Feb 15, 2012

Life During Wartime

Last June, I found myself running the Power Point for a session at the TCG Conference in L.A. titled "What If…We Could Bridge the Divides? The Role of Theatre in Iraqi-US Reconciliation", with two theater artists from Iraq, Waleed Shamil and Amir Azraki, and one Iraqi-American, Heather Raffo, whose multi-character solo piece 9 Parts of Desire has made the rounds of many American and European theaters, and is now in fact being translated by Dr. Shamil into Arabic for a run in Iraq. I took notes on my laptop, as I was supposed to do internally for TCG, but I quickly realized that I was taking notes as a journalist, as well.

And a few minutes into Dr. Shamil's extraordinary slide presentation on theater in and around Baghdad, I pulled out my flash drive and quietly copied all his photos onto it; I knew that I wanted to write about this for American Theatre, and that when I did, I didn't want to have to track down photos from halfway across the world.

I did end up eventually writing about theater in wartime Iraq, and its fragile postwar hopes, for the February issue of AT—and so striking were the photos that one became the issue's cover image: It shows a woman from the Al Mada Street Theatre troupe performing a show called A Day in Our Country under a bombed-out bridge in Baghdad. The piece is here; there are also remarkable dispatches about theater in Algeria, Bangladesh, Uganda, and China.

I think some of our readers are confused about why a magazine called American Theatre covers as much international theater as we do; but as it's been explained to me, the idea is that we not only cover American theater but that we represent American theater to the world, and in that role we both bear witness to world theater and introduce international theater artists to American readers. In the case of Dr. Shamil and Iraq, though, the case for taking account of the state of the arts in country so integrally, and tragically, entwined with the United States should hardly need to be made.

Below, Dr. Shamil (on the right) talks with Azraki about the history of Arab theater.

And here's Heather Raffo, in an engaging talk about her show and its evolving reception with American and Western audiences:

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