First name, Persian. Last name, Armenian. Born in Iran, raised in Boston, found love in San Francisco. In Iran, people always asked: Are you Iranian or Armenian? In the US they ask: Are you Moslem or Christian. I always give the same answer: Both.
For years I worked in hospitals and laboratories. Then decided to change careers and focus on Theatre. Adding one more dichotomy to my identity, that of the scientist versus the artist. When people ask which are you? I answer: Both.
We decided to focus on the Middle East. We wanted to build a home for Middle Eastern artists like myself who had no real venue to develop and present their work. I remember looking around me at the various theatre companies back then and wondering which one would ever accept my play? And even if they did, would they understand it? Would they recognize the characters, the stories? Would they invest the time to find out? Ten years ago, the answer was decidedly, NO!
So we created Golden Thread Productions partly because I felt there were no theatre companies interested in producing plays about the Middle East. This was the pre-911 era and the Middle East had not become the hot media item that it is today. From the start, many suggested we come up with a Persian name. Or something with an immediate Middle Eastern connotation. But the content of our work goes beyond Iran and even the Middle East. Just because an artist is from the Middle East doesn’t mean that your work is limited to that one topic. Our work is about humanity and the experience of being human in today’s world.
The name Golden Thread is inspired from the myth of Ariadne. The story goes that a Minotaur lived in a Labyrinth in Crete. Who ever went to kill the Minotaur would get lost in the Labyrinth and sooner or later be killed by the monster. When Theseus came to Crete, Ariadne gave him a ball of golden thread, so he may find his way out of the Labyrinth. And he did, and they lived happily ever after!
For me, Theatre is that Golden Thread that will guide me through the labyrinth of life and help me find my way. I’ve never felt more alive than the moments I spent on stage. It’s absolutely amazing to take a piece of writing from the page and in less than a month, watch it come to life on stage. Then you begin to understand why so many artists have given up their lives for their art, or more precisely, have found life through their art.
Theatre has helped me to better understand myself. To live courageously and not fear change. Theatre has taught me honesty and collaboration.
Idealistic? But of course.
After all, I come from the land of Nizami and Molana. The name of the theatre company inspired by a Greek myth but my work is filled with notions of Iran. The perspective of an Iranian immigrant woman who has the privilege of living during very precarious times. I feel like there is so much to say that one will have to write for years and years and years. At the same time, focusing solely on Iran is not enough.
Iranians often feel singularly alone in their experience. This of course is not true. We are not the only nation to have experienced a revolution, struggled for independence or been the target of imperialistic foreign policy. Others can learn from our experience and so can we from theirs. In the US we have the opportunity to be exposed to many other cultures. Theatre builds a home for diverse people to gather and share our experiences.
The beauty of Theatre is that it is simultaneously personal and universal. It is playful, and serious. Through playing the part of another, you learn to be more yourself. In the same vein, when we bring a play about Iraq on stage we are actually placing ourselves under the microscope. When we discuss Egypt and Palestine, we are investigating our own issues. The Golden Thread not only helps us find our way but it also connects us to one another. Through watching another’s joy and sadness on stage we become better equipped to examine our own life.
This is partly why although all my life I’ve resisted being boxed in, building a Theatre company focused on the Middle East seems like the right thing to do. Even though the term Middle East itself is problematic and carries a heavy colonialist burden, it is an umbrella that “in our vast imagination” refers to a home, a culture, an experience that deserves to be shared with every body, particularly, the American public today.
Next season will be Golden Thread’s tenth season of producing plays. It seems unbelievable. Ten years of staging unique work. Ten years of introducing the work of unknown playwrights to a growing audience. I heard somewhere that our greatest problem today is a failure of imagination. That everything is presented in black and white and we can’t even imagine an alternative reality.
Theatre is a place for imagining an alternative reality. And imagining a different world, is the first step in creating change.