AUIS Drama | The American University of Iraq Sulaimani

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AUIS Drama

The Arranged: We did it!

It was December 20 when I published an article on the AUIS website promising to bring The Arranged to the stage. At that time, I had not written a single word of the play. I was afraid that I would not be able to keep my promise, but as soon as I saw my article published on the website, I started writing The Arranged. “Are you still awake?” asked my mother when she woke up for Fajir prayer. That was the question my mother asked me every single morning for two weeks. During those two weeks, I was awake until 4:00 am every night, doing nothing but writing the play. Was that all I did? Of course not! The second week of my winter break was the same story, re-writing, re-writing, and re-writing The Arranged. Several times, I time changed almost every single scene of the play. Luckily, I wrote the whole play during those two weeks.  After that, I wondered if I could call myself a playwright. “Of course, not.” I told myself, as I knew there was still a lot that I had to do to be considered a playwright. “I don’t like this play, but I love it,” was the first sentence I heard from Peter Friedrich, the head of AUIS Drama and Film, who was the first person who saw and read the play. Thus, I was encouraged not to quit, but work hard to make The Arranged happen. Friedrich was the one who inspired me to achieve what I have achieved so far. After Friedrich, The Arranged cast was the second group of people who supported me to be where I am now. Obviously, I would be selfish if I gave the whole credit of The Arranged to myself. The cast members were the ones who were very influential to bring the play to stage. Anytime I saw how enthusiastic they were about the play, I could imagine how successful itwould be. I never felt tired or bored working on the play, despite of the limited time we had to prepare and the number of classes and assignments I had. Was I the only one who was so busy? Well, of course not. It was the same story for every single member of the cast and crew. It was inspiring to see the cast members running to B-B1-11, trying not to be late for the rehearsals right after they finished up with their classes. No matter how tired they were and how many classes they had, and how a long day they experienced, they didn’t feel tired once the rehearsal begun. April 19, after I saw giant posters of The Arranged all around campus, I realized that the play was worth much more than the time and effort I had devoted. Just by looking at the posters and reading the words, “The Arranged, by Mahdi Murad,” I totally forgot all the difficulties I had faced so far. Last year, almost at the time, there was a similar poster hanging at the same place where The Arranged poster is. But that poster was completely different. It read, “Noor, by Akbar Ahmed,” and I was one of the cast members. For this year, it said, “The Arranged, by Mahdi Murad,” and I am the playwright. What a wonderful feeling! The premier of The Arranged brought all sorts of feelings to my life. It was a day when I cried, laughed, shouted, and clapped. It was great to see how a group of talented students worked with my script and showed every single word I wrote in ways that I had not even thought about. All I can say now, after the first show of The Arranged, is that I owe such a group of talented actors and actresses so much for their support and for so clearly and remarkably showing what I have put on the paper. Moreover, the entire cast and crew owes gratitude to the audience. It was outstanding to see not only the seats but also the stairs booked and buried by people. So, on behalf of the crew, I thank everyone, students, faculty and staff members, who attended the opening night of The Arranged. Last but not least, I thank everyone who helped us stand in a position where we are now. Thank you for your support that encouraged us to think of what will our next projects be, even before the closing night of The Arranged. I am so happy to invite the AUIS community to the second performance and the closing night of The Arranged on Monday, April 29th. I look forward to seeing the theater as full of people as it was for the premiere.  

A Midsummer Night's Dream

AUIS students present the preview peformance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the AUIS Community on April 30th.  Tickets are now on sale and available at the AUIS cafeteria. Seats are limited so get your tickets early!  Students: IQD 3,000 Staff & Faculty: IQD 8,000 All proceeds will go to charity.  AUIS students are performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of the global Shakespeare Lives festival in Sulaimani, Duhok and Erbil. The play is being produced in collaboration with Gatherton Arts, a local events company working in partnership with the British Council to bring the “Shakespeare Lives” programme to Iraq. The play is directed by renowned British theatre director and producer, Simon Reade. Read more about this production here.

Celebrating Shakespeare in Iraqi Kurdistan

  April 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. His work is being celebrated all over the world throughout this year with “Shakespeare Lives” -  a global program of art, culture, theatre and literature. The students of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) will be taking center stage in these celebrations, in Iraqi Kurdistan, by performing one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays - A Midsummer Night’s Dream - a  comedy that they believe will resonate with the local audience. The play is being produced in collaboration with Gatherton Arts, a local events company working in partnership with the British Council to bring the “Shakespeare Lives” programme to Iraq. There will be a preview performance at AUIS on April 30th. The show will premiere in Sulaimani followed by performances in Duhok and Erbil. The British Council and Gatherton Arts will also host a forum on Shakespeare on May 3rd at AUIS.  Historic drama, modern setting “It’s very modern. It’s set in today’s time,” says Elizabeth O’Sullivan, head of AUIS Drama, “Part of the reason that Shakespeare has been so popular is that his storylines can be taken and applied to almost any time,” she added, hinting that the play will have a regional feel with a mix of Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish languages and local dialects. Simon Reade, the director of the play, has been keen to ensure that the performance is set in modern times and has relevance to the local audience and culture. “It’s the way he (Shakespeare) tells the stories and the language in which he tells it that raises a very interesting question about whether you want to use his 400 years old original language. It’s brilliant to find a parallel from within the culture where you’re working,” he says. Reade, a professional director and producer from Britain, has been invited to direct the play by the British Council. He wants to do the play in the same context as Shakespeare did 400 years ago but in today’s setting. “It was a brand new play at that time, never been seen before, about his own contemporary society even though set in a mythical past, and he did it on a bare stage, “ he explained. The team now aims to showcase a modern equivalent of that -  in a round, interactive setting, with no scenery and only a few props and modern costumes. “We’ve put a lot into Kurdish, bit of Arabic, Spanish and Turkish, which is a lovely way of saying: this is where we’re doing it. We’re going to make it more accessible for the audience. A play that is for and about the people who are in it, and the larger world, rather it being a quaint little funny, quirky piece from many years ago,” he added.   Selecting the play Talking about the play selection, O’Sullivan said that they thought that a light and funny play will be a nice break from all the tragedy that is taking place in the region.  At the same time, they feel that “beside being very Shakespearean it is also very Kurdish, very Iraqi in the storyline.” The plot begins with a father who wants to marry off a daughter to the man of his choice. The daughter, instead, runs off with the man she loves. The father then wants the choice to make her marry according to his wishes or to be allowed to kill her. “That’s where the idea of condoned honor killing sets off in a comedy. It’s been really cool to see something that was written 400 years ago to be so relevant here today, in a completely different country, in a completely different culture.” Working with an amateur cast Working with the AUIS students, Reade has been especially struck by the intelligence, engagement and enthusiasm of the cast, at odds with the group’s lack of acting experience. He finds the quality unique in his experience of working with theatre groups internationally and locally in the UK.  “I have huge respect for Liz (O’Sullivan) and her predecessor because it is unbelievably difficult as a theatre director to come and work with incredibly enthusiastic, bright, brilliant people who’re going to run the world. But, who don’t necessarily have a desire to pursue a career in theatre.” O’Sullivan echoed his thoughts and said that it has been very challenging but fun to analyze the play with the actors and helping them to tailor the scenes according to their individual acting styles and dialogues, so that even if the audience has limited English skills, they will still be able to follow the scenes. “It's been really amazing to see the evolution of the students along the way. The better they understand the script, the better they are at conveying what’s happening to the audience,” she added. Reade and O'Sullivan both hope that the success of this project will lead to more cultural, literary and artistic pursuits and collaborations in the region. “Art is food for the soul,” articulated Reade, adding that the more art and theatre and literature there is, the more scope for collective imagination and appreciation for creativity there is in a society. Sulaimani is known as the city of poets, added O’Sullivan. Although art and theatre may be seen as luxury, with decades of ongoing conflict and war, she hopes that the city will hold on to its traditions and art and theatre will return to, and flourish, in Sulaimani again.  About Shakespeare Lives Shakespeare Lives is an unprecedented global programme of events and activities celebrating William Shakespeare’s work on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016. It is an invitation to the world to join in the festivities by participating in a unique online collaboration and experiencing the work of Shakespeare directly on stage, through film, exhibitions and in schools. It will run throughout 2016, exploring Shakespeare as a living writer who still speaks for all people and nations. About Gatherton Arts Gatherton Arts is working in partnership with the British Council to bring the “Shakespeare Lives” programme to Iraq. Shakespeare Lives Iraq presents Shakespeare in many forms, from theatre to music, film and debate, whilst also using his work as a mirror to explore the traditions and heritage of Iraq.   

AUIS Drama Performs Greek Tragedy “Medea”

On April 27 and 28, the AUIS Drama Club performed yet another hit show! After the success of their adaptation of the modern American play, “Twelve Angry (Wo)men”, last Fall, they chose a much older, yet timeless play for this Spring. Medea is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides and was first performed in 431 BCE. The plot revolves around Medea, a barbarian woman and bride to Jason, who brings her back with him from one of his victorious quests. Ultimately, Jason decides to leave Medea for a princess and the entire plot unravels as Medea’s fury and desire for revenge drives her towards destroying her family. The role of Medea was performed by Zhikal Hiwa, while Jason was played by Mohammed Yasin. The play was directed by the Head of Drama Club, Elizabeth O'Sullivan, who was very happy with the performance. “This year’s Spring show was an amazing accomplishment. I am so proud of the cast and crew for tackling one of the hardest plays around.” she said. “AUIS students continue to raise the bar for Dramatic Arts,” said O’Sullivan, about the performance. “I love watching students go from the nervous people that show up for auditions to the confident performers we see in the last days of the show. Medea has been no exception. I am blown away by the abilities of members of AUIS Drama to not only put on a notoriously difficult show, but to do it in English. This play saw students from all backgrounds coming together to put on a show. From the marketing to the management to the set construction to the effects, students were involved and leading the way. As Drama grows at AUIS, it is my hope that we can continue to involve students in as many aspects of putting on a show as possible, from acting to writing to directing.” The play was received well by the audience. Well done, Drama Club, and we look forward to the next performance in the upcoming Fall semester! Medea Cast (in order of appearance): Medea - Zhikal Hiwa Nurse - Raz Sadoon Tutor - Isa Mohammed Isa III Children - Mohammed Salh, Rawan Barzan Chorus - Lana Jabbar, Haisho Ali Lasur, Ruqayya Bashir Argonauts - Zhir Sardar, Bassam Seraj King Creon - Ali Kawa Messenger - Mahmood Shkur Jason - Mohammed Yasin King Aegis - Fahad Alaa Mahdi Crew: Director - Elizabeth O’ Sullivan Stage Manager - Kazho Muhsin Marketing Director - Manesht Sadoon Film Tech (trailer) - Ali Kawa Lights and Sound - Korak Agha (IT department) Set Construction - Bandan Kawa FX Construction - Mustafa Luay, Hussein Ahmed Shahab, Nashwan Hameed, Art - Mirko Mohammed, Mahmood Shkur Tech Crew - Aryan Ayad, Abdulla Alazawi See photos of the performance on our facebook page.

AUIS Stars Shine in Theatrical Performance in Sharjah

March 5, 2015 - International Studies students and aspiring actresses, Leah Farooq and Beyan Tahir, are well known faces of the AUIS Drama Club on campus. They have given stellar performances in plays such as Twelve Angry (Wo)men, Will’s Café and 9 Parts of Desire at the University. Recently, they were able to showcase their talent to a much larger audience in Sharjah, UAE, along with a cast of talented youth from all over the Middle East. Encouraged by their mentor and Head of AUIS Drama Club, Elizabeth O'Sullivan, both girls applied for the theatrical training program, Home Grown, run by the Kevin Spacey Foundation and the Middle East Theatre Academy (META). They were selected along with 35 young people from the Middle East out of more than 600 applicants. Their intensive two-week training culminated in a theatrical performance on January 25-26 in front of a large audience, including the Oscar Award winning actor Kevin Spacey and Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah. Leah and Beyan credit O’Sullivan for believing in them and pushing them to apply for Home Grown.  “If it weren’t for Liz (O’Sullivan) I would never have applied,” said Leah. Initially, they were very unsure and nervous about applying for the program. “I did the video one hour before submitting my application. Later, one of the directors told me that it was one of his favourite audition videos, so I was very happy” said Beyan. “He also said that that Leah and I were among those applicants that they did not hesitate about while making the selection.” O’Sullivan is equally proud of her students for getting into the program. “I'm incredibly proud of all of the AUIS students that auditioned for the workshop. It was not an easy thing to do, and I witnessed some great acting from many of our students. I'm thrilled that out of the 35 spots available, two of them were filled by AUIS students. Leah and Beyan are great examples of how the dramatic arts can help students. They've both been involved with Drama for multiple semesters and it's been really amazing to watch them change and grow as actresses. As a teacher, I feel incredibly lucky to have young women like them to work with.” Talking about the rare opportunity to work and train with professionals in the field, both agreed that it especially helped them to learn how to use their bodies and movement on stage. “I thought being on stage was all about emotions and acting. But, they did all these lifts and moves and they were so smooth. I feel more connected to my body now after working with them. They made us know our minds, what we are thinking, our emotions and our bodies, and that's very difficult,” explained Leah. Beyan echoed Leah’s thoughts, “I’ve always wanted to be on a stage where there isn’t just acting, but there’s movement, and there’s singing and dancing. They taught us to be confident on stage and to do whatever was required at the moment,” she said. The Home Grown production, Dhow Under the Sun, received great response from the audience. “Kevin Spacey cried at the end! He said he couldn’t help it because we were all so good,” said Leah excitedly. Spacey personally spent two hours coaching the participants during the workshop. “I still have quotes from him on my notebook. Every now and then I go back  to them so I don’t forget what I want in life and my acting career,” added Beyan. But, the Home Grown experience wasn’t just about acting; it was also about learning to accept differences, and to start new friendships, especially in the backdrop of the current crises in the Middle East. Leah agreed that they went with some perceptions about the other nationalities. “Before I went there, I never felt like I belonged to the Middle East! I was wondering about how I would get along with all of them,” she said, “But soon it felt like the borders weren’t even there. It started feeling like one country, like one Middle East.” “What was also amazing about this program was that everybody was accepted without thinking about gender, race, mentality or anything! ” Leah continued, “Everyone had something that was different. There was a spark in each of them, and you wanted to know them. They were all so creative!” Leah and Beyan have exciting plans for the future with their new friends after finishing this program. Out of the 35 Home Grown cast members, 18 have come together to write a play that they hope to perform in Jordan. “We don’t want this experience to fade away. This is not only going to help us. We’re just starting it but other people might want to join us later. It will be like an institution.” they said. The group members are currently working on the script.   The two students also have a personal project of their own. The writer of the Home Grown production, Hassan Abdulrazzak, is of Iraqi descent, and the girls want to introduce his plays to the local audience. “We want to bring his work to AUIS, and through AUIS promote him in the country. That’s our personal project. We want to have one of his plays that talks about a lot of issues in our society. I think it’s a great honor for us to bring his plays here,” they said. They credit the AUIS Drama Club, and especially O’Sullivan, for recognizing, building and appreciating their talent.  “I never thought I was good on stage until I started practicing with Liz,” said Beyan, “It’s great that AUIS has a drama club. If we didn’t have it, we would not have been able to do anything. Here, in Iraq, we don’t have very good acting schools. The society is not very encouraging.” Leah agreed with her, “I would have never known I wanted to be an actress if I had not come to this university. Liz really cares about each student’s passion and the theatre. She is an incredible woman. She made us discover who we are as actors.”

AUIS Drama Presents Twelve Angry (Wo)men

“Better than ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” – Sir William Blackstone (1765) American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) presented a play, which was adapted from the original play ‘Twelve Angry Men,’ by Reginald Rose. The play, directed by Elizabeth O’Sullivan, head of the drama club, was performed by University’s students and staff. The play is based on the U.S. judicial system, where a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. It is up to the prosecution to convince the twelve people on the jury that the accused is guilty. If the jury cannot come to an agreement, they declare a hung jury and the case has to be prosecuted again with a new jury. The show was originally written for 12 men, but AUIS casted 12 women. “Part of our workshop was discussing the challenges an actress faces when a role is switched from male to female,” explained Sullivan. “How do gender stereotypes affect the decisions women make, and how does the meaning change when different people say the same line.” The production of the play was an experimental workshop, and emphasized learning and developing a variety of skills, both on and off stage. The cast and crew learned how to equally share their input in all aspects of the production, including set design, photography, costumes and line delivery. “We created the show as a team,” Sullivan said, “and because of the support from our community at AUIS we were able to deliver performance at its best.” Check out the photos on Facebook.

The First Tears I Shed

Before I went on stage to perform in front of the audience, I felt that “Noor” was just a name of a girl, and nothing more. Between classes and getting ready for our opening night, I haven't exactly had the time to think about it deeply. However, I realized what an amazing name Noor was, right on the stage, as I was acting. Every single word of the play meant Noor in my mind. Noor means light. Yes, it brings light to every dark corner of my home. As I listened to my fellow cast mates on stage, every single word of the play showed me photos of the past. Usually, they were not pretty photos, and some brought tears to my eyes. It was even hard at times to say my lines. If you could have seen the audience, you would have known that many have lost someone very close to them in a war. I say a war because there have been many of them since the day we were born. However, none of us have had the opportunity to cry for the people we have lost. We, Kurds and Arabs in the Noor cast, are joining hands together to shed light on the life of every single person in our country. We are gathering together to shed our last tears over the sad events our people have experienced.  It is incredible to hear some people crying for war again. The headlines right now tell stories between the KRG and Baghdad, between the PKK and Turkey, and between the whole of Iraq and Iran. The drums of war, believe it or not, are beating again. But during our performance, we did not cry for war. We, the cast, stood together, as Kurds and Arabs, to cry for the innocent sons and daughters that were lost. But it would be selfish to do just that. We also cried for the soldiers, on all sides, who gave their lives. We also cried out against corrupt politicians and greedy businessmen, a warning to everyone who thought someone was evil just because they spoke Kurdish or Arabic or English. We cried for all these things, but most of all, we cried for every Noor in every home, wherever she was. 

My Noor Timeline

Student blog by Mohammad Baheej 2005 The three men who chased me had everything they needed. They had masks, black bags, and the same plastic handcuffs that American soldiers used. The only other thing they needed was me. I wasn’t that intelligent – I was 15, and always just thought about football. But I understood what would happen if they caught me.  The crazy thing was this: I recognized one of the men. He was a friend; in fact he was a neighbor! Once he even visited me when I was sick, and asked me if I needed anything! I wish I had told him, “Yes there is one thing. Please don’t kidnap me, okay?” 2012 I am in rehearsal every day for a play called Noor, by Akbar Ahmed. It happens in Baghdad, and I feel like it’s right in the bazaar (Palestine Street in Baghdad) when I was 15. In the play, the daughter of the family, Noor, is kidnapped. My character, Daoud, is her brother and says, “The neighborhood isn’t the same anymore. Cousins spy on each other. Friends report on friends. Who is there to trust?” In fact, a lot of the time during the play, I don’t trust any other people, not even my own brothers, Ali and Abdullah, or even Noor. At the same time, I trust the other actors completely. This is no little thing. Trust is very complicated in Iraq. Confidence is not widely spread among the Iraqi people. Even if someone is the same ethnicity as you, has the same amount of money, and comes from the same neighborhood, has the same religion, even in that situation, there are still ten thousand reasons not to trust them. Thus, when we practice Noor in a cast of people who are so different, it’s sspecial that we have trust and will protect each other. We practice so many times when everyone else has gone home to get on facebook or sleep. Believe me I will protect my cast against anything. 2005 + 2012 =? By the way, I got away from the three men in 2005. I took off my sandals and ran faster than them. The man I recognized, my “helpful” neighbor, one day picked the wrong guy to kidnap and was killed. This made a lot of sense to people in my community: The more bad things you do, the worse fate you face. But the same is true for good things and good fate. If we deliver a great performance of Noor, what will our good fate be? Will Iraq become completely safe for every family and every Noor in every home? But everybody knows life doesn’t work like that. Still, who knows what is possible?


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