March 24, 2015

Lewis Center for the Arts presents “The Dramaturgy of Political Violence: Ayad Akhtar, Aasif Mandvi, and Muslims on U.S. Stages”

Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, in collaboration with the English Department, the Muslim Life Program in the Office of Religious Life, the Program in Theater, and the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, will present a panel on the dramaturgy of political violence and Muslims on U.S. stages on April 6 in the Friend Center Convocation Room (113) on the corner of William and Olden Streets. The panel will begin at 6:00 p.m. and feature Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, actor/writer Aasif Mandvi, playwright/producer Jamil Khoury, theater historian Neilesh Bose, and theater scholar Fawzia Afzal-Khan. The panel is organized by Afzal-Khan and Jill Dolan, Professor of Theater, Annan Professor in English, and Director of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton. The event is free and open to the public.

The panelists will discuss a range of relevant contemporary theater and performance work from both artists’ and scholar’s perspectives. Mandvi will read from his one-man play, Sakina’s Restaurant, and from his recently published memoir, No Land’s Man. Akhtar will read from one of his plays, which include Disgraced (which recently ended its Broadway run); The Invisible Hand (which was recently produced by New York Theatre Workshop); and The Who and the What. Afzal-Khan will discuss Mandvi’s and Akhtar’s work in the context of South Asian Muslim diasporic theater in the U.S., as well as their place in post-colonial discourse, the burdens of representation—given the limited number of South Asian artists with high visibility in American culture—and how Mandvi and Akhtar occupy two different historical moments that have differently shaped their work and careers. She will also discuss gender politics and how the “dramaturgy of political violence” describes their work.

Bose will discuss the history of Muslim South Asian theater and performance on Western stages, addressing the new avenues of inquiry these two artists have opened. Khoury will speak as an Arab-American theater producer who co-founded Chicago’s Silk Road Rising theater collective in response to the events of 9/11. He will discuss Muslim representations in American theater, popular culture, and the media through the lenses of national security and Western notions of democracy that often vilify Muslims. He will also discuss gay and lesbian representations in 20th century America in ways that can be applied to current representations of Muslim characters. The panel discussion will be moderated by Dolan and will conclude with a Q&A during which the audience will be invited to pose their own questions to the panelists.

Fawzia Afzal-Khan

Photo by Mike Peters

Afzal-Khan is a University Distinguished Scholar, Professor of English and Director of Women and Gender Studies at Montclair State University. She works at the intersection of feminist theory, cultural and performance studies, and postcolonial studies. She created the first course on writings by and about Muslim women at Montclair State and has published extensively on this topic. She is the author of five books, including her recent controversial memoir, Lahore With Love: Growing Up With Girlfriends Pakistani-Style. Afzal-Khan is a published poet and playwright, a contributing editor to The Drama Review, and a trained vocalist in the North Indian classical tradition. Her current research focuses on female singers in Pakistani popular culture.

ayad akhtar

Photo by Nina Subin

Akhtar is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, screenwriter and novelist. His play, Disgraced, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is the story of a successful Pakistani-American lawyer whose dinner party spins out of control amid a heated discussion of identity and religion. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed, poignant coming-of-age novel, American Dervish, which describes a family’s struggle to identify both as Muslim and American, one boy’s devotion to his faith, and the sometimes tragic implications of extremism. The book was voted a 2012 Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Shelf-Awareness, and O (Oprah) Magazine. As a screenwriter, Akhtar was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay for The War Within. He has received commissions from Lincoln Center and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.


Aasif Mandvi (far right) in Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3 production of Disgraced, written by Ayad Akhtar. Photo by Erin Baiano

Mandvi is an Indian-American actor and comedian who is perhaps best known for his work as a regular correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Mandvi received an OBIE award for his critically-acclaimed one-man show, Sakina’s Restaurant. His stage credits also include the 2002 Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, Homebody/Kabul, Suburbia, Trudy Blue, and Speak Truth to Power. His film and television credits include the title role in Merchant/Ivory’s The Mystic Masseur; Music and Lyrics, on which he worked with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore; as well as Spider-Man 2, Freedomland, The War Within, Sorry Haters, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, CSI, Law and Order, and ER.

jamil khoury

Photo courtesy Silk Road Rising

Khoury is a playwright and the founding artistic director of the theater collective Silk Road Rising, where he employs his experiences living in the Middle East and his eleven years as a cross-cultural trainer and international relocations consultant to promote playwrights of Silk Road backgrounds. As a playwright, Khoury focuses on diaspora and other Middle Eastern themes, with a particular interest in the intersections of culture, national identity, sexuality, and class. Khoury conceived of and curated the highly successful Silk Road Cabaret: Broadway Sings the Silk Road. Khoury also conceived of, and was a featured playwright in, Silk Road Rising’s production of The DNA Trail: A Genealogy of Short Plays about Ancestry, Identity, and Utter Confusion. Khoury’s play Precious Stones won Gay Chicago Magazine‘s 2003 After Dark Award for Outstanding New Work and has been performed in ten cities across the United States.

Neilesh Bose

Photo courtesy Neilesh Bose

Bose is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at St. John’s University. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Tufts University. As a historian of modern South Asia, he researches 19th-and 20th-century nationalism, religion, and culture, and the decolonization process of the mid-20th century. His other research interests include diasporas and migrations, popular culture, and the philosophy of history. He is the author of Beyond Bollywood and Broadway: Plays from the South Asian Diaspora and Recasting the Region: Language, Culture, and Islam in Colonial Bengal.

Dolan received the 2011 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for her blog, The Feminist Spectator, where she posts regularly about recent theater, performance, film, and television. She received the Distinguished Scholar Award for Outstanding Career Achievement in Scholarship in the Field of Theatre Studies from the American Society for Theatre Research in 2013. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women and Theatre Program in 2011 and the 2011 Outstanding Teaching Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. Her books include The Feminist Spectator as Critic; Theatre & Sexuality; Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre; and The Feminist Spectator in Action: Feminist Criticism for Stage and Screen, among others.

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