For generations, theater has been used as a mirror through which nature could see its every flaw. Now, four USF students are using that reflective medium to cross cultural barriers and, ultimately, build a bridge.
THIS Bridge: Devised Theatre showcase will present the work of four students who have taken a journey this semester to gain a richer understanding of Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern cultures through the “Building Bridges” program at USF.
“I want (students) to maybe consider something from a new point of view, or be surprised by something they see, or learn, or hear or even an experience that they have in the process, and then ask questions about it and enter the dialogue,” said Andrea Assaf, a USF artist-in-residence and the artistic director for Art2Action, Inc.
The performance is part of a series on Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim artists, which is part of a national initiative called Building Bridges, a campus-community engagement program.
“I hope that through an artistic program like this – a cultural program – it’s a way to open doors for people to engage in topics or conversations that might otherwise be difficult to enter or to get your head around or are challenging to explore, and that art will hopefully help people do that in a meaningful way that’s sometimes fun and sometimes moving and can get us to a better place in terms of promoting global understanding,” Assaf said.
This Wednesday and Friday at 8 p.m., four students will perform a series of monologues and short scenes during the showcase in TAR 120. The event is free and open to the public but seating is limited and those interested in attending are encouraged to come early.
“A lot of those monologues address religion more directly and Islam and young women’s perspectives and reasons for being Muslim or wearing the hijab,” Assaf said. “I think some of those monologues are surprising, too, and the audience will find some interesting things to talk about and some interesting things to ask and hopefully that will lead to a good dialogue.”
Chantelle Howerton, a senior majoring in theater performance, is one of the students who will be performing some of her own work during the showcase.
“Definitely what I want audiences to take away from it is that not all Muslims are violent,” Howerton said. “The extremists I would compare to the bible beaters of our country, they take everything out of context whereas true Christians are loving. It’s the same thing with Muslims, they are tolerant of everyone and they accept them for who they are.”
The show is the final product of the Building Bridges Devised Theatre class, a special course offered as a part of the “Building Bridges” program. Over the course of the semester, four students researched Muslim, Arab and Middle Eastern cultures and their representation in the media, interviewed Muslim and Arab students at USF, and worked with multiple guest artists.
“The class was built around exploring the themes of the ‘Building Bridges’ program and ‘THIS Bridge’ in particular, which includes themes around culture identity and religion, gender and U.S. policy particularly in the Middle East,” Assaf said. “So they’ve done research on that and they’ve learned various approaches to creating theater from a research-based process.”
USF is one of six college campuses in the U.S. participating in this program in partnership with Art2Action. Assaf, who is Lebanese American, approached the university after receiving funds to support the program.
“When this opportunity came along, I was like, ‘Yes, this is the kind of work I want to be doing and I can’t believe somebody’s willing to support it’ and I approached the university, starting with the School of Theatre and Dance, and said, ‘Hey what do you think, would you be interested in collaborating, do you want to go for it?’ And they said yes,” Assaf said. “I was very excited by how open and willing USF has been across campus, across academic departments and student associations and everybody. The enthusiasm behind this project has been really amazing.”
THIS Bridge: Devised Theatre Showcase is the final performance of the semester for the series, but not the last chance for students to participate in the conversation. “Building Bridges” is a two-year program and will continue through fall 2015.
“We’ve got a lot more programming to share and we’re hoping people will not only come to one event but begin to follow the whole project and take this journey with us,” Assaf said.
Assaf also said she believes the program is more pertinent now than ever before.
“We’re living in a moment where this is one of the key issues of our time and as educators, but also as students who are going to be the future leaders and the people making these decisions,” Assaf said. “This is a really important moment to ask questions and break down assumptions and challenges ourselves to understand each other and the world we live in better and not to make the mistakes of the past again in the future.”