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The Importance of a Challenge

For this last post, I want to talk about my final dramaturgical project and my experience of working on a text that was especially outside my realm of comfort.

When choosing a play at the beginning of the semester, I knew I wanted something that would really test my dramaturgical skills. I didn’t want to focus on a playwright I had encountered before, or a story that felt familiar to me. Not only did I want the play to be provocative contextually, but I also wanted it to break from traditional forms as well.

After thinking about these criteria for a bit, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to find a contemporary play that dealt with Islam in some way. I haven’t seen or read many plays that deal with Muslim culture, and I have had little intersection with it in my personal life as well.

Not knowing where to start, Ilana suggested I look into Heather Raffo’s play Nine Parts of Desire, and I was immediately hooked after my initial Google search. Essentially, the play is about the struggles Iraqi women have faced over the past twenty to thirty years. Between the plays nine characters, their lifetimes from span from pre-Gulf War to the arrival of Bush’s troops in the early 2000’s.

In it’s original conception and in most subsequent productions, all nine characters have been played by one woman. They are connected through language and through their use of an “abaya” (An abaya is a traditional, robe-like garment worn by Iraqi Muslim women over their clothes to veil their bodies). Each woman tells a different tale of woe caused by either Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Gulf War, or the American/Iraq War. Some have lost their homes, jobs, families and even their lives.

In all honesty, I must admit that my slow, deliberate read of this play took quite a long time. I had never encountered a text where I knew so little of what was being referenced by the characters. However, though Raffo’s play is centered on the experiences of Iraqi women, in no way is it only an “Iraqi” play. It’s message is universal: liberation can take a myriad of forms, yet everyone deserves their own freedom. I never felt overwhelmed or intimidated by my lack of knowledge surrounding Iraqi culture and the traditions of Islamic people. Instead, my ignorance fueled my desire to get as deep as possible in my research so that I could best understand the world in which Raffo was taking me as an audience member.

Having now completed my dramaturgical dossier for the play, I am so grateful that I stuck with this play. There were times during my research when I felt like I could never possibly know all there is to know about the issues brought up in the play. But of course there was no way I could know everything, all I could do was focus on what I believed to be the most important aspects of the plays contextual life.

Not only do I feel accomplished and like I did the play justice, but I feel so much more informed as a human being walking through life. I now know that I could engage in an informed discussion about Western involvement in Arab nations, the role of women in Islam, the fundamental divides embedded between the Sunnis and the Shias……

This post is dedicated to challenging myself and coming out the other side as a more informed and confident theatre artist. I know that my best work comes when I don’t let myself off the hook, and in this case I certainly could not afford to do that.

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