The Rise of Arab Theater in America
By: Joyce Behrens/Arab America Contributing Writer
Stage theater is a method of storytelling. It shows creativity as well as the talent from both the actors and writers. When it comes to Arab theater, it’s on a journey in the states. Stereotypes depicted Arab Americans under adverse circumstances for the past two decades. When projecting productions of Arab Theater, there is a message. That message can mean different concepts, however. Small theater production companies have made it their purpose to display what Arab storylines, as well as creativity, means to them. Yet, obstacles occur along the way. It’s not an easy road when it comes to a specific cultural depiction of art. Check out the significance of how vital Arab theater is in the United States.
Following the attacks of September 11th, Arab Americans became victims of negative stereotypes. The media projected them as enemies and villains. They portrayed depictions that show xenophobia as well as islamophobia. Almost as a way of brainwashing the public of false accusations of real Arab Americans. The usage of theater became an essential method to undermine these stereotypes. Some productions from Arab Americans included accurate cultural depictions of heritage when forming storylines. Whether these stories are from personal experiences or creative mindsets, it is crucial to portray Arab heritage in a truthful and meaningful way.
Arab theater in America has several different meanings. One is, creating a message to the audience. Scripts and performances are based on two various aspects: creativity and personal experiences. Actors and screenwriters are allowed to showcase personal experiences, whether they are times of happiness or despair. What is unique about live theatre is delivering a story or message. The use of live arts as a way to project the real side of Arab culture, often, which is blinded by stereotypes. Some performances allow different aspects of culture to be embraced.
Another factor of theatre to think about is the creative element. With the ability of storytelling, creativity allows the imagination to flow freely. Some of the creativity relates to current situations and problems. Although these might not be from personal experiences, but rather, dilemmas that occur in the Arab world today. Currently, small, but rising, theatre productions are making way. Two leading production companies that focus or contribute to Arab culture: Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi and Noor Theatre.
Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi
Executive Artistic Director of Cleveland Public Theater, Raymond Bobgan, describes the method of theater as “to nurture compassion and raise consciousness through groundbreaking performance and life-changing education programs.” Cleveland Public Theatre is not Arab theater specifically. However, they are a multicultural theater production company based in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland Public Theatre and with the help of prominent community leaders from the Arabic speaking communities launched Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi in 2018.
Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi aims to bridge gaps through story telling. All performances are performed by members of the Arabic speaking communities in Cleveland. Their first play, Dream of Home, focuses on a young woman struggling between two worlds. Those two worlds are the American lifestyle and her Arab background. Their current showcase is, And Then We Met, which is about accepting others and coming together. In this perspective, looking at stereotypes between different Arabic-speaking communities. Regardless, if they are Arab Christians, Muslims, Druze, if they’re from the cities or on the outskirts, or the mountain region. What’s important is accepting and trying others with respect.
Based in New York City, Noor Theatre collaborates and supports those in the theater community. Not only from the Arab community, but the Middle Eastern community as well. The production company was founded by three women, with ambitions to bring Arab heritage into live arts. They are Lameece Issaq, Maha Chehlaoui, and Nancy Vitale. They all possess previous acting and directing experience. Creativity with value history and concepts comes into play in their line of work. For instance, as part of their Myth project, Phoenicia Flowers is the poetic tale the Phoenician Gods in the tourist attractions of modern-day Lebanon. Food and Fadwa, which is Fadwa Faranesh, an unmarried Palestinian woman known for her delectable cooking, but living in the troubled times of Bethlehem. However, she continues her love of food and family, despite the political conflicts.
What is essential in the concept of Arab theater in America is educating others. In today’s society, those negative stereotypes still exist. Whether it’s displaying the talents of the Arab community or the culture. The purpose of theater is to entertain the public and show creativity. The Arab community has taken this platform for their own use.
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