April 1931 (90 years ago)
Khalil Gibran, famed Lebanese American author of The Prophet, died on April 10 at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan at the age of 48. Born in 1883, Gibran immigrated with his mother and siblings to Boston in 1895. Gibran is remembered mainly for his parables and poetry, but also wrote seven plays in Arabic that were translated into English and published posthumously. The play Rest Upon the Wind, written by playwright and actor Nadim Sawalha in 2015, is inspired by Gibran’s life and has had productions in London’s West End, Dubai, and the United States.
April 1946 (75 years ago)
Ahmed Zaki Abu Shadi moved with his family from Egypt to the United States. Born in 1892, Abu Shadi was a writer, publisher, medical doctor, and bacteriologist who held four patents in beekeeping equipment. Educated in Egypt and England, he met and married an Englishwoman named Annie Bamford. They raised their family in Egypt, but after Annie succumbed to a long illness, Abu Shadi relocated with their children to Brooklyn. He wrote several verse plays and opera librettos, and translated Shakespeare’s plays into Arabic.
April 2006 (15 years ago)
Island of Animals by Hafiz Karmali, a play based on a 10th-century Islamic fable, had its U.S. premiere at Golden Thread Productions. Founded in 1996 in San Francisco, Golden Thread Productions centers and celebrates Middle Eastern culture and identity in all its complexity. The company’s work presents challenging social issues through the work of playwrights such as Karmali, Karim Alrawi, Leslie Ayvazian, and Yussef el Guindi.
Also in April 2006, founders and husbands Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani opened a new venue for their company, the Silk Road Theatre Project (now known as Silk Road Rising), in the historical Chicago Temple on Washington St. in Chicago. The first production in the new venue was the Midwest premiere of Yussef El-Guindi’s Back of the Throat. Later that year, El-Guindi won L.A. Weekly’s Excellence in Playwriting Award.
And in Seattle in April 2006, Seattle Rep presented Heather Raffo’s Off-Broadway hit 9 Parts of Desire. Writer-performer Raffo wrote the play after conducting years of interviews with Iraqi women. The play, which starred Najla Said, daughter of Palestinian American literary theorist and political activist Edward Said, is a “theatrical mosaic” depicting the realities of life in Iraq, both under Saddam Hussein and since his ouster in 2001. Raffo dedicated the play to the many members of her family still living in Baghdad.
April 2011 (10 years ago)
On April 1, New York Theatre Workshop announced that its season would include Food and Fadwa, a play co-produced by Noor Theatre, a resident company at NYTW. Written by Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader and directed by Shana Gold, the story concerns a Palestinian woman who lives in Bethlehem and nurtures her family with delectable food in the midst of political upheaval.
That same month, Pangea World Theatre of Minneapolis hosted a staged reading of Zafira the Olive Oil Warrior, written by Kathryn Haddad and directed by Dipankar Mukherjee as part of their Alternate Visions Festival. A fully realized production of the play took place in the fall of 2011.
April 2016 (5 years ago)
The aforementioned Noor Theatre, the New York-based theatre representing voices of the Middle Eastern diaspora, was gearing up for their second annual 48-Hour Forum. Taking the stage that May, the 48-Hour Forum enlisted a diverse roster of artists to spin news events related to immigration, ISIS, civil wars, stump speeches, and domestic policy into humorous, incisive theatrical “op-eds.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Mosaic Theater Company was opening Leila Buck’s Hkeelee (Talk to Me) on April 30. Buck was both writer and performer in this piece, presented as part of the Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival. Shana Gold, Buck’s longtime collaborator, directed the piece. In an interview with Jennifer Perry, Buck said the play “grew out of my struggle to hold on to my Lebanese grandmother as she began to lose her memory, and with it, pieces of our family’s history.”
This post originally omitted Noor Theatre’s co-producing credit for Food and Fadwa at New York Theatre Workshop. Because that omission fed into a pattern of erasure faced by Middle Eastern and North African and other theatres of color, particularly in cases of co-productions with predominantly white theatres, we feel it’s important to go beyond correction and offer an apology and commitment to greater care going forward. The editorial staff apologizes to Noor Theatre and others harmed by this omission, and hold ourselves accountable to preventing similar erasure in the future.
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