Abu Dhabi: A Reach Towards Mutual Understanding
What were you up to this past month? Well, I can tell you The Lark was busy enacting a Global Exchange Initiative as part of the Middle East/United States Playwright Exchange. TCG Fellow John Baker, Lark Artistic Director John Clinton Eisner, and several other members of the Global Exchange Task Force journeyed to Abu Dhabi for a festival curated by Catherine Coray, Program Director of the Exchange. At this point you may have questions, like, "What is the Middle East Initiative anyway?", and "Tell me more about this festival. What’s that about?" Well, I’m able to answer all those questions for you right now.
First, let’s look at the genesis of the Middle East/United States Playwright Exchange. Our fearless Artistic Director John Clinton Eisner and the brilliant Catherine Coray got excited about the way the United States and Middle East could further understand each other culturally. Their plan was to build connections that would sustain long-term conversation toward understanding. The enthusiasm this generated lead to tangible ways to bring together artists of the Middle Eastern diaspora with artists from the Arab world, and out of this the Middle East/United States Playwright Exchange was born. The Exchange is an ongoing reciprocal opportunity for playwrights from the Middle East-North Africa-Gulf region to interface with United States playwrights of Middle Eastern origin and to introduce their work to the larger Lark community, our theatrical partners, and New York audiences. United States playwrights also have the opportunity to travel to the region and introduce their work to audiences in the Middle East. The Lark saw that places like Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco, Silk Road Rising in Chicago, Theatre Without Borders, the Martin E. Segal Theater Center, and the Sundance Institute Theater Program were having similar discussions on challenges facing people of Middle Eastern descent and decided, why not partner with these people to create great work? In so doing, The Lark has seen the realization of many different projects. Most recently, in the United States was Playwright and Lark's Middle East America Fellow Mona Mansour’s Studio Retreat reading of We Talk, We Swim, We Go to War, which questioned the necessity of war and the implications of having family involved as explored through the lens of a Lebanese-American aunt and nephew’s relationship.
So what about Abu Dhabi? Our team traveled there with several goals in mind. On an immediate level, their goals were to go in and observe, think on, and witness the work of artists The Lark has come to know. More long-term, they went in to continue building the community, to gather knowledge and investigate the impact and importance of the initiative alongside key producers. They sought to engage deeply in a wider, global conversation, to ensure The Lark’s Middle Eastern and Middle East American artists’ voices were being heard, and to begin institutionalizing long-term plans for the program. With Catherine at its helm, the festival was a success that boasted an array of play readings from artists of the Middle Eastern diaspora and the Arab world. Furthermore, workshops with artists served as priceless teaching instruments that opened up conversations on what the United States and Middle East have to offer one another going into the future. The festival gave our group tools on how to accomplish projects that have long waited in the wings. One such project is Catherine’s anthology of plays from the festival, which will now move from conceptualization to full realization.
The task which lies before The Lark is expansive and goes beyond the festival, the playwright exchange, or even the initiative. What we are looking at building is something that outlasts us, and what we witnessed in Abu Dhabi was the beginning of a legacy we ardently hope will keep growing. At a time when understanding is more imperative than ever, our hope is the dialogue will continue, and from that a wellspring of transformation emerges. Deep thought and intentional action will continue to be our currency as we look to create sustainable systems of profound understanding.
An excerpt of this article appeared in The Lark's December 2016 e-newsletter. To get more stories like this straight to your inbox, sign up for The Lark's mailing list now!