"Open Studio Discussion a Successful Launch of the 2012-13 Season
On the evening of Wednesday, November 21st, a group of artists, thinkers and community members met at Mahtay Café in St Catharines to launch NeXt Company Theatre's season of work related to the Arab Spring: a new work entitled Khalida, and The Arab Spring Monologues, a community engaged project that will see a dozen Niagarans of a mix of cultural heritages write and deliver a monologue about the Arab Spring.
Participating panelists included: Mahabba Ahmed, emerging scholar and poet; Natalie Azzi, emerging scholar and activist around women, war and trauma; David Fancy, co-artistic director of NeXt; Jason Jasrawy, actor of Iraqi-Canadian heritage; Athena Madan, emerging scholar and creative arts therapist; Karrie Porter, NeXt artistic associate and board member; Jenna Sweiss, teacher, scholar and activist; Vojin Vasovic, filmaker, director and designer.
Each presented for five minutes on how their work and their participation with the season's theatre projects intersected with concerns around the Arab Spring. Questions of Arab-Canadian identity, the wars in the middle east, immigration, trauma, and artistic responses to difficulty and displacement were invoked and covered,
The audience was then invited to speak amongst themselves to determine questions or reflections they might offer. A lively discussion and debate ensured on a variety of topics and, by the end of the session, a solid consensus became clear in the room: Khalida and The Arab Spring Monologues are timely projects that can help complexify the region's understanding of the important revolution which is the Arab Spring."
It was indeed a rich discussion, and interesting to see a spectrum of approaches to art and political engagement, with a preponderance of interest in the capacity of the semiotic, ie language in its discursive potential for intervention/critique, and then the affirmations of the role of 'art' or 'creativity' to engender 'effects' on the audience. Regardless of where people positioned themselves on that particular set of axes, a clear commitment to the project was certainly there.
In some ways the 'livest' most unexpected moment came with Karrie vigorous assertion that "I used to be a racist, I used to be a racist and a Zionist' and the explanation and elaboration that followed. This provided a real 'way in' to the project for the caucasian folks there by their account following the panel discussion, and also served as an axis of inclusion for 'the brown' (as they described themselves) to see a member of the white majoritarian community so disarmingly speak of her transition from a fearful observant Mormon to an 'activist hockey mom.'
Great as well to begin working with Jason and Vojin through seeing the theatre space, then moving through the design elements that we've been working through. It turns out that the three of us are pranksters of a similar denomination, so the work is bound to be enjoyable.
Vive le théâtre libre!