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ReOrient 2019: National Convening of MENA Theatre Artists

Building on years of community organizing, the convening, hosted by Golden Thread, will launch a national coalition of Middle Eastern, North African and Muslim theatre artists.

Golden Thread is part of a 14-member steering committee that has been working to increase MENA visibility, amplify our voices, and deepen the impact of our work. This gathering is made up of work sessions as well as public panels, roundtables, and coalition-building opportunities in conjunction with Golden Thread’s ReOrient Festival.

All events were open to the public unless otherwise specified as a MENA-only work session.

Please note that we define “Middle East” and “Middle Eastern” broadly and inclusively, and embrace the multiplicity of ethnic and religious identities that span Southwest Asia, North Africa, Central Asia, the Caucasus, parts of Mediterranean Europe, and our Diaspora communities. We understand our respective backgrounds in terms of rich pluralism and interconnectedness. We also define “America” and “American” in the broadest possible ways to include the continents of North and South America. Furthermore, at this time in history, it’s important that we include American Muslims, of all cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds, as members of our Middle Eastern American communities.

MENA CONVENING SCHEDULE

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2019

More of Our Plays on US Stages. Organized and facilitated by Torange Yeghiazarian, Golden Thread Productions, and Kate Moore Heaney, Noor Theater. (MENA-only work session)*

A recent MENA community survey identified, “more of our plays on national stages” as the community’s top priority. In this working session, the participants were asked to explore various strategies in groups, then report back to the full room, and then together generate a list of actionable steps and tasks.

Artistic and Administrative Mentorship in the MENA Community. Organized by Catherine Coray, The Lark/NYU Tisch, facilitated by Roberta Levitow, Theatre Without Borders. (livestream on Howlround)

Participants included Adam Ashraf, Yussef El Guindi, Torange Yeghiazarian, Pia Haddad, Raymond Bobgan & Evren Odickin.

This roundtable session began as an inter-generational conversation amongst artistic and administrative leaders within the MENA theater community, and was opened to include all attendees interested in the concept of sharing skills/learning/wisdom/inspiration amongst leaders of varying experience in support of Middle Eastern American theater. Topics included individual experiences of Middle Eastern American artists; the ways in which the Middle Eastern American theater landscape has grown and changed; approaches to mentorship and cooperation they have found to be successful; and strategies for increased dialogue between established and emerging Middle Eastern American artists and curators.

Public Opening & Overview of Our Efforts to Build a MENA Theatre Artists National Coalition. Torange Yeghiazarian and the MENA Theatre Artists Steering Committee. (livestream on Howlround)

Golden Thread’s Founding Artistic Director Torange Yeghiazarian contextualized current efforts to organize, and with the support of MENA Steering Committee members, present highlights from the MENA Theatre Artist Community Survey, the community’s top priorities, and current goals. Also, Kate Moore Heaney (Noor Theatre) and Andrea Assaf (Art2Action) addressed participants as members of the Steering Committee of MENA Theatre Artists.

Steering Committee members (present) included Yussef El Guindi, Orange Yeghiazarian, Denmo Ibrahim, Tracy Francis, Debórah Eliezer, Evren Odickin, Pia Haddad, Andrea Assaf & Kate Moore Heaney.

MENA in the Academy: How Can Academics and Practitioners Partner to Increase MENA Productions and Publications in Academia? Organized by Malek Michael Najjar, University of Oregon, and Catherine Coray, The Lark/NYU Tisch. Facilitated by Roberto Varea, University of San Francisco. (livestream on Howlround)

Participants included Leila Buck (New York University), Nathalie Handal (New York University), Leyla Modirzadeh (University of California, Berkeley), Josh Saboorizadeh (University of Missouri, Columbia) & Tariq Hamami (The City College of New York).

This panel examined the role of the academy in relation to MENA theatrical education, production, training, and publication. In the traditional university theatre system, there has been little room for MENA playwrights in the American theatre canon, leading to a paucity of representation of MENA writers, directors, actors, and designers. The panel will focus on the following questions: Why aren’t MENA playwrights regularly taught in university/college curricula? Why aren’t more academic theatre programs including MENA works in their seasons? How can theatre and performance studies scholars create more books, essays, dissertations, and other publications focused on MENA work?

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2019

Naming & Defining Our Coalition. Organized by Jamil Khoury, Silk Road Rising. Facilitated by Khoury and Andrea Assaf, Art2Action. (MENA-only work session)*

Building upon past convenings and the Middle Eastern American Theatre Artists Bill of Rights, participants in this working session helped define a broader vision of our MENA coalition. We explored what it means to be a collective of theatre artists amplifying our voices within the American theatre, and grappled with such questions as:  What should we name our coalition?  What are our values and goals?  How do we support one another and hold each other accountable? Where do we see our coalition ten years from now?

Coalition-building & Networks. Organized and facilitated by Andrea Assaf, Art2Action. (livestream on Howlround)

Organized by Jamil Khoury (Silk Road Rising). Facilitated by Khoury and Andrea Assaf (Art2Action).

Participants included Shannon R. Davis, Joan Osato (Consortium of Asian American Theatres & Artists), Armando Huipe (Latinx Theatre Commons), Edris Cooper (Black Theatre Association; Focus Group of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education).

What does it take to build a movement? What’s the difference between a network, coalition, or commons? How do we shift the center, to create a more equitable arts and culture field? This session invited leaders of theatres of color and national arts networks to share perspectives and models for coalition-building, exploring how we can better work together, and support each other across identity groups.

MENA Coalition Steering Committee Members:

Shoresh Alaudini, Andrea Assaf (Art2Action, Inc.), Leila Buck, Deborah Ben-Eliezer, Catherine Coray (NYU/The Lark), Tracy Francis, Yussef El Guindi, Kathryn Haddad, Pia Haddad, Taous Khazem, Kate Moore Heaney (Noor Theater), Denmo Ibrahim, Jamil Khoury (Silk Road Rising), Michael Malek Najjar (University of Oregon), Evren Odcikin, Nora El Samahy, Torange Yeghiazarian (Golden Thread Productions)

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