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Symposium To Address Stereotypes In American Theater

Facebook: Silverthorne Theater Company

A symposium this weekend at Greenfield Community College will explore stereotyping and underrepresented cultures in American theater.

Lucinda Kidder of the Silverthorne Theater Company believes American theater has been slow in recognizing plays produced by minority communities. To further that discussion, the company is hosting a symposium titled “I’m Not Who You Think I Am.”

“In our particular case we’re interested in the Arab and Muslim representations on stage,” Kidder said. “This has been an area that has been particularly, I wouldn’t say neglected, I’m thinking it’s more of a question of not being aware of the body of work that exists out there for theaters to select.”

The event will feature a production of playwright Yussef El Guindi’s romantic comedy Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World. Director Kim Mancuso says the play is a love story that follows an Egyptian-American woman, her fiancé, who is an Egyptian man now living in America, and an American waitress he becomes romantically involved with.

“I think conversations will happen after Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, but not necessarily heavy political ones,” Mancuso said. “The value of that is that people may be drawn into the sweetness of the love story.”

Presentations from area artists and a discussion of theater’s power to influence opinion will follow, according to Kidder.

“Most people exposures to Arabs, Muslims and Arab Americans tend to be through the media in rather negative context,” Kidder said. “This was the impetus for bringing up the idea of live theatre as being a way to counteract those.”

Kidder says a person in an audience can relate to a stage performer in a deeper way than when watching a person on a television screen, especially if the subject is from a different background.

“Look at character in live theater and be able to say ‘I can connect with this person,’” she said. “’I understand this person. Where they are coming from. They have issues like I have. They have needs like I have.’ In other words transferring their own understanding of what life is like, what their challenges are and understanding that this translates for anyone.”

Kidder says theater producers may be uncomfortable showing a play from or about the Middle East because of the political climate surrounding the topic or that they just don’t understand the piece. She says one thing that can be seen as a barrier to producing minority-derived works, especially in non-urban areas, is the actor pool. 

“The idea of course of theater is that you are representing and in a sense translating work,” Kidder said. “If one were only to use actors of the particular ethnicity that is being represented and played on the stage we would as a region from which we draw actors we would not be able to perform these plays for the most part.”

Kidder says New York City, San Francisco and Chicago do have vibrant Middle Eastern theater scenes because of various companies. Overall, Kidder would like directors from community, children and major companies to think outside the box and take risks when developing their performance lineups to include topics and subject areas that are not the norm.

“Are we going to continue to stay with what is safe?” she said. “How can we use theatre for young people and children to address these stereotypes because this when so much of the attitude and outlooks are formed and solidified.”

The symposium runs from 1 to 5 Saturday at Greenfield Community College. Click here for more information.

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