DIVERSITY: Fringe Past and Present (2006)
Monday – August 21, 2006
New York, NY
On August 21, 2006, in partnership with the New York International Fringe Festival, one of the largest multi-arts festival in the United States, the Alliance organized and moderated a diverse panel that brought together artists from FringeNYC 2006 participants and past participants. The event was open to the public. Panelists shared all aspects of their Fringe experience: from developing their materials; applying for and producing their shows; audience feedback; and also commented on general issues and significance of the participation of diverse artists and inclusive stories in the context of the Fringe Festival.
- Charles Dumas, actor, Revenge of a King (FringeNYC 2006)
- Stephen Jutras, actor, Danny Boy (FringeNYC 2006)
- Marc Goldsmith, playwright, Danny Boy (FringeNYC 2006)
- Peter Kim, performer/creator, SIDES: The Fear is Real
(Alumni, ’03, Best Ensemble Award)
- Dean Obeidallah, performer/creator, I Come in Peace (FringeNYC 2006)
- Christine Simpson, performer/creator, Take On Me (FringeNYC 2006)
- Rodney To, performer/creator, SIDES: The Fear is Real
(Alumni, ’03, Best Ensemble Award)
- Sam Younis, performer/playwright, Browntown
(Alumni ’04, Best Playwriting Award)
For a description of these shows, check out the end of this report.
Some comments from that roundtable:
HUMOR AND IDENTITY
“…honestly, as I say in my show, on September 10th, 2001, I went to bed a white person; September 11th I woke up an Arab. And the show is all about my life, about how I just used to be a white person, identify as a white person. Now I much more identify as a minority in America. And my eyes are open in a different way.” –Dean Obeidallah
“There’s a danger in doing pieces that involve identity- that it comes across heavy-handed or preachy. And that people walk away from it if they’re not of that specific ethnicity; if it’s dealing with ethnicity, saying, Gee, those people have it tough, you know. Or, Gosh, I wish I could really relate to that. And somehow, when you’re able to get people to laugh, everybody sees something in it that they can relate to, and it doesn’t become this abstraction or unsolvable thing.” –Sam Younis
“…I think comedy is a great way of diffusing tension. And you know, I’m talking about being Arab and Palestinian American in a post-9/11 world. And having a Muslim last name where people are on guard or have pre-conceptions. So comedy’s a great way of just opening up things and making people a little looser and a little bit more understanding.” –Dean Obeidallah
“In the case of Danny Boy, we sometimes found ourselves sort of treading a fine line with the humor because unfortunately, often when little people are on TV or in the movies, it’s as a sight gag. And we didn’t want to do that certainly, but still, you know, humorous situations can come up as a result of my protagonist’s height, the fact that he’s a little person. So kind of playing with that physical comedy, making it fun and sort of universal, but without being exploitative was a challenge…” –Marc Goldsmith
“This is the 4th Fringe that our company has participated in… One of the things I noticed about all of them is that there’s a kind of whimsical, and I don’t mean whimsical in a negative sense, but a whimsical aspect of it. Because most of the people who come to the Fringe are young… and there’s a kind of approaching serious subjects with humor but also with a certain amount of depth. And I think what Herb found in dealing with Hamlet, which is one of the less funny plays in the Shakespeare canon, but he managed to find humor, infusing it with hip-hop. And it was definitely on purpose. Because we’re approaching violence in the ghetto, violence in the hood, people killing each other. Imagine the last scene of Hamlet where everybody is lying there dead and imagine that happening on 125th and Lennox; you get some idea what our show is about. The only way you can do that is with humor in a strange kind of way, at least to set up that part of it.” –Charles Dumas
CREATING CHARACTER IN DANNY BOY
“Marc had sent me the script, and I fell in love with it. Automatically. I could have sworn a little person wrote it. In fact, even when my mother read it, she goes, ‘You wrote this, didn’t you?’ And I was like, ‘No…’ She said, ‘A little person wrote this?’ I said, ‘No…’ So when I met Marc, I was really astonished that he wrote it. And he did a fabulous job. I didn’t have a lot of apprehension going into rehearsal. I had spent a lot of time on the phone with them, had a couple of meetings with them. Even met with the director, sat in a park just to get to know each other, and how far we can take things. And he told me basically, ‘If I’m going too far, you tell me to stop. And if you see something to add that would apply to this, let me know.’” –Stephen Dutras
“[Lifting me on the table] that was actually my idea. But you have to have fun and find humor within yourself and accept that. Just the idea of someone lifting me up on the table just to check me out brought me up to their level, so they could look at me. It was convenience for them, you know, in a sense, but I thought it was a very humorous moment that wasn’t degrading in any way.” –Stephen Dutras
“I would never presume to write a play about the plight of dwarves, the plight of little people. That would be presumptuous of me. But I think that a writer can use his or her imagination to create a character in specific circumstances. We’re all human. I’m not a little person, but that’s what writers do, you know, they use their imagination to create things like that.” –Marc Goldsmith
“I have a friend in college- she’s still a good friend, my friend Michelle who is a little person. And in a sense, she is certainly the inspiration for the play. That’s where I got the idea about writing a play about a little person. But the character of Danny probably is much more based on me than it is on Michelle: his insecurities, his issues with dating. Stephen is actually probably a much more confident guy in many ways than I am.” –Marc Goldsmith
PARODYING THE INDUSTRY
“I was promoting the show [Browntown] because I believe very strongly in it and I thought it had a good heart. And it was a cruel and sort of unnecessarily picking apart the industry, but at the same time, it did kind of feel like I was gathering a bunch of industry into one place so that I could make fun of them. And it’s not really what I wanted to accomplish, so one way I tried to mitigate that in the writing without being overly PC about it, was to try to also have characters who you really feel for in the play be all the characters. And for a lot of the responsibility to be put on the part of the actors in my story: to not sort of project every problem that they have on outside forces trying to demonize minorities. And instead take personal responsibility and decide what role they play in sort of contributing to depictions already out there. And instead of reducing it, the way for me to solve the problem was to try to do a well-rounded approach as possible so you just don’t target people and give a one-sided slam because that’s not interesting or insightful to anybody anyways. And that pretty much just leaves it at the level of parody, but I think if it’s a good story, there’s a lot of dimension to it. I tried to humanize as much as possible. And in particular I had a casting director character who ended up being the butt of all the jokes because she was trying to get the actors to act what she thought was more Arab. But she was doing it in an earnest way because she didn’t know that Afghanistan and Pakistan were not Arab countries.” –Sam Younis
“When we started out with SIDES, we didn’t really go far at all in any way- – All six of the performers and the creators are Asian American, but we never set out to do any sort of quote unquote Asian American piece. We just sort of drew upon our experience as actors, and it just so happens that it’s informed by us being Asian American. We just drew upon those experiences, and really didn’t go so far as to censor anything that we did in creating the piece and any of these stories. You know, I think we’re inherently conscious, but we didn’t want to censor any of these stories because we find, and as we continue to create in the different incarnations, that the truth is always what the audience responds to the most.” –Rodney To
PRE-9/11 AND POST 9/11
“Pre-9/11 I didn’t know anything about being an Arab. I didn’t belong to any Arab groups. There was no Arab community to me. In my stand-up act, I did one joke that I talk about in my one man show. So there was really no “Arab Dean” before 9/11. My life has changed so dramatically now: everything is Arab. You know, it’s ridiculous actually it’s so much so: Arab organizations, Arab community. And I think one of the odd benefits, and it’s a weird word to use when you talk about 9/11 being a benefit, but we’ve gotten a huge amount of attention and it has given us an opportunity to be in the media and to talk to our fellow Americans about our lives and that we’re like any other group. And there’s good and bad in our group like everyone else; just don’t judge us by our worst example.
Pre-9/11 if you talked about being Arab, you were just doing ethnic humor; if you were doing Italian, Jewish, Irish, it’s all the same. Now it’s political. The minute you go on stage and you tell an audience you’re Arab, or I say I’m Palestinian American, everyone stops talking, people aren’t paying attention and they just look at you. Because first they think I’m lying because I look pretty white. And then secondly, they really want to know what I want to talk about. So it’s been a great opportunity to talk and try to foster understanding and humanize who we are. And we never had that before pre-9/11. We just had horrible movie after horrible movie as Browntown did a great job of exemplifying in Sam’s play.” –Dean Obeidallah
“I guess the pre-9/11 and post-9/11 thing for me was partially just the circumstances of my life: I was in grad school pre-9/11. And I kind of was blissfully oblivious to the realities of the casting world, you know, that I may have even faced before 9/11. So I got to play Shakespeare and characters that were traditionally played by white men all the time. And I kind of thought when I got out of school, ‘This will be cool, you know, I’ll get to audition for all same kinds of roles that I did in grad school. And I quickly realized that, no, people are interested in, you know, Ahkmed Number 7 who’s responsible for blowing something up. And part of me is like, well, at least it’s very specific and marketable. And that’s interesting. And trying to apologize for it a lot.
And then I started to feel degraded after awhile because I started to feel- – well, first of all, I’m Lebanese and Christian and Texan with Republican parents. And this was all like things that sort of would not even be possible in the mainstream perception, too many contradictions at one time. And I kind of felt like there was nothing out there that even remotely spoke to who I actually was, and yet they were saying, Oh, this guy’s perfect. He’s definitely the right type for that. I don’t even speak Arabic actually. But I did very much identify with my Arab roots my whole life because my parents speak Arabic around the house all the time and whenever they don’t want me to understand what they’re saying.
So I guess for me it was really just a wake-up call that 9/11 actually hit even harder. But I don’t think it was just 9/11. I mean, I think before 9/11, it was even worse in a lot of ways for Arabs because nobody even cared to examine it. Like it wasn’t even- you know, True Lies and movies like that just have the most careless and reckless depictions. You know, movie after movie, Steven Segal flicks, and we all are just expected that this is our lot and we’re just going to have to either deal with or take a moral stance and not work. And I just felt like somebody has to say something about that, and so that’s kind of like the grrr, the sort of anger level that made me want to write.” –Sam Younis
“Nibras Theatre Collective, I actually was not even part of the original group, but I’m now a member of the company. Again, because I was in grad school, maybe I was unaware of what was going on, but I get the sense that 9/11 really was galvanizing in that there was no such thing as a cohesive Arab American community. And Arab Americans in general don’t tend to be as well organized- someone listening to this podcast might be really mad at me for saying that- but when it comes to lobbying for their own defense, post 9/11 was the force that made everybody say, Okay, wait a minute. You’re Jordanian, you’re Palestinian, you’re Yemeni and you’re Lebanese, but we all have to find common ground. And I think that Arabs tend to like to make a lot of the differences within their cultures, at least the older generations, but then when you become hyphenated and become an American, we can suddenly relate to each other regardless of religion. There’s so much diversity religiously and ethnically. And I think what 9/11 did was tore down those barriers, and everybody who had the same kind of veil of Middle Eastern-ness thrown at them, they all just decided that we should since we’re being all lumped together, we should kind of lump together ourselves. And throw something back.” – Sam Younis
Thirty-something Danny Bloch seeks romance. But his stature complicates matters–he stands about four feet tall. In this urban romantic comedy, Danny collides with friends, family, lovers and body issues in his funny, dark and poignant quest for love and self-esteem.
I Come in Peace
On September 10, 2001, I went to sleep an American. On September 11, I woke up an Arab. Follow my funny, painful, and truly surprising journey after 9/11 as I evolved from a typical white guy to “Super Arab.”
Revenge of a King
A Hip-Hop multicultural musical based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, featuring freestyle rhymes, MC battles, dance, and a live DJ. Hamilton King, an aspiring MC, searches for answers to the mysterious death of his father in a tale of greed,
power, and revenge.
TAKE ON ME
Korean-adoptee Christine S. traces the 20 years-and-counting career of one of pop music’s unacknowledged geniuses. Along the way, she tries to come to grips with her adoption, her mother, and her obsession with the Roland SH 101 key-tar.
FRINGENYC ALUMNI SHOWS
(Fringe 2004, Best Playwriting Award)
Actors Omar Fakhoury, Malek Bizri, and Vijay Singh are competing to play the role of Mohammed the terrorist in the latest Barry Juckheimer TV-movie: “The Color of Terror.” Watch the actors audition and try to convince the casting director that they have what it takes to wreak ‘jihad’ on innocent Americans on national TV. Who will prevail? The answer may surprise you and leave you wondering, “Who are the hijackers and who are the hostages in the entertainment industry?”
SIDES: The Fear is Real
(Fringe 2003, Best Ensemble Award)
After a hit Off-Broadway run at The Culture Project, a stellar, sold-out run at P.S. 122 presented by Ma-Yi Theatre and winning a BEST ENSEMBLE AWARD at the prestigious New York International Fringe Festival 2003, SIDES: The Fear is Real, the hilarious comedy presented by Mr. Miyagi’s Theatre Company, returned by popular demand to East West Players in L.A. for a limited 2 weeks run, opening on September 20, 2006 at the David Henry Hwang Theater.
Actors. Auditions. Agony. In SIDES: The Fear is Real, we follow six hopeful actors in their quest for entertainment employment through true life audition nightmares. Terrible scripts, psychotic casting directors, and competitive colleagues all stand in their way. In a series of comedic vignettes and scenes, these brave actors face their fears and almost triumph.
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