/arab_events.cmf?genre=THT (accessed 6/30/09)

83 http://quotesandpoem.com/poems/SelectedPoemByTopic/Gibran/America (accessed 6/30/09)

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