There was a decent audience filling the spacious power center on this unseasonably warm Saturday night. I saw people of all backgrounds represented in the audience as I filed into my seat for Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity. I was seated on the balcony, with a perfect, if somewhat distant, view of what was going on onstage.
The lights dimmed, and the five cast members in the show filed onto stage one by one. They introduced themselves in their native language, only three of the five speaking English. They started off chronologically, talking about the muslim men and women who have been part of America since the very beginning. Then they slowly dove into each of their personal stories, still going chronologically. Each speaker spoke their words with a loud and well rehearsed tone of voice, accentuated by clapping and parts of the performance that were done in unison. At two different intermission-like segments music was played as the performers got up and moved, carrying their binders with them only to sit back down at different chairs. I was struck by how well these non-actors were able to perform, as well as how tightly the story was woven together despite telling very real stories of these people’s lives. I enjoyed learning a little bit about each of their lives, be it the muslim-convert Tiffany who has found a community in her faith or Amir who worked at Chuck-e-Cheese for several years to make ends meet. If any more of this performance series, Undesirable Elements, by Ping chong come to town I won’t be able to keep myself from going.
The end of the show presented the cast members various thoughts on the first month of the Trump administration. Some were fearful, others hopeful, still others largely pessimistic about what this signified. The only shared characteristic is that each and everyone of them was reading their lines with a raw intensity. We later learned that this was the very first time the cast members had performed this part, which was why it sounded so raw.
Directly following the show, the cast members were invited back on stage for a brief Q&A session. I was able to find a seat downstairs for this part after half the audience had left. A fair amount of people stayed behind, and while I’m no expert as guesstimating numbers I would guess several hundred people remained in the theater for the Q&A. It was interesting to get to hear them talk outside of the scripted performance, you could tell that several of the cast members in particular, Maha Syed and Amir Khafagy, were naturally ver adept at public speaking. I appreciated the Q&A session and was glad to have attended, however there were quite a few times that the questions asked were intrusive or combative.
Overall I had a wonderful experience, and think I gained new insight into the diversity of muslim experiences in America as well as the real damage islamaphobia causes.