In The News
Working in the Theatre: In the Field - Silk Road Rising
Published by: American Theatre Wing
How do theatre makers and theatre goers continue the discussion of what’s on stage, especially when these themes reflect what’s taking place in our communities? One answer is the work that Silk Road Rising, a Chicago based theatre company, creates with their Video Play series. Building a library of digital content that stems from work on stage, the themes of multiculturalism, primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American storytelling, are amplified and distributed to a wider audience online.
How Silk Road Rising teaches empathy through playwriting
The local theater company introduces a new kind of arts education.
By: Airan Wright
What is a conflict?" Levi Holloway asks.
It's 7:30 AM on a Wednesday in the first-period senior drama class at Morgan Park High School on the southwest side. About 20 students are already here; a few more will filter in later. Some slouch in their seats or hunch over their desks, but they're listening. Holloway looks around the room and waits for someone to answer his question.
"A problem," one student answers.
"A turning point," another student ventures softly, "when something goes wrong."
Holloway and the students are talking about playwriting, specifically how to build a story, but they're also talking about the state of the world. It's the last week of September, and there are examples of the three classical forms of conflict everywhere. The weekend before, NFL players had protested against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem, much to the displeasure of President Donald Trump. (Man versus Man.) Puerto Rico, ravaged by Hurricane Maria, was underwater and without power. (Man versus Nature.) "Everything is horrible," one student told Holloway before the bell rang. "I just want a day to sleep." (Man versus Himself.)
Jamil Khoury, the theater activist
'We love the art form, but that's not where we're coming from. It's the desire to impact change.'
By: Lisa Predko
Silk Road was founded in 2002 as a response to 9/11. Had 9/11 not happened, we probably would still be leading our other lives, which were not in the theater. [Cofounder] Malik [Gillani] was an IT consultant, and I was an international relocation consultant.
Malik was born in Pakistan and came here at the age of seven; I was born in Chicago, but my father is from Syria. My mom is Chicago-born; her parents were from Poland and Slovakia. So I am a white Arab Slovak Pole, raised in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian tradition. Malik is Muslim. We've been together 15 years.
When 9/11 happened, our worlds changed—Malik's much more than mine, in that he's a brown person who became the enemy for a lot of people, or at least suspect. There was a very dramatic shift, an overt fear of South Asian or Middle Eastern people, as if they were all complicit. On a community level, people were dealing with hostility, thrown on the defensive. One's Americanness was called into question.
Players of the Moment
Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani of Silk Road Rising
By: Kevin Greene
The Silk Road refers to the region spanning from the Mediterranean to East Asia. While its historical usage refers to goods, its contemporary coinage is a blanket term for a diverse group of rich and vibrant cultures that have nevertheless been largely ignored or reduced to stereotypical representations in Western art and entertainment. Founded in 2002 in the wake of September 11 by life partners Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani, Silk Road Rising’s ongoing mission is to counter Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism by addressing the dearth of representation of Silk Road peoples on Chicago stages. Over the course of fifteen years, the company has spawned numerous initiatives and expanded their artistic endeavors to include film and video. With the imminent inauguration of Donald Trump, the very existence of Silk Road Rising has become as imperative as its mission.
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How Chicago became world premiere capital
By: Catey Sullivan
Photo by Michael BrosilowPulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer could have premiered his gritty "Man in the Ring" anywhere. Why here? '“Chicago is less risk-averse," he says. "The audiences are adventurous."
Never mind the coasts: When it comes to new works, playwrights are flocking here.
Between now and Christmas, Chicago will host more than 30 world premiere plays. From major multimillion-dollar powerhouses to the postage-stamp off-off-off-Loop stages, the city is basically one big theatrical petri dish.
This year is an especially robust one, but every year hundreds of artists take to Chicago's stages in hopes of launching the next “Spamalot” or “August: Osage County.” The million-dollar question: What makes Chicago a magnet for unknown plays? The short answer is that money goes further here, audiences are more welcoming, critics are less powerful and the talent bench is deep.
Among the larger launches this season was Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cristofer's gritty “Man in the Ring,” which closes Oct. 16 at Court Theatre. Cristofer, who won a 1977 Pulitzer for his drama “The Shadow Box” and has a starring role on the Emmy-winning “Mr. Robot,” could have taken “Man in the Ring” anywhere. So why did the New York-based playwright bring the explosive drama about dementia and boxing to Chicago?
Middle Eastern-American Artists Ask: Who Gets to Speak for ‘The Profane’?
Zayd Dohrn’s new play at Playwrights’ Horizons has sparked a public conversation about equity, inclusion, and authorship.
By: Allison Considine
Members of the Middle Eastern-American theatre community took to the internet last week to express growing concerns about the representation of Middle Eastern Americans both onstage and behind the scenes. Though it’s part of an ongoing debate, with implications reaching before and beyond the current moment, the occasion for the discussion this time is Zayd Dohrn’s new play The Profane, running at Playwrights Horizons through May 7.
Although the cast members of the new production are all of Middle Eastern descent, the creative team does not include a Middle Eastern-American voice, and Dohrn is white. This lack of direct representation, authorial power, and equity spurred the release of a detailed public statement led by New York City’s Noor Theatre on April 26.
The statement reads, in part: “Why, when there are so many gifted Middle Eastern and/or Muslim playwrights and directors, are there still no decision makers of Middle Eastern descent or Muslim faith involved in a production about Muslims?