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Cultural exchange highlights a partnership developed between Valparaiso University and Chicago-based theatre company Silk Road Rising

Valparaiso University

Valpo University Cultural exchange highlights a partnership developed between Valparaiso University and Chicago-based theatre company Silk Road Rising. Silk Road Rising creates live theatre and online videos that tell stories through primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American lenses. They support a polycultural worldview, which differs from a multicultural understanding in that they focus on the overlapping aspects of cultures.

The partnership between Silk Road Rising and the Valparaiso University Graduate School's arts and entertainment administration program developed in large part because of the influence of a former board member at Silk Road Rising who also is a Valpo alumnus. The company’s co-founders, Jamil Khoury, artistic director, and Malik Gillani, executive director, developed an interest in pursuing the relationship.

“Malik and I were invited to be a part of an advisory council by the Valpo Graduate School for a new master’s degree in arts and entertainment administration,” Khoury said. “Through that process, we got to know Dean David Rowland and people involved with the graduate school, and from there we recognized that we wanted something deeper and more solidified than an advisory capacity.”

The new Master of Arts degree in arts and entertainment administration was launched during the fall semester of 2010, and prepares students for professional careers related to the administration of arts and entertainment programs, including performing arts, theatre, visual arts, museums and entertainment venues. The partnership with Silk Road Rising is a hallmark component of the program and offers unique opportunities to students.

Silk Road Rising recently received a $15,000 grant from the James S. Kemper Foundation of Chicago to fund internship positions for Valpo's arts and entertainment administration graduate students. Internship opportunities will be in areas such as production management, public relations, and marketing.

Silk Road Rising also plans to offer an annual or biannual residency for a playwright who falls within its mission of featuring playwrights with Asian American and Middle Eastern backgrounds.

These opportunities will give students the chance to receive tangible, hands-on experience working at an award-winning theatre company. Members of Silk Road Rising will also guest-teach in the arts and entertainment administration graduate program and will offer classes at their theatre in Chicago.

In addition to educational opportunities, partnering with Silk Road Rising presents an opportunity for Valpo to expand its internationalization efforts.

“We as an institution seek to internationalize not only the curriculum, but the experience,” said the Rev. Brian Johnson, executive director of campus ministries. “And here’s a theatre whose primary focus is thinking about polycultures around the world. So it just seems to me that the venues for thinking about these issues reside not only in the classroom, but also in the community and in the wider world. And to utilize institutions, agencies, and experiences that cultivate the encounter of people between different cultures is what Valparaiso is about.”

Part of the relationship between Valpo and Silk Road Rising is a cultural exchange, such as the staged reading of “Paulus” that took place Monday, Feb. 20, in the Gloria Christi Chapel. For this performance, Silk Road Rising came to Valpo and presented scenes from a play written by an Israeli playwright about the apostle Paul. The play challenges ideas of religion and culture. Presenting a work done by an Israeli playwright that addresses subjects like Jesus, Paul, and early Christians represents the polycultural worldview that Silk Road Rising seeks to illuminate.

“One of the things that compelled me to want to become involved with this play is that some of my ideas about Jesus are so wonderfully challenged,” Khoury said. “Jesus the Jewish nationalist, Jesus the Zionist, is not the image of Jesus that lives in my mind. We tend to think of Jesus as belonging to everyone, as a ministry for everyone.” 

Khoury introduced the reading with the playwright, Motti Lerner, which gave the audience an opportunity to hear the perspectives of Khoury and Lerner in approaching this play.

“I began to be interested exactly because it was a subject that was not talked about,” Lerner said. “It became clear to me that, from my point of view, Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary. The idea that Jesus was such a great revolutionary was rejected by the Jewish establishment because it threatened it — that was even more attracting, because what would have happened if the Jews didn't’t reject Jesus’ teaching? What would have happened to Judaism?”

Johnson’s portfolio includes interreligious dialogue, and he sees this as the beginning of an increased awareness of diversity and similarities among religions. 

“The performance of ‘Paulus’ is setting it up to engage people in interreligious dialogue,” Johnson said. “I suspect that over these next few years there will be a large variety of different kinds of these events so that people can increase not only their understanding of world religions, but also find opportunities to create a literacy, to be able to speak with each other from different points of view.”

In the future, Silk Road Rising hopes to bring a full-length production to Valpo, and is interested in the possibility of bringing a show from the Valparaiso University Department of Theatre to its facility in Chicago. It would give Valpo theatre students the opportunity to perform in a downtown Chicago venue.

This partnership will help to connect the Valpo and Chicago communities, and presents unique benefits for both.

“I had always known about Valpo, but had never been there until we became involved with the graduate advisory council,” Khoury said. “Each time we visit, I feel more connected, more attached, more involved with what’s happening at Valpo’s campus. We have great relationships with many universities in Chicago, but this presents a unique opportunity in that it is both close enough and far enough from Chicago to be a very different environment. I think there is a different type of benefit for us, because we are reaching a different student population. We’re very excited and we see a lot of potential in this relationship.”

Visit silkroadrising.org to learn more about Silk Road Rising.
Visit valpo.edu/grad/aea1 for more information about the new master’s program in arts and entertainment administration.