Arab Americans in Theatre (2003)

Thursday – September 25th, 2003 @ 1:00pm EST

An online roundtable discussion, hosted by the Non-Traditional Casting Project, Inc.

included the following participants:

Yussef El Guindi

Arab American playwright

Literary Manager, Golden Thread Productions

Seattle, WA

Rana Kazkaz
Arab American actor, producer and
Co-Founder, The Kazbah Project

New York, NY

Torange Yeghiazarian
Iranian/Armenian/American theater artist
Artistic Director, Golden Thread Productions

San Francisco, CA

(led by)

Dina Amin

Arab American theater director and

Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Thursday – September 25th, 2003 @ 1:00pm EST

Dina Amin:

Welcome all. I would like to start by asking you to introduce yourselves; I will go last. We can perhaps follow this order: Rana, Torange, Yussef, myself.

Rana Kazkaz:

Hello, I am Rana Kazkaz, an Arab American actor and producer.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

OK, I’m Torange Yeghiazarian, Iranian/Armenian/American theatre artist. I’m the Artistic Director of Golden Thread Productions, a theatre company exploring Middle Eastern culture & identity.

Yussef El Guindi:

And a very good theatre it is. My name is Yussef El Guindi. I’m an Arab American playwright, originally from Egypt, in the States for 20 years. I was playwright-in-residence at Duke University for several years and taught playwriting there.

Dina Amin:

I am Dina Amin an Arab American theater director and university professor, also originally from Egypt. Before we begin our discussion today, I would like to start by expressing my deepest sorrow for the passing today of Edward Said, a pillar of the Arab American community and a hero to all freedom lovers around the world.

Yussef El Guindi:

Yes, I just heard. A major loss. It’s very sad to think his sane and unique voice isn’t out there anymore; that we can’t depend on it. But his writing lives on and hopefully he’s set an example for others to follow.

Dina Amin:

If any of you would like to add anything about Said, please briefly do so now.
Rana Kazkaz:

Yes it is a very sad day. He was a leader. We must continue the struggles that he so beautifully fought throughout his life.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

His daughter will be performing a piece about him in NYC; there is something very poignant in the timing of this.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, it will be done at Alwan, the new Middle Eastern Cultural Center in Lower Manhattan.

Dina Amin:

Well, my first question to the panel is: What are you currently doing to promote Arab/Middle Eastern theater?

Rana Kazkaz:

I have produced several plays with my company, The Kazbah Project that I co-founded with an African American woman, Bridgit Evans, in 1999. Although our scope is international, many of the theatre and film projects that we are currently developing consider the situations of Middle Eastern people.  I am working now on producing a series of comedic one-act plays about pre-arranged marriage written by Middle Eastern American writers.  It will be co-produced by Nibras, an Arab American theatre company that I helped co-found. We will perform it at Alwan in Spring, 2004.  And actually, one of Yussef’s plays will be featured.

Yussef El Guindi:

Very happy to hear that! Break a leg with the project.

Dina Amin:

Torange?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Since 1996-7, Golden Thread Productions has been producing plays by Middle Eastern playwrights and non-Middle Easterners writing about the Middle East. Over 30 world premieres have been presented thus far, including short plays in ReOrient, our annual festival of short plays.

Dina Amin:

Yussef?

Yussef El Guindi:

I’m currently working on a play that we’re going to present at an Arab Festival here in Seattle. I also have a short piece in the upcoming first annual New York Arab comedy festival. And basically busy trying to get my plays done here and there. I’m also, in full disclosure, the literary manager for Golden Thread Productions, Torange’s theatre.

Rana Kazkaz:

Ooooo – that’s great – I didn’t know that, Yussef. I am working with Alex of Alwan to try to have Torange bring some of her plays to New York. I really hope we are able to do that.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Which we’re very happy to do.

Dina Amin:

I promote Middle Eastern theater through my directing and teaching; I direct Arabic plays in translation in the states and teach/introduce modern Arabic and world drama in my course offerings and through my stage productions. My main is goal to provide understanding, research and critical criteria in academia, for students and scholars, by which to understand Middle Eastern drama and include it within the canon of world literature and performance arts. On stage, I try to introduce new Arab/American and Arab women voices to the American stage; I’ve combined both last May when I directed a stage adaptation of an Egyptian feminist writer by Yussef.  I am trying to direct another of his original works here in Philly soon.

Moving on, what are our biggest challenges then?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Our challenges are: Funding, audience development, and casting.

Dina Amin:

Who is your audience?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Our audience is a mix of Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern, 50/50. The Middle Easterners are mainly Iranian and Palestinian.

Dina Amin:

A theater without audience is like a non-worshipped god. But who is your ideal audience, Torange?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Ideal audience? This was a question in last night’s Board meeting. My ideal audience member is someone who is interested in good theatre, and aware, or at least interested, in exploring issues, characters, stories.
Dina Amin:

Personally, I like to think that my audience is the entire world (not a chance), but as a professor I always feel it is my duty to “introduce” and explain diversity.


Torange Yeghiazarian:

We do a lot of explaining, often to Middle Easterners who ask why we do what we do and, “Who cares?”

Dina Amin:

Do you get resistant audience members?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

The non-Middle Eastern audiences seem to really appreciate being exposed to this material.

Dina Amin:

I find the explaining part, at times, tiring.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

The Middle Easterners long for the better days when they could see their own theatre in their own countries…my assumption. Many Middle Easterners are interested in traditional Middle Eastern plays, comedy-musical, in original language.

Rana Kazkaz:

My experience so far is that the Middle Eastern community is coming out to support Middle Eastern plays.  I see a hunger.  And slowly non-Middle Eastern people are also coming. Yes, challenges…I would like to add to that: visibility and stereotypes.

Yussef El Guindi:

My biggest challenge is finding theatres open to doing Arab American plays, which is why the creation of theaters like Nibras Collective in New York, Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco, and Silk Road Theater Project out in Chicago are such welcome additions. The more theaters like that 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 theaters, I was somewhat hesitant to tackle subjects that I felt would not get past the first reader at a theater.

Dina Amin:

Yussef, who do you write for?

Yussef El Guindi:

First of all myself. But as I just mentioned, I also have to wonder if what I’m writing will appeal to any of the theaters out there. I often ignore that concern and plow on ahead regardless and hope for the best. But it’s something I have to keep in mind. “Is there an audience out there for this?”

Dina Amin:

Rana, as an Arab American actress, do you feel that you are typecast?
Rana Kazkaz:

That’s an interesting question.  I get so excited anytime I get to play a Middle Eastern person.  In fact, ideally I wish I could make a career of playing mostly Middle Eastern people. But yes, I have turned down roles that I felt were just plain hateful.

Dina Amin:

Do you play non-Middle Eastern parts too?
Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, I’ve mostly played non-Middle Eastern people.  But I do notice that there are more roles for Middle Easterners becoming available.  There is this misperception among casting people that there aren’t Middle Eastern actors out there or that we aren’t trained.

Dina Amin:

Why is that? And how do you feel about the non-Middle Eastern actors who play Middle Eastern roles in film and on stage?

Rana Kazkaz:

Mostly just because of not being aware.  Sometimes I wonder if it’s because they would be too embarrassed to ask Middle Eastern people to constantly play the “terrorist” or the “harem girl/belly dancer”.  I have no problem with Middle Eastern roles sometimes being played by Latino or South Asian people, but yes, it is frustrating to see that most Middle Eastern roles are played by non-Middle Eastern people.

Yussef El Guindi:

The good news about finding Middle Eastern actors for Middle Eastern roles (outside of the major centers: New York, Chicago, LA) is that – though it is still an effort in some places (e.g., here in Seattle, and in San Francisco) I have the sense that more people of Middle Eastern descent are stepping forward to audition. I think in part because they see theaters like Nibras and Golden Thread out there functioning; and that the parts being offered them are not just “belly dancers” and “terrorists”, but meaty, complicated roles in plays that speak to them.

Dina Amin:

I think that casting is probably the most frustrating element in the making of theater. Do you agree Torange?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Well, it’s different with Golden Thread Productions… we offer meaty parts but little money. I think some “serious” actors decline our offer because they don’t want to be boxed into Middle Eastern characters. I don’t know how it is in New York, but in San Francisco we definitely feel the shortage of Middle Eastern actors.

Dina Amin:

Many agencies get in touch with me about Arab/Middle Eastern actors. The problem is that they can’t find them in a certain age group: above 50.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

I’m running around right now trying to cast a 2-man play: a 20-year old and 70-year old Palestinian. You’d think the 20-year old one at least should be easy to find, but no!
Dina Amin:

Torange doesn’t feel as frustrated about the casting process, yet she can’t find the actors for the roles. Do you think that talent agents don’t want to sponsor Arab actors?
Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, I have had a hard time finding agent representation here in New York. Most say that there is just not enough work.  They are probably submitting their other “brown” clients for the roles.

Dina Amin:

I don’t think that Middle Eastern roles should only be played by Middle Eastern actors.  What I cannot stand is typecasting and stereotyping.

Rana Kazkaz:

As more Middle Eastern parents begin to support their children becoming artists, there will continue to be more of us.

Yussef El Guindi:

Yes, that support is critical. Or at least having children brave enough to pursue their interest in the arts regardless.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Rana’s right. A big problem is how Middle Eastern families perceive theatre.  They don’t value it as a serious career, and kids don’t get encouraged to pursue it seriously.

Yussef El Guindi:

I wish they would understand that participation in the arts is the key to correcting some of the problems we have as far as misrepresentation and stereotyping. We’ve got to be the ones to tell our own stories. Which is not to say others can’t tell it, or participate in this, but it would be nice to have us in the mix!

Dina Amin:

I think it is a mix of things: minority thinking and a disregard for theater.

Rana Kazkaz:

Well, Middle Eastern people tend to be skeptical of American art because traditionally it hasn’t portrayed Middle Eastern people very accurately.  It is exactly the same challenge that many non-white communities face.  And yes, Torange, I agree, but I do think it’s changing.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

I hope so…we’re having better luck with teenagers now than three years ago, but they all move on to become lawyers & doctors.

Dina Amin:

But this is exactly why Arab/Middle Eastern families also don’t contribute to the arts.  Which brings us, I guess, to funding.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, Middle Eastern people need to begin to support the arts more financially and value that type of contribution. Middle Eastern people will be more humanized when we start to have a larger cultural presence that we have more control over.

Dina Amin:

As the assistant director of the Arab Theater Project, which is barely surviving now, most Arab families whom we approached for donations declined. To them, art is not a cause. At least it is not a cause that they want to support.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

We have to keep in mind that many Middle Easterners don’t consider themselves part of this society.

Rana Kazkaz:

It is so unfortunate, because it absolutely is directly related to how we are perceived, and it is going to take money to change that.

Yussef El Guindi:

Then again, I think that’s the case with most immigrant groups who first arrive in the States. There’s always a backward glance to the “home” country.  It’s usually their children who begin to integrate and participate.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Our base of support is growing slowly. We are seeing more Middle Easterners in our audience and supporting the company but it can definitely expand.

Rana Kazkaz:

I agree with Torange – it is changing.

Dina Amin:

It’s a two-way stream: is it that they don’t consider themselves as part of this society, or is it that they feel that perhaps they are not welcome? I think that the lack of financial support is directly linked to identity issues: Do Arabs want to be identified as “Arabs” in a climate where they might be hated?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Dina, I agree, many Middle Easterners just want to hide, dissolve in the big pool. But some are willing to stick their necks out. These are the ones we should focus on.

Dina Amin:

I am not sure there are many of those. Arabs and Middle Easterners feel insecure nowadays.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, Torange & Dina, I agree: many are just trying to stay safe, but there are certainly plenty of Middle Eastern artists that stick out their necks everyday, here and in the Middle East.

Yussef El Guindi:

Yes, and I think part of our work is in identifying those artists and encouraging them. Pushing them out there as cultural workers who are doing a much needed job.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

I’m still casting most Arab parts with Iranian actors with whom I have a personal relationship.

Dina Amin:

It ends up being this way: We are a very small group, therefore we always work with one another.

Rana Kazkaz:

It’s wonderful, of course, audiences need to understand the similarities and differences with the Arab and Iranian cultures.  For example, many people assume that Iran is an Arab country and that they speak Arabic. The reality, of course, is that they are Persian and speak Farsi.  We do, however, share Islam as a major defining religion of our cultures.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Rana, do you think because you have played Middle Eastern parts, now you don’t get offers for non-Middle Eastern parts?

Rana Kazkaz:

No, I still get non-Middle Eastern offers and that’s great. Just for myself, I put more energy into pursuing Middle Eastern roles at present.  I feel very responsible toward the Middle Eastern community and desire to have a role in more humane and accurate representation.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Last year I cast the part of an Egyptian man with an Indian actor. I heard that the few Arabs who came to see the play hated this fact about it. Some were even offended: “What, you think we’re the same as Indians?” How similar is our situation with Latinos and African Americans?

Rana Kazkaz:

Certainly I think we have so much to learn from both communities and the Asian and South Asian communities as well. Those communities have begun to blaze a trail for us.  I am currently being considered to play an Indian woman and I love it. Again, there are similarities and differences. I think that the more communities we unite with, the better: Arab, Middle Eastern, Iranian, South Asian, Latino, African American…
Dina Amin:

Well the Middle Eastern community is by no means unified.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, but as artists we are starting to unite.

Dina Amin:

Of course, talking about identity issues today reminds me of Edward Said’s amazing courage to show the world who he was and encourage others to do so too. I think that theater needs more spirited people as such.

Rana Kazkaz:

Absolutely, Dina. There is a fear though that if we stick out our necks artistically and politically, that we will be black-listed.  But, ultimately, integrity is most important.  And the goal, ultimately, is freedom, truth and humanization.  Who could legitimately find fault with that?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

A couple of years ago, the entire cast of one play about Iranian youth were American, except for one young Iranian woman. One young Iranian woman in the audience commented that no Iranian woman would behave the way this particular Iranian woman character did, that casting Americans as Iranians just doesn’t work. But she didn’t know that the actor she was referring to was Iranian!

Rana Kazkaz:

It’s so interesting because there as many different characters as there are people, but because Middle Eastern people are so rarely portrayed, there is this pressure to represent the “whole” rather than individual people.

Yussef El Guindi,

Yes, I sometimes feel this pressure as writer. And, as you suggest, as more plays are written around Mid-East subjects and the immigrant experience, there won’t be this pressure to always try and encompass everything in each role and play. (As in, hearing comments such as: “Why didn’t you write about this subject instead or emphasize this topic in the community?”)

Dina Amin:

When the director of the Arab Theater Project, Holly Hill, tried to raise money for the project, Arabs from certain countries refused to give money to support theater of other Arab countries. It had to be a theater from only their country that they would support.

Rana Kazkaz:

I’m so inclusionary that that kind of sentiment is strange to me. Of course there are 22 different Arab countries with their own cultures specific to them, but there is so much in common between them, too.  Concentrating on similarities rather than differences, I believe, has much more value.  It seems so basic but we are all just human with similar needs and desires.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

This year, we’re staging a play by Motti Lerner (Israel) about the insane effects of the occupation on a young Israeli man; on the same bill, is the play with the two Palestinian grandfather & son about the destruction of their village in 1948. I’m really looking forward to the post-play discussions on this.

Dina Amin:

I directed a staged reading of one of Yussef’s stage adaptations of a short story by Salwa Bakr, at the People’s Light & Theater Company, here in Philly. The audience loved the play – but Egyptians complained that the issue of female circumcision was mentioned. They thought that we were exposing dirty laundry.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yussef has a lot of talent.

Yussef El Guindi:

Much thanks for that!

Dina Amin:

On another occasion, when I produced a play about domestic abuse by Alfred Farag, I got the same reaction. So there are taboo subjects in that the community doesn’t want us to broach them, as though domestic abuse is only a Middle Eastern regional problem.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, again, I think that since we are so rarely portrayed at all, there is this desire that Middle Eastern people have to only see positive images – especially when there are mostly negative images already out there.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

YES, YES!!! This is one of the most common reactions we see when presenting plays that are “self-critical”.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, and there should be a place for self-criticism, but I do understand the desire and need to balance the negative with more positive.  After all, to not be self-critical is also dangerous.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Betty Shamieh’s Tamam was attacked as stereotyping Middle Eastern men as violent, and we were attacked for promoting negative images of Middle Eastern families by presenting issues regarding domestic violence.

Yussef El Guindi:

Last year I wrote a play about a Muslim family and the pressures they faced in the States. I was castigated by some more conservative elements in the community – when it had a staged reading – for raising issues I should, perhaps, have left out. I do understand where they’re coming from. As has been pointed out, when there aren’t that many positive images out there, you sort of hope the artists from your community will be the ones generating the positive images that are lacking elsewhere. But we also have a job to examine and be honest – at least as each of us sees it.

Dina Amin:

This split personality is really difficult. What I can present in Egypt about Egyptian society, I cannot present here and vice versa.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, I encountered that when we were choosing plays to be produced as part of Unexpected Journeys last year—a collection of plays written by women who had been influenced by Muslim culture.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Dina is right. Another example is a play about Stoning in Iran. Iranians in the audience said they were disappointed to see we can’t find anything positive to say about Iranian culture.

Dina Amin:

This really is a problem of censorship in a way.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

It is exactly censorship. But, as Rana says, a major part of the problem is related to the rarity of representation. As more plays are written & produced, I’m sure we’ll see this reaction less frequently, but it won’t disappear.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, I really think that is the main problem and much of the reason why I am working to produce the comedies right now.  Also, I have to admit that currently I am concentrating on more uplifting stories to tell in general.  The media does such a good job of uncovering the bad as it is.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

We’re thinking of starting a youth theatre program next year, inshallah [“God willing” in Arabic]. This would be a good opportunity to work with some fun old stories and lighter material.

Dina Amin:

On the other hand, non-Middle Eastern theaters, directors, producers here in the United States would only be interested in a Middle Eastern play that was censored in its original country. This is frustrating too, because it is a kind of exoticism. What do you think?
Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, exoticism definitely continues to be a problem—people want the dirt.  Some want to see us as the “other” and simply dismiss us and think we are backward.

Yussef El Guindi:

Yes, exoticism sells. But, as a writer, there’s always the Trojan Horse theory of using the exotic as a means to subvert those “Orientalist/stereotypical” images to tell the story you want to tell – in the way you feel it should be told. It’s interesting to see how other immigrant groups have done this in the past.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Theatres are always looking for a marketing angle. Exiled playwright, banned play…it helps market!

Rana Kazkaz:

It’s so funny, because Middle Eastern people are known for being incredibly romantic, friendly and hospitable and yet where are those stories???

Dina Amin:

I think that your idea, Torange, of a youth theater is actually great.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Dina, you want to suggest some plays for the youth program? I’m all ears. :-)

Dina Amin:

I will certainly be thinking of some ideas. This is an idea I wholly support.

Rana Kazkaz:

I am working with The Play Company to hopefully bring some Iraqi plays to the US and one of the plays we are trying to get is the one Saddam Hussein wrote.  I am soooo curious to read it!!!  That would certainly be a marketing angle.

Yussef El Guindi:

And how! (I wonder if he would object to any text changes, if you needed to make them. Hmmm….I think there’s a play in there somewhere.)

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Rana, there are those fun stories too… Golden Thread Productions has produced comedies in the past. They are fewer though…we can also use more translations.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, translating is necessary but hard to get done well.

Dina Amin:

Yes, translations are of enormous importance. As a teacher, I neither find good translations nor a large selection to choose from. Somehow I feel that translators get to outline the canon of Arabic plays out there. I’ve therefore started to depend on myself and translate plays for my students that I feel they ought to read.

Rana Kazkaz:

Torange & Dina – could you talk a little bit of the Middle Eastern perception of us working in America?

Dina Amin:

Well, in my experience, most of the playwrights that I know in Egypt, and I do know a few, want to be considered a part of the “world drama” and want to be produced in the States. Torange just came back from a festival in Egypt, perhaps you can tell us something about it, Torange?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Well, mainly, they are pleasantly surprised to hear about what we’re doing.

Dina Amin:

And supportive, right?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Yes, but they also don’t necessarily understand the issues.

Dina Amin:

Absolutely, they don’t understand “our” issues or where we are coming from because they do not know our predicament here. Many feel that our work here is very important, and want to contribute but don’t know how.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Many want to be invited & produced here. Europe is much more accessible to them but the United States is a different matter. I got the feeling that people don’t realize what a huge country the US is. I mean, when I said I’m an artistic director of a company in San Francisco, they were so impressed, as if I have lunch with Peter Brook every day. As if I have access to so many things….that I don’t. This, of course, is not the case with all, but with many.

Dina Amin:

So, Rana, in response to your question, many of the Middle Eastern artists yearn for a collaborative effort with us or with others, but, again, funding is an enormous issue, and now visas or the impossibility of obtaining them have made cultural exchanges even harder.

Rana Kazkaz:

Wonderful – yes, I would LOVE to collaborate with more Middle Eastern artists there and here.  I was supposed to see a play from Lebanon this week at LaMaMa but it might have to be cancelled because the Lebanese actors can’t get visas.

Yussef El Guindi.

This lack of cultural exchange between the US and the Mid-East is becoming a problem and sort of runs counter to what the US is trying to do in terms of encouraging greater understanding.

Dina Amin:

Many think that because the US is a rich country, artists are also rich.

Rana Kazkaz:

And the opposite is true – we’re mostly poor 😉

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Working here, as a small company, we can take more risks, but we also have more limited resources. In Iran and Egypt, many artists are employed by the Ministry of Culture and paid quite well. They’re used to large theatres with top-of-the-line technical resources.

Dina Amin:

Not quite “well”, but they have a salary that they can depend on.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

We can’t provide that to them here.

Dina Amin:

Right.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, our own government has a ways to go with appreciating artists more as well.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Their expectations are at the level of the Lincoln Center, and that’s not what Golden Thread Productions is. But in general, artists were very supportive of our work and interested in getting involved.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes, it is hard enough to put together even a small production, let alone the 10 million you would need to have a Broadway show.

Dina Amin:

Well, when the state is your producer, you have funding and resources, but perhaps your freedom might be a little curbed.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Corporate funding has similar effects.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes but most artists I know would be grateful for sponsorship of any kind.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

I’m thinking of increased involvement of the private sector in military projects, “rebuilding” Iraq, etc. As well as foundations whose money is invested in those companies…do we refuse money from a company or foundation that is supporting the destruction of Palestine?

Dina Amin:

A comment that a student of mine once made when I was teaching “Modern Middle Eastern Drama” at Barnard College is that Middle Eastern playwrights were so political and she wished that American writers were too.

Rana Kazkaz:

Many American playwrights ARE very political.

Dina Amin:

I tried to say exactly that, but I think what she was trying to say is that most playwrights in the Middle East struggle with censorship and thereby have to camouflage their writings.

Rana Kazkaz:

Writers are censored here too, it’s just more subtle.  Self-censorship is huge too.  I’ve had so many discussions with Middle Eastern artists about what we can and can’t say in order to have a voice at all.  Ironic.

Yussef El Guindi:

Yes, one treads carefully sometimes.

Dina Amin:

Absolutely. As for the funding issue, Torange, how do YOU handle it then?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

We’re small enough that we aren’t dealing with that yet…but soon we will have to. My personal feeling is as long as we get to do what we want, I don’t care who pays for it. But do we legitimize what they do by taking their money?

Rana Kazkaz:

On a gushy note, when I first heard about both of you and all Middle Eastern artists working in America, I got so excited: “What!!?!? There’s more of us!!!” :-)

Dina Amin:

This is a great gushy note. When I met with the Nibras group I had the same gushy feeling. I felt, wow, they were an amazing young and talented group…and a few of them too!

Rana Kazkaz:

Torange, are you able to support yourself running Golden Thread Productions solely or do you need to have other jobs?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

I’m still living off savings from my past corporate life.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yeah, it’s so hard. I have to have other jobs, and most of my savings goes into producing.  I haven’t found a way to make this profitable yet, but I am determined to do so.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

There is a grant possibility for 1/2 time salary for me for next year. So, I’m very hopeful things will look up next year.

Rana Kazkaz:

That’s great, I hope you are able to get that!!!

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Rana, thanks for being excited about us! I’m very excited about you and your work and hope we can work together soon.

Dina Amin:

What do you do to raise funds?

Rana Kazkaz:

Mostly through private donations so far.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

So far in 2003, we’ve survived through individual donations. Usually our funding is a mix of foundation money, individual donations and box office.

Rana Kazkaz:

How many people are on your staff, Torange?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

There is me! No, me and about 10 volunteers.

Rana Kazkaz:

Wow – yes, I’ve had that experience – so hard!!!

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Our artistic staff is 7 people who donate their time, like Yussef.

Rana Kazkaz:

Sounds familiar.

Yussef El Guindi:

Happy to give what time I can!

Torange Yeghiazarian:

We pay folks per project, though. Like for the festival, everyone will get paid a giant $250!

Rana Kazkaz:

Hey, it’s something.

Dina Amin:

Before I bid you au revoir, I would like to ask, how can we all help to promote Middle Eastern theater and artists?

Rana Kazkaz:

In New York you mean?

Dina Amin:

I mean in the US, this is our home and here is where we work.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Make more noise about us!

Dina Amin:

Is there “bad” noise, or is all noise good?

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Bad noise can be good publicity too. But I prefer good noise. Work together to improve quality of work and exposure. I think what Alwan’s doing in New York is great. I would love to gather and produce a whole festival for them in New York if they can support it.

Rana Kazkaz:

Yes – we have to keep working.

Yussef El Guindi:

And basically encourage anyone in the Mid-East community who has the slightest interest in theater to get involved. This is also a good way to build an audience base.

Torange Yeghiazarian:

We need to be more vocal, less apologetic, and stand our ground. We’re producing killer theatre! I like fooling around with those terroristic terms.

Dina Amin:

I think what you are doing is also great, and if you were closer I would have been more involved. I also think that a group like Nibras needs more support from the community.

Rana Kazkaz:

And thanks to people at NTCP – this kind of exposure is great!!!

Torange Yeghiazarian:

Yes, thank you.

Dina Amin:

ABSOLUTELY. It is organizations and people like NTCP that help and support us and keep us visible. THANK YOU!!!!

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