Torange Yeghiazarian, an Iranian-American playwright and director of Armenian heritage, was one of the guests of honour of the 23rd Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre, which ran between 20 and 30 September.
Yeghiazarian talks about her career and the struggle to keep Middle Eastern theater alive in the United States.
Ahram Online (AO): How was the Golden Thread troupe born and what is its objective?
Torange Yeghiazarian (TY): I am originally from Iran but I live in the United States.
When I tried to find my voice as a playwright, I found that my world, that of an immigrant Iranian woman, was not of interest to the theatre community in the United States. And even when I worked with theatres or troupes that were ready to venture with my works, the actors had neither background nor any cultural reference that would allow them to transmit my ideas onto stage.
This is what triggered founding my own troupe, one that would shed light on the history of immigrants in the United States.
The Golden Thread troupe is interested in problems of the Middle East including Turkey, as well as Maghreb and even a few countries of Eastern Europe.
AO: What are your thoughts about the Iranian theater?
TY: The Iranian theater is very varied and I really appreciate work of Iranian actors and directors.
Many topics discussed on the Iranian stages are similar to those raised in Cairo's theatres. I think there could be an interesting interaction between the Egyptian and Iranian artists.
The Iranian drama tackles many social issues, setting them in naturalistic, realistic or even abstract formats. Some creators incorporate multimedia and experimenting with new techniques.
The theater is less conservative than before even if we are dealing with several restrictions that touch on the presence of a man and a woman on the same stage. The woman must be covered and hijab is obligatory. But the actresses are creative with their hijabs, using it as an accessory or wearing it in different ways. For example, when an actress plays the role of a European or Asian women, she often replaces the hijab with a wig or a hat.
AO: Your theatre company has already participated in the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre back in 2004, when it performed with Karima City show. How do you perceive the festival today?
TY: First of all, it is an honour to be part of this festival. This also underlines the ongoing vibrant link between the Golden Thread troupe and the Egyptian public. Egyptian artists appreciate our work.
The festival seemed much more organised this year. Arab and foreign artists were accommodated in one hotel, which makes everything easier. Also, the seminars were held around the same area what allowed the participants to meet, exchange ideas, etc.
I saw many Egyptian plays, done mainly by young directors. I was especially impressed by the performance of The Stranger, presented by a group of young university students. Despite the language barrier, their passionate acting really touched me. Also Zombie And The Ten Sins [Al Zombie Wa Al Khataya Al Ashra] was also very interesting on a visual level.
AO: What are your impressions from the workshop that you held during the festival?
TY: I noticed that the directors outside the United States are more free when it comes to text and often allow themselves to implement more radical changes. In the US, most directors are closely attached to the original text.
Hence, it is out of curiosity that in this workshop, I decided to work with many young actors and directors. I chose a few scenes from Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat by the Egyptian-American playwright Yussef El Guindi. Each group participating in the workshop gave a different interpretation of the text, some young people remained faithful to the original text, while others moved away from it. On this basis I managed to ask questions related to the relationship between the theatre makers and the text.
AO: And what are the new productions of Golden Thread?
TY: This fall, we will celebrate our 20th anniversary, and for this occasion we wanted to present two new shows: The Most Dangerous Highway in the World, written by the American-Afghan playwright Kevin Artigue and directed by Evren Odcikin, as well as Our Enemies: Lively Scenes Combat of Love by Youssef Al-Guindi, which I’m going to direct this November. In fact, Yussef El Guindi is a well known playwright in the US and we want to honour him.
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Torange Yeghiazarian, Iranian-American playwright and director during a workshop with the Egyptian participants, in Cairo. (Photo: courtesy of the 23rd Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre)