Iman Aoun: Breaking Down Walls &Cultivating Hope Through Theatre

For over thirty-five years, Iman Aoun, a theatre-maker from Palestine has dedicated herself to advancing her mission of “breaking down walls” that exist as both physical and psychological phenomena by “cultivating hope [and creating] beauty and change” through her art.  Refusing to compromise her commitment to stripping both visible and invisible walls, Iman’s work has become a source of healing not only for her Palestinian communities, but also global populations.

Iman 2020

Iman Aoun (Actress, Director, Producer) began her career in 1984 with the internationally renowned Palestinian Theatre Company El-Hakawati. In 1991 she co-founded ASHTAR Theatre and serves as Artistic Director . Aoun holds a Bachelor Degree in Social Studies and a Diploma in Psychodrama and has written and published many theatre studies; devised many plays; and directed nationally and internationally. She is a recognized international trainer of the Theatre of the Oppressed technique, an Award winning actress and director for the stage in more than 60 productions, and has appeared in national TV series and international movies. Aoun has received numerous commendations for her work from different countries, international organizations and festivals, and has served as a Panelist for various world congresses and international conferences.

Among her most notable global projects is The Gaza Monologues.

Please visit the link below to become a patron of ASHTAR Theatre:  contributions could be as little as 5$ a month. Your support grants our continuation https://www.patreon.com/ashtartheatre

Global Giving at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/ashtar-online-performances/photos/?fbclid=IwAR0-ihQ-TXfHKZZPNd16vTocB-eyCve4lY97WdX1BfdMkwwC3o7Glynh_fw#menu

iman@ashtar-theatre.org

https://www.facebook.com/iman.aoun.18

March Hare Media + Wheatsheaf Studio Productions marchharemedia.com

“Keep The Light On For Me” vocals, music and lyrics by Yuri Turchyn yuriturchyn.com

Coping with Covid-19: Just Get Messy!

An interview with children’s author Rita Meade

The impact of reading out loud books to kids is transformative in so many different ways.  Children respond differently to the “messy message” and extrapolate solutions for Edward’s dilemma.

Covid-19 has changed our lives forever; in fact, it could be devastating. But Rita Meade’s prescient message in her 2016 award-winning book Edward Gets Messy offers a way for us to cope with the stress and confusion of social distancing by delving into our artistic souls to discover a stronger, self-confident version of our selves.

Without giving a spoiler alert, the story features Edward the pig who never EVER gets messy.  But what happens when a big tub of paint falls on Edward’s perfectly neat little head?  Getting messy has its upsides, too. Here’s how this metaphorical spin of spilled paint can offer us some perspective during this pandemic…

The Arts helps you do well academically Over the course of Rita’s educational K-12 journey, she participated in numerous art-related programs from elementary school enrichment activities to singing in the choir, learning to play musical instruments, to performing in high school children’s theatre productions.  All of this accumulated academic knowledge coalesced to help her to see the importance of children’s literature and how it could impact people’s lives. 

Despite her passion for pursuing acting as a career, she always loved telling stories. By “taking all the experiences from high school and beyond” she channeled her performance skills to be a children’s librarian and picture book author.  One of her favorite parts of being a children’s book author was visiting schools and interacting with children. The “impact of reading out loud books to kids is transformative in so many different ways.” 

Photo credit M. Bialaszewski

Children respond differently to the “messy message” and extrapolate solutions for Edward’s dilemma:  “Well, he can take a bath!” They insightfully perceive the situation as temporary and that this, too, will pass.  Ah, a lesson we can all embrace during this viral pandemic. Perhaps, we can all take stock of where we are academically in our lives and how we can use this time to reassess where our talents lie and weigh-in on where life will take us after the “paint has been spilled” ? Look to the future. You might just be surprised at the possibilities of seeking new career paths? New alternatives to adapting skill sets you might have otherwise shelved? After earning her Masters in teaching English Rita believed that this was the logical career path; to her dismay it was not.  And why . . .

The Arts strengthens problem solving and critical thinking skills.  For an A-Type personality demanding perfection, Rita, as you can imagine, was absolutely distraught. Resisting her mother’s earlier suggestion to become a public librarian Rita decided to give it a try.  She attended Queen’s College to earn a Master’s degree in Library Science.  “This is it!” eventually leading her to her current employment at Brooklyn Public Library. There were many “ups and downs,” along the way but Rita “learned a lot [through her failures and successes].”  Having to close the library due to the coronavirus was a paradox for her:  continue to comply with her conviction that libraries serve as centers of communities or close for the safety and well-being of its patrons?  Similarly, this juxtaposed Edward’s challenging crossroad to either wallow in the inevitable or rise to the occasion? When all programs had been cancelled, on the day before the library closed, Rita brought her guitar for children to strum, sing, and savor the joys of music.  During the session one little boy remarked how it was “the first time [he] ever played a guitar!”  By adjusting inevitable outcomes of separation from her prodigies, Rita realized how “the Arts change people’s brains in good way; it inspires hope, really. What else are we trying to do, you know?”  So, use this time of separation to shift gears:  think about taking out that guitar, the recorder you had in first grade, playing the piano.  Listen to your favorite tunes that got you to think about the world in a way that moved you to dance and celebrate life! Music will not only soothe your soul and ease your troubled thoughts, but also wipe away some of those cobwebs:  reading music, listening, BEING.   Memorize lines from a favorite poem. Read a play.  Sort through your bookshelf.  Re-read some of your favorite texts.  Remind yourself of what you once knew and valued.  Revisit that file of shelved things to do…

The Arts helps you to express your emotions.  Publishing a book is an arduous process. It requires trust, perseverance and humility.  Despite having a clear vision for the book, Rita learned to express her emotions through her art:   “It’s a lot of vulnerability . . . and you have to grow a thick skin.”  Besides trusting her editor with revisions, she had to learn to let go of some of her ideas.  For example, Rita had initially wanted the story to take place in a library, but after an exchange with the professionals, Rita decided to trust their judgement.   Kristin [her editor] gave her “a lot of great changes; a lot of great editing that [she] wouldn’t have thought of [herself]. Ultimately, it made the story better.”  Coping with criticism is another challenge. “People are going to read the book and will have opinions,” she said, “and you can’t control that.  Once the book goes out into the world it doesn’t belong to the writer; it belongs to the reader now.”   This was a challenge for Rita since she “sometimes just wants people to like [her].”  Trying to please others has always been part of her nature, but she knew it was something she needed to overcome.  And she did! “I can’t take it all personally . .  . [I’ll] just try to absorb all the good stuff and not the negative stuff.”  Good advice to heed during our solitary quarantine.  Sometimes, being alone allows us to be still, be patient, and listen.  Take a personal inventory of where you are at this stage of your life.  How much have you grown emotionally? What regrets can be amended? Introspection can offer time to examine our behaviors and what motivates us to be who we are. Make a list. What do you like about yourself? What do you need to change? What are some of your fears? Anxieties that keep you from taking a leap to a new job? Starting a new relationship?  Carpe Diem! Seize the day like Edward and Rita, to “[be] distraught and unsure of what to do…But Wait . . . “

The Arts gives you confidence.  Visiting schools has served to instill and inspire young audiences.  “If I can do it, “she says to her young charges, “you can do it. “ By being “live” Rita de-mystifies the persona of the author:  “Authors aren’t these mystical creatures; we’re people just like YOU!”  It is instilling this kind of confidence that made one child exclaim, “Now I want to write a book because I know that you did!”  To offer some sustainability once she has left the classroom, Rita provides her contact information to encourage her young prodigies to keep in touch.  For this teacher of Rita Meade, there is nothing more satisfying than to have a former student acknowledge how I might have played a part in the pursuit of her career. And why, during the corona virus we can look back on those teachers whose lessons have long ago shaped who we are and are grateful for their tutelage.  Write a note to that teacher.  Look them up on social media.  Thank them for their “art” of molding you into the human being you are today.  And why…

The Arts are an investmentNikki Haley former UN Ambassador recently shot off a tweet denouncing the emergency funding given to the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Kennedy Center as irresponsible and queried:  “How many more people could have been helped with this money?”  Rita would definitively tell her how “lucky she [Rita] is to see every day the difference that the arts make in children’s lives. . . if I’m doing story time or we’re doing an arts and crafts class you can see how it stimulates the children’s creativity and their thought processes and learning and just their emotional happiness.”  There is no doubt that the arts are fun for kids. Diving into those finger paints and making a beautiful picture to hang on the fridge is awesome. Acting in a play is exhilarating.  Ensure that they continue to shape and inspire our souls.  Use this time to donate to your favorite art institution, be it the playful Paperbag Players or Lincoln Center.  It’s what makes us humane. It is what will be our legacy.  We will survive this pandemic. With the Arts, anything is possible; because after all,   “Edward knows that it’s okay even for particular pigs to get messy. . . . “

Coda:  Frances McGarry, Ph.D. is a dedicated arts advocate committed to raising awareness of how The Arts Rejuvenate. The Arts Restore. The Arts are our Supernatural Gift.  It is the force that unites us as a single, breathing, living entity that connects every human being to be all that is good and pure.  She created a blog and podcast First Online With Fran to raise awareness of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the Arts like Rita Meade and so many others. What will YOU do during this pandemic to make our world a richer, better place to be?

Rita Meade is a public librarian who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She has a background in youth services, has professionally reviewed children’s books for “School Library Journal,” and has written for literary sites including Book Riot and Reading Rainbow. Her debut picture book Edward Gets Messy was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and in 2017, it won the first ever Anna Dewdney Read-Together Award which recognizes a picture book that is “both a superb read aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection.”

Email: RitaMeadeAuthor@gmail.com

Twitter: @ScrewyDecimal

Instagram: @ScrewyDecimal

Edward Gets Messy

Winner of The Anna Dewdney Read Together Award

School Library Journal ‘Popular Pick’ 

Atlanta Parent ‘Best Book’

References & Resources…

10 Reasons Why Arts in Education Is so Important for Kids

Is your student looking to become more involved in the arts? Not only do K12 online public schools offer their students art and music courses, K12 has individual art classes for purchase. For more information on K12  and our programs that encourage student involvement in the arts, you can contact our enrollment team at 877.895.1754 or request to receive more information online.

Americans For The Arts

Off-Broadway Review: ‘The Lady Liberty Theater Festival’ at Urban Stages

New York Theatre Guide Posted By: Jacquelyn Claire on: September 10, 2016

LLTF promo poster June 24

“The Lady Liberty Theater Festival,” presented by Aizzah Fatima and Monica Bauer, comprises three short punchy plays and a song in praise of freedom and against Islamophobia. As I arrived in the theater, the soundtrack was blasting out music with American themes. I got into the mood as Neil Diamond sang, “they’re coming to America.” As a recent immigrant to the shores of the Land of the Free, I felt the need to sing along, quietly.

. . .deeply satisfying. . .

The scene setter was a quirky comedy called “Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever,” written by Monica Bauer. Lady Liberty (Frances McGarry) has been summoned to her agent Vinnie’s office (J.Dolan Byrnes), and if she can stay off her cellphone for long enough, he will tell her the shocking news that Trump is about to rebrand her in his image and do away with the Emma Lazarus poem on her pedestal.

Cheryl King directs this comedic sketch, where she crafts a pithy little satirical stab at the “Orange” man who has literally forgotten where he comes from. Byrnes and McGarry charge around the stage with enough energy to set the Lady’s torch on fire. They have great stage chemistry together and seem to really enjoy their volleys of dialogue, served forcefully at each other.

Dolan Byrnes soulfully covered the scene change with a rendition of the Irish traditional folk song “No Irish Need Apply,” beautifully setting the context of bigotry and exclusion through the ages in Manhattan. We segued into the next movement, “No Irish Need Apply,” written by Monica Bauer and directed by Cheryl King. Joan Fitzgerald (Frances McGarry) is a shop owner looking to hire a new employee. Ahmed Famy (Ali Andre Ali), a Shi’ite Muslim, enters to apply for the position. He takes one look at the image of the “Bleeding” Christ on the wall and decides he would not be welcome.

What follows is a very clever job interview which exposes prejudices and cultural assumptions in a refreshing way. Ali is powerful as the defensive and stoic academic. He has a wonderful command and ease on stage, which makes him extremely watchable. McGarry was lovable and charming as the irreverent and open-minded Irish widow. It feels like this sort of situation is happening all over the city on a daily basis, but I am not sure that the outcomes are as congenial and generous as this pleasant oasis.

The final element of the theatrical Lady Liberty hat-trick was “Dirty Paki Lingerie,” brilliantly written and performed by Aizzah Fatima, with direction by Erica Gould. This was more of a standard one-woman show length, so it was deeply satisfying. The other performers had joyfully served up the appetizers and entrees so that we could sink our teeth into this delicious main course. Fatima and her transforming piece of green fabric weave a tale of various Pakistani women living in the U.S. who are torn between cultural expectation and their personal desires. She inhabits mothers, strong independent woman, children, teenagers, and traditional girls who show the diversity of experience of being a woman in their community and in the United States. The six Muslim-American women were drawn from real-life incidents and interviews, which lends a truthfulness to the production that is spellbinding.

Gould has ensured a piece that has flawless transitions between characters and situations, allowing Fatima to excel in birthing this wide range of distinctive female Pakistani dreamers. Fatima is an extraordinary performer with a vocal range that is impressive, and she is enormously funny. This piece will definitely have a long life ahead of it!

“The Lady Liberty Theater Festival” celebrates freedom of speech, the power of artists to defy oppression, and the ability to heal after traumatic life events. On the eve of the 15th Anniversary of 9/11, this festival is a perfect way to honor the past by submerging oneself in the shadow of Lady Liberty to remind ourselves of our glorious freedom.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission.

Advisory: Adult language makes this production inappropriate for some audiences. Recommended for ages 16 and up.

“The Lady Liberty Theater Festival” plays through September 25, 2016 at Urban Stages in New York City. For more information on this festival, click here.

Lady Liberty Theater Festival 2016

Theatre Educates:  New Festival Dedicated to Fighting Islamophobia

The Lady Liberty Theater Festival presents a trio of exciting immigration short plays aimed at curing the disease of Islamophobia in America, tied together by the ideals represented in the Statue of Liberty.

LLTF promo poster June 24Good Works Productions, in association with Aizzah Fatima, present the premiere of The Lady Liberty Theater Festival, featuring Fatima’s critically-acclaimed solo show Dirty Paki Lingerie, presented alongside two short plays by Monica Bauer, Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever and No Irish Need Apply. The three week limited engagement will take place at Urban Stages (259 West 30th Street, New York, NY 10001) from Wednesday, September 7th through Sunday, September 25th, 2016. On Sunday, September 11th, 2016 the festival will present a day of free staged readings that focus on the Muslim experience in America.

 

 

Dirty Paki Lingerie by Aizzah Fatima, directed by Erica Gould, interweaves the stories of six American-Muslim women, aged 6 to 65, all portrayed by Fatima in a virtuosic performance. Drawing from real-life incidents and one-on-one interviews with Pakistani-American women.

Joining Dirty Paki Lingerie are two shorts by award-winning playwright Monica Bauer, directed by Cheryl King:

  • Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever, starring Frances McGarry as the Statue of Liberty, and J. Dolan Byrnes as her agent, Vinnie. He breaks the news to Lady Liberty that she’s been purchased by Donald Trump, and is going to be rebranded as the Trump Statue of Liberty. Watch her fight back!
  • No Irish Need Apply (recently seen at The Kennedy Center in DC, and the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan), starring Ali Andre Ali as a Syrian refugee looking for a job in Queens, and Frances McGarry as Joan Fitzgerald, a crusty old woman who needs help running her bodega.

The Lady Liberty Theater Festival will also include back to back free staged readings on Sunday, September 11th, 2016 from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Confirmed readings include What They Heard by Mona Mansour, directed by Kareem Fahmy; The Higher Education of Khalid Amir and Anne Frank in the Gaza Strip by Monica Bauer, directed by Glory Kadigan. The readings are free but donations will be collected on behalf of the International Rescue Committee for their work with Syrian refugees. For schedule information and full line up visit www.ladylibertytheaterfestival.com

The Lady Liberty Theater Festival plays the following schedule through September 25th**:

Wednesdays at 8:00 pm
Thursdays at 8:00 pm
Fridays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:00 pm

**Schedule Exceptions: On Sunday, September 11th from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm the festival will present various staged readings. On this day there will be no performances of Dirty Paki Lingerie, Lady Liberty’s Worst Day or No Irish Need Apply. There will no performances on Friday, September 16th.

Tickets range from $15.00 -$30.00.

Urban Stages is located at 259 West 30th Street, New York, NY 10001.

Running Time: Two hours with one intermission (Running time of readings vary).

Continuing the Conversation with. . . Marisa Vitali: Part II

 Marisa Vitali returns home to Northport, LI to show the premier screening of her movie, GRACE at the John W. Engeman Theater.  To raise awareness of the plight of recovering addicts Marisa shares her film and her courageous story of recovery in order to donate funds for the Northport-East Northport Drug & Alcohol Task Force. Listen to  interviews about the debut of GRACE:  Marisa Vitali (Actor, Producer, Writer GRACE),, Kevin O’Neill(Managing Director John W. Engeman Theater), Scott Norcott (Public Relations Coordinator, Npt.-E Npt Drug & Alcohol Task Force), Gabriel Manzueta (Sra NY Natl. Guard Counterdrug Civil Operations), Carissa A Cantone (SSG, NY Natl. Guard, Counterdrug Civil Operations), Irene McLaughlin(Asst. Supt. Human Resource Npt-ENpt School Dist), Darryl St. George(HS History Teacher Npt.-ENpt School Dist) and Anthony Ferrandino(Chariperson, Npt-ENpt Community Drug & Alcohol Task Force).

 

 

Take it Away! GRACE, the movie at the John W. Engeman Theater

 

The premier of the movie GRACE at the John W. Engemann Theater was held on June 7, 2016 to raise funds for the Northport-East Northport Drug & Alcohol Task Force.  Here are some of the reactions audience members”Took Away” with them after seeing the movie.

 Max Fulton-Peluffo, Video Editor