Finding Home: Migration, Exile, and Belonging

Theatre Communications Group Essay Salon

 

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Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever:  J.Dolan Byrnes (Vinnie) and Frances McGarry (Lady Liberty)

 

 

BY MONICA BAUER

On the last day of the run of the “three plays against Islamophobia”, Aizzah Fatima called me to come down from the audience to share our final bows together. She told the story of this crazy Christian woman who called her out of the blue months earlier to brainstorm ways to use theater to confront Islamophobia. At that moment, we both felt “mission accomplished.” We had met each other in common cause, to do our jobs to tell the truth in front of an audience.

In May of 2016, I watched with horror as Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for President. Back then, we all knew what he’d said about Muslims. Still to come would be the horrendous attack on the Khan family after Khizr Khan, father of American hero Captain Humayan Khan, spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Ever since I graduated from playwriting school at Boston University in 2004, I had been sharpening one tool for communicating to the world; theater. I knew I wanted to say something theatrically about Trump, particularly about his fanning the flames of Islamophobia.

Much of my passion to fight against Islamophobia comes from my personal history: I spent a year teaching at the American University in Cairo, in the 1990’s. I didn’t just come for a weekend seminar. I was there for a year, living in the suburb of Ma’adi, having serious conversations with my students, some taking up the hijab out of devotion, some proudly wearing their hair in the latest styles and wearing the tightest jeans they could buy. And I was teaching in a delicate area- Political Science. So I had good reason to lead some very sensitive discussions with my students about politics. I had one student, a serious looking young man, whose answer to everything was “Islam is the answer.” As often happens, they taught me more than I taught them.

When I came back to the U.S., I was changed forever. I was attuned to the problems of the Middle East. When 9-11 happened, and Bush turned to bomb Iraq after Afghanistan, I felt like I was a tiny voice screaming at the top of my lungs “Saddam Hussein is Sunni and secular and Osama bin Laden is Wahhabi and they hate each other!” And I knew right away there’d be a wave of Islamophobia washing over America. I was pleased when George W. Bush refused to use Islamophobia as a political weapon, but furious he was taking us into Iraq. By 2016, I had seen Trump use Islamophobia to gin up hatred against an entire world religion that he obviously knew nothing about. And I was pissed.

When you’ve lived in another culture, “they” are no longer “the other.” They are your friends and neighbors. They have names: Mohammed, Kareem, Fatima. Majidah. So when Trump turned his toxic spotlight on the Muslim community, I had to do something.

 

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Dirty Paki Lingerie, Aizzah Fatima

 

Luckily, one of my playwright pals is Aizzah Fatima, a Pakistani-American artist I first met at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was over there producing a play of mine, “Made for Each Other,” and doing some blogging for the Huffington Post. They wanted short pieces from Americans doing their first Edinburgh Fringe, so I signed up, and decided to review Aizzah’s show, “Dirty Paki Lingerie.” Her one woman show blew me away– I felt I suddenly knew six different Muslim-American women, each with an important story about being Muslim in America. The show was theatrical, well-written, funny, poignant, and Aizzah was perfect in all six roles. That’s how we became friends.

In May of 2016, when I wanted more than anything to hit Trump’s Islamophobia full force with theater, I knew exactly who to call.

I put up the money from my retirement savings, rationalizing that if I lost it all I’d just have to die a few months earlier. Aizzah put up her talent and connections with the Muslim, Arab, and Middle Eastern theater community in New York. I wanted to showcase her performances in “Dirty Paki Lingerie”, which I knew she had just toured to the UK and Pakistan. She’d already done several runs of the show in New York as a solo show artist, and she said we needed to do something more to get audience and press. At first we wanted to call it “A Theater Festival Against Trump,” but our landlords at Urban Stages Theater said that was too political. They’d help us promote our show, but only if their Board didn’t deem it “too political.” That’s when we came up with the title, “The Lady Liberty Theater Festival.” I wrote a short play as a curtain raiser called “Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever,” a two-hander between Lady Liberty and her agent Vinnie, who gives her the bad news that Trump wants to buy her and rebrand her as “Lady Trump.” I even managed to create a rap based on the Emma Lazarus poem on the statue’s base!

We had a 60 minute show (“Dirty Paki Lingerie”) and a short curtain raiser. If we didn’t add anything else, it would be a short lopsided night of theater, with no intermission. So I expanded a short play called “No Irish Need Apply,” which had just been done at the Kennedy Center’s “Tiny Plays for Ireland and America.” The play is about a Syrian refugee looking for a job, and an old Irish-American woman who may or may not be prejudiced. Now we had one play by a Pakistani-American, and two short plays by me. We needed more diversity.

Could we expand into a real festival with numerous plays by a wide variety of playwrights? It was just the two of us, Aizzah in New York and me currently based in Tucson, Arizona. We quickly realized we didn’t have the organization necessary to run anything approaching a real festival. But we could manage one day of staged readings! We made the connection that our rental at Urban Stages included September 11th, so we began to plan for a two-fold event: an evening of three plays against Islamophobia running nightly from September 7th through the 25th, and a day long festival of staged readings against Islamophobia, showcasing the work of a diverse group of writers, actors, and directors for the 15th anniversary of September 11th.

On September 11th we produced staged readings collaborating with a diverse group of actors, directors, and writers: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Zoroastrians from Iran, plus the usual theater percentage of agnostics and atheists. Participants included director Kareem Fahmy, from an Egyptian family that settled in Canada, and Ali Andre Ali, an actor whose background is half Palestinian and half Irish! The playwrights included Mona Mansour, Maximillian Singh Gill, Emma Goldman-Sherman, and me. Aizzah Fatima played two roles in the reading of my play “Anne Frank in the Gaza Strip.” We asked for donations for the International Rescue Committee for Syrian refugees.

On the last day of the run of the “three plays against Islamophobia”, Aizzah Fatima called me to come down from the audience to share our final bows together. She told the story of this crazy Christian woman who called her out of the blue months earlier to brainstorm ways to use theater to confront Islamophobia. At that moment, we both felt “mission accomplished.” We had met each other in common cause, to do our jobs to tell the truth in front of an audience. We had gone beyond just talking about creating theater to actually creating theater, putting up money and talent and time. Not everyone is able to do these things. Most of us are living day to day and can’t spend the time and effort to do this sort of work. It was a joy and a privilege for Aizzah and me to actually roll up our sleeves and get it done, during the most important election season in our life times, in the home town of Donald Trump.

bauer_smallMONICA BAUER
Full length plays produced Off Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, regionally in Denver, Boston, Providence, Omaha, Detroit, Tucson, and internationally in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Brighton (England) Fringe Festival. Education includes a B.A. from Brown,
M. Div. from Yale, M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska. Monica was the 2004 Teaching Fellow in the Graduate Playwriting Program at Boston University, where she received an MA in playwriting. Short plays produced in the Boston Theater Marathon, National 15 Minute Play Festival, and many others. Conferences include Sewanee, Great Plains Theater Conference (twice), Kennedy Center Summer Playwriting Intensive, and Kenyon Playwrights’ Conference. Outstanding Playwriting of a New Script, for “The Higher Education of Khalid Amir,” Midtown International Theater Festival, 2008. Her musical, “Lighter”, for which she wrote book, music, and lyrics, was presented at the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2009. Her full length play about race, “My Occasion of Sin,” was part of the 2014 season of the Detroit Repertory Theater. Her play for one actor, “Made for Each Other” has been in various production since 2009. In September of 2014, “Chosen Child” was given two staged readings in New York as part of the Indie Theater Now/Stage Left Studio Reading Series, directed by Austin Pendleton. “Chosen Child” was also part of the 2014-2015 season at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, where it was nominated for an IRNE (Independent Reviewers of New England) award for Best New Play. Heideman Finalist for multiple award-winner “Answering,” published by Heuer. Winner, Emerging Playwright Award, Urban Stages. Winner, Kennedy Center’s Tiny Plays for Ireland and America, 2016, for “No Irish Need Apply.” Plays published by Heuer, Brooklyn, and online at Indie Theater Now. Proud member, Dramatists Guild and League of Professional Theatre Women. Full production history at www.monicabauer.com.

ruthsmallBLOG SALON CURATOR

Ruth Margraff is a playwright and writing program chair at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Margraff’s plays, poetry and opera works include Anger/Fly; Three Graces; Temptation of the Fresh Voluptuous; Cafe Antarsia Ensemble; Seven; Stadium Devildare; The Cry Pitch Carrolls; The Elektra Fugues; Night Vision; Deadly She-Wolf Assassin At Armageddon, Voice of the Dragon 1,2,3; Judges 19: Black Lung Exhaling; All Those Violent Sweaters; Red Frogs; Night Parachute Battalion; The State of Gristle; Centaur Battle of San Jacinto; Wallpaper Psalm. Her work has been performed at various festivals and venues throughout USA; UK; Canada; Russia; Romania; Serbia; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Greece; Turkey; Slovenia; Czech Republic; Croatia; France; Austria, Sweden; Japan; Egypt; India, Azerbaijan. She is recipient of numerous awards from institutions including Rockefeller Foundation; McKnight Foundation; Jerome Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Theater Communications Group; Fulbright; New York State Council on the Arts; Illinois Arts Council; Arts International; Trust for Mutual Understanding of New York, CultureConnect.

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).

Memorial Day 2016

 

Lin Manuel Art Advocacy

As we celebrate our bravest of soldiers who gave their ultimate sacrifice to protect our  freedom, I would like you to take some time to reflect on what it means to be An American.  Amid the bitterness and rancor of the 2016 Elections. . .

How haveThe Arts ( Dance, Theatre, Music, Photography, Graphic Arts) prompt a change in your life?

How did it change and/or alter your perspective about a viewpoint?

Share you story with First Online With Fran HERE

VOTES! Whatever They Cost!

There are two common ways to think of art: some consider it to be an expression of what is original and unusual in human thinking; Aristotle, on the other hand, argues that that art is ‘imitative,’ that is to say, representative of life. This imitative quality fascinates Aristotle. He devotes much of the Poetics to exploring the methods, significance, and consequences of this imitation of life. Aristotle concludes that art’s imitative tendencies are expressed in one of three ways: a poet attempts to portray our world as it is, as we think it is, or as it ought to be.

Feeling cynical about the politics of the 2016 Elections?

Here’s a little Rx from Dr. Muriel Shrunk…don’t miss my performance as the Jefferson’s family psychiatrist in…

VOTES

Extended Run!

Runs April 1st through May 22nd

Castillo Theatre

543 West 42nd Street • New York City • 212-941-5800

Tickets

Broadwayworld.com

It’s the eve of the 2016 election and America is hours away from choosing its first woman president. The former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, Melanie Jefferson and her husband the former President William Jefferson, are ready to count the votes, when the arrival of an unexpected visitor threatens to disrupt everything. What happens next makes for an election eve unlike any other.

Votes questions the nature of feminism, of power and of the political game itself.  By turns dramatic and comedic, Votes draws on a 1999 musical The Last Temptation of William Jefferson, written in the wake of the infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal by Castillo’s late artistic director, Fred Newman and Grammy-nominated composer Annie Roboff. Seventeen years later, Jacqueline S. Salit takes Temptation and wraps a new story around it, examining the political and personal conflicts of the famous First Couple.

The Cast

Lisa Ann Wright-Mathews (Melanie Jefferson), Wayne Miller (William Jefferson), Debbie Buchsbaum (Vivian Traveler), Bryan Austermann (Brett), Frances McGarry (Dr. Muriel Shrunk), Art McFarland (Newscaster)

The Creative Team

Gabrielle L. Kurlander (Director), Mary Fridley (Assistant Director), David Belmont and Michael Walsh (Music Team), Lonné Morreton (Choreography), Kerry Gibbons (Costume Design), Nick Kolin (Lighting Design), Miguel Romero (Set Design), John Rankin III (Producer), Lindsay Bleile (Stage Manager), Joseph Spirito (Technical Director)

About the creators of Votes

Director Gabrielle L. Kurlander has been a member of the Castillo Theatre company since 1989. Her production of the musical Sally and Tom (The American Way) by Fred Newman and Annie Roboff, won five 2012 AUDELCO Awards, including an award for Outstanding Director of a Musical. Ms. Kurlander’s other directing credits include:  Clare Coss’s Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington (2014); Playing with Heiner Müller, winner of a 2011 AUDELCO Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance; Coming of Age in Korea (co-directed with Desmond Richardson); Still on the Corner; Billie and Malcolm: A Demonstration; Revising Germany; Lenin’s Breakdown; all by Fred Newman; The Task and Heiner Müller: A Man Without a Behind, by Heiner Müller; and Hot Snow by Laurence Holder. A longtime activist and non-profit leader, Ms. Kurlander is President and CEO of the All Stars Project.

Fred Newman was the artistic director and playwright-in-residence of the Castillo Theatre from 1989 until his retirement in 2005. He wrote 43 plays, including: Sally and Tom (The American Way), Billie & Malcolm: A Demonstration, Lenin’s Breakdown, Outing Wittgenstein, and Stealin’ Home. His play Satchel: A Requiem for Racism was co-produced by Castillo and the New Federal Theatre in 2008. In 2002, he wrote and directed the independent film Nothing Really Happens (Memories of Aging Strippers), which won several film festival awards. In addition to his theatrical work, he was an independent political pioneer, a social therapist and a philosopher. He was a co-founder of the All Stars Project, Inc.

Songs by Grammy-nominated composer Annie Roboff have been recorded by artists as diverse as Faith Hill, Whitney Houston, Bonnie Raitt, The Indigo Girls, Tim McGraw and The Dixie Chicks. With five #1 hits to her name, Ms. Roboff is considered one of the most important songwriters working today. Her songs appear on albums that have sold over forty-five million copies. Theatrically, Ms. Roboff collaborated with late Castillo artistic director Fred Newman on several political musicals, including Sally and Tom (The American Way) and Still on the Corner.

Playwright Jacqueline S. Salit has a 30-year history in independent and insurgent politics.  An agitator and “outsider” strategist, she managed Michael Bloomberg’s three successful mayoral campaigns on the Independence Party line and was a key figure in the longshot presidential bids of both Ross Perot and Lenora Fulani.  She is the author of Independents Rising: Outsider Movements, Third Parties and the Struggle for a Post-Partisan America (Palgrave Macmillan) and publishes regularly on the Huffington Post. Her theatrical credits include co-writing Crown Heights with Fred Newman and Dan Friedman (1998), and Newman’s Women (2012). She made her acting debut  in Sally and Tom (The American Way) in 2012.

Saturday,  April 2              7:30 pm

Sunday,  April 3                  2:00 pm

Friday, April 8                      7:30 pm

Saturday, April 9                7:30 pm

Sunday, April 10                 2:00 pm

Friday, April 15                    7:30 pm

Saturday, April 16                7:30 pm

Sunday, April 17                   2:00 pm

Friday, April 22                    7:30 pm

Saturday, April 23                 7:30 pm

Sunday, April 24                    2:00 pm

Friday, April 29                     7:30 pm

Saturday, April 30                 7:30 pm

Sunday, May 1st                     2:00 pm

Friday, May 6                           7:30 pm

Saturday, May 7                      7:30 pm

Sunday, May 8                         2:00 pm

Friday, May 13                           7:30 pm

Saturday, May 14                     7:30 pm

Sunday, May 15                         2:00 pm

Friday, May 20                           7:30 pm

Saturday, May 21                      7:30 pm

Sunday, May 22                          2:00 pm

An interview with…Cheryl Navo, Playwright LIE OF OMISSION, World Premiere Play

“As a female playwright I believe strongly that I need to concentrate on writing good, strong roles for women.  For each play I write, I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to never allow the male roles to outnumber or outshine the female roles.  I hope that inspires other women to advance the roles of women in all aspects of theatre.”

APCherylNavo

It just does not get any better for an actor than to not only have the opportunity to be cast in the world premiere of a play, Lie of Omission, but also get to meet its playwright.  As arts advocate/host of First Online With Fran featuring ordinary people who do extraordinary things in The Arts and proponent of advancing the work of women through my membership at The League of Professional Theatre Women I felt compelled to share with you the arc of this fascinating woman’s journey from soldier to storyteller.

Here are some clips of our conversation…

How did your career in the military evolve from soldier to playwright?  

Navo Uniform2

The military and military life has been a huge influence on me.  My husband works for the Department of Defense and Germany is where we are stationed.  I’ve actually lived in Germany more than half my life as I came here as an active duty soldier in the early 80s.  After spending three years as a soldier, I worked for the Department of the Army as a civilian until I took an early retirement from government service almost a year ago.  I now spend my time in creative pursuits.

I first became involved in community theatre in 2009, playing Sister Margaretta in a KMC (Kaiserslautern Military Community) Onstage production of  The Sound of Music–which was my first show since I was a child, playing one of the children, in The King and I.  Theatre, on the second go-round, proved addictive.  I have spent the last six years experimenting with being an actor, costume designer, set designer, scenic painter, director, and finally, playwright.

I never considered writing a play until a chance conversation at the theatre snack bar where I was volunteering during a KMC Onstage production (I’ve truly dabbled in every possible onstage and backstage job).  Over a drink order, an actress friend mentioned that someone she knew had written several plays.  I (naively) said that I thought it would be fun, after all “how hard can it be?”  I still remember her pitying look as she explained that writing a play that someone will actually produce is exceedingly difficult.  We moved on to another conversational topic, but I filed the idea of writing a play away in my head, thinking “I bet I could do it.”  Several months later, the artistic director for the theatre offered their first-ever playwriting class and I signed up.  I discovered very quickly just how difficult writing a play can be, but I love it.

I have written four plays to date.  My first one-act play, Parade of Queens, was produced by the Baumholder Hilltop Theater for the IMCOM-Europe AACT 2012 One Act Play Festival.  My second one-act play, Hotline, was produced by Thoreau, NM—A Production Company for the 2013 Pittsburgh New Works Festival and by the Baumholder Hilltop Theater for the 2013 IMCOM-Europe AACT One Act Play Festival.  Hotline was subsequently published by Dramatic Publishing Company in 2014 and is available in their current catalog.  My 10-Minute play At What Price was produced by the Boiling Point Players in Houston, Texas; by the Towne Street Theatre in Hollywood, California; for the Equity Library/Piney Fork Theater Summer Festival in New York; and will be part of the Minnesota Shorts: A Festival of Short Plays in Mankato, Minnesota this month.

Lie of Omission is my first full-length play.  I wrote it specifically for AACT (American Association of Community Theatre) New Play Fest 2015, where it was selected as a top fourteen finalist.  Then, Studio Theatre of Long Island offered a production contract, so I withdrew it from the AACT competition, signed a contract, and here we are.

 Share with us how the germ of the play came to fruition and how it translated to the page.

Lie of Omission began as a one-act play, but the story quickly expanded beyond the one-act format.  The idea began with a newspaper article about an American doctor who was kidnapped in the Middle East.  During his rescue, a soldier was killed.  I tried to put myself in the doctor’s place.  How would that feel–to know that a stranger lost his life saving mine?  I wondered what kind of psychological impact there would be.  After reading the initial article, I purposely departed from the details of the true-life case and started throwing in complications of my own.

I have a real heart for soldiers.  Deployments are a daily reality for military families and that’s the community where I have spent more than half my life.  My husband is a retired Medical Logistics Army officer and a current Department of the Army civilian working in medical logistics.  I also worked for the Army Medical Department in medical logistics, and although I personally never deployed, my brother spent several years driving trucks for the military in Iraq.

What is your vision for the play?  What will be your next play?  What other plans do you have for your future? 

Lie of Omission is scheduled for its next production in September 2016 at the Baumholder Hilltop, a military community theatre in Baumholder, Germany.  Naturally, I’d like to see the play produced in as many theatres as possible.  As a playwright, one of the hardest things for me to do is let go and allow actors and directors to bring their individual points of view to my story.  And, that is also one of the most rewarding parts of playwriting.  Different people bring different perspectives to the work and often teach me things I didn’t know about my own play.

I’ve begun work on a new full-length play about a psychic, but it’s early in the process.  I’m also working on a young adult novel.  Also, in early 2016, I’ll be directing Death of a Salesman for KMC Onstage.

Who and/or what do you hope to inspire with this work?  

As a female playwright I believe strongly that I need to concentrate on writing good, strong roles for women.  For each play I write, I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to never allow the male roles to outnumber or outshine the female roles.  I hope that inspires other women to advance the roles of women in all aspects of theatre.

AND a First Online With Fran question:  The Arts are so vitally important to our society; yet, it remains to be perceived as an amenity.  What would you say to challenge that perception?

I’d challenge anyone who sees The Arts as an amenity to spend some quality time in the theatre.  Seriously.  My theatre involvement during the last few years has taught me so much.  I’ve developed a huge amount of confidence in myself and I’ve gained skills in almost every area.  If theatre can do this much for me, just Imagine the effect on a child.  I see kids who participate in theatre develop physical skills and talents beyond that of their peers.  More importantly, they develop invaluable social skills such as how to take direction, work as a team, and get along with others.  What other area of education encompasses so much?

Don’t miss your chance to experience this dynamic dramatic performance of Lie of Omission at Studio Theatre of Long Island.  September 4 – 20.  For performance schedule, tickets, and directions click HERE