The cast and crew at the Bush Theatre did an amazing job. They had a sold out run theresponse was overwhelmingly positive with over half being first-time attendees at the theatre;and the show received a number of thoughtful reviews including five stars from The Stage. We selected three monologues written by local writers to be weaved in with six of my own works.
That’s a really great question. Our core production team is small and we run on a tight budget. Wherever my team performs, the shows are free and open to the public. So we cover all of our costs and we get our performers, writers and producers paid, but we haven’t really spent much in the way of promotion or advertising. People reach out to us. This is not the case for licensed productions staged by other theatres.
This year and last year, the show went to North Carolina where three Muslim Arab American students were killed in their homes. The man, Craig Hicks, had come into their home and shot them point blank in the head. Two of the women, who were sisters, wore headscarves, and the third was the new husband of one of the sisters. They were really young, the younger sister was 19, and the married couple were in their 20s and just starting dental school after getting married a few months before. To pretty much every person of color I spoke with, it was clear that it was a hate crime although the idea of a parking dispute was raised early on in the coverage of the incident. The women were Arab-American; if the weren’t wearing headscarves, they may have passed for white. Hicks confessed to the murders and said that he had killed them. As Muslims continued to read about it, it became traumatising on a number of levels. It fed a fear that maybe there’s somebody that you don’t know that hates you that much, right? And that somebody could be a neighbour. This man was.So we were invited to perform in two universities located in close proximity to where that happened. In both cases, we were invited by Chaplains of the universities. They wanted to include the show as part of a week of interfaith conversations on their campuses. It was truly heartwarming — and heartbreaking to be among their communities.All three performers wrote and shared how she reflected on that incident and how it hurts us in different ways, especially when we think about the very long experience of black women in the United States with violent racism and misogyny.
Well…a few times, we’ve had audience members attend shows and we know that they’re there just to instigate, they’re not really there to be a normal audience member. During the talk-back after one show in Chicago, one person raised his hand after a few questions were asked and asked us what we think about Isis. The audience became silent. At that time, it was the eighth year we were performing, so we were like “were you not listening to any of the stories?” I think if that happened to us early on I would have been more nervous but by that point it was just like “Boring.” and “Alright, we got this…” One of our performers also happens to be a lawyer, so I was like “Kamilah can answer this question,”and she handled it — and of course she rightfully received a round of applause.
I will always remember this one young guy, maybe 18, 19. He looked like a deer in headlights, and he was just standing where the audience was after the show for a good 30 minutes. I went up to him and was like “are you ok?” and he said he grew up in a really small town, everyone was white, everyone was Christian, and this was really eye-opening, “but I just don’t understand something…” And I was like “ok…” so I thought maybe he was having a deeply transformative moment or something, and he earnestly said “I just don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like football….” He was so sincerely shocked by that. And I was like, “you know what, there are just some people in the world that are just so different from us.” I think that might be one of my favourite moments because he wasn’t actually fetishizing the idea of a hijabi on stage, his deepest concern was the character not liking football.
We circulate feedback forms for the audience to fill out and return which we read through together as a team after every show. During that time, I sit with my team and ask for their own critical feedback not only about our own performances and the audience’s response but about how we felt about the organizers’ treatment of us as artists before, during, and after the show. On the occasion that an organizer is particularly disorganized and disrespectful, we make sure we support and hold each other up as artists, as Muslim women, as women of color.
If we get a negative, racist, condescending, or even violent comments online, I make sure to reach out to certain people including our producer. For example, before Hijabi Monologues London was even staged, someone tweeted something like “you mean Jihadi Monologues.” I didn’t respond (although Kamilah definitely clapped back) but I do make it a point to reach out to friends and speak with them. That’s really important to me.
That’s a tricky question. There’s so many talented people I’ve loved working with, butI would say that one of my favourite people to work with is our producer Avery Willis-Hoffman. She’s a powerful, brilliant woman who is creative talented, and deeply insightful. Her vision for production development is nuanced and sensitive to the needs of artists, production teams, and investors. I consider every organizer who works with her to be lucky.
I’ve also adored working with our two performers who also have written monologues and been with us since 2009 — Kamilah A.Pickett and Rafiah Jones. We are all very different personalities — and that makes us a powerful mix onstage.
So every other year we get a request from a different person to come to South Africa. The women who have contacted us are usually women who work for women’s rights organisations, especially on issues related to domestic violence. I think every time the person making the request realises the cost of bringing us to South Africa, it doesn’t go anywhere but all of us would be grateful to make that a reality someday.
The show is often billed and marketed as a show about Muslim women’s experiences, but more specifically, it’s about the minority experience — about visibly identifiable Muslim women who are minorities in the contexts in which they live because the show comes from America. How we experience being minorities in the United States often resonates with how other minorities experience being marginalized. And it is important to take the show to where xenophobic and racist discussions about Muslim immigration and historical Muslim communities is prevalent because it’s Muslim women who bear the brunt of that xenophobia and racism. So Australia is one place that I’m thinking of as another destination. They had that senator who wore a veil to parliament and took it off to make a cliched xenophobic point I saw that and was like, “This is an awful performance. We could certainly show you a better one.”
In terms of Europe, the show has been staged in the Netherlands and Ireland. We haven’t been to Germany or France, but there’s always another latest hijab debate in France, and in Germany discussions about the place of Muslims and refugees is ongoing.The troubling thing is that conversation is not ending anytime soon. So again, we go wherever people feel there’s a need, and I like to be in a place where people feel and understand there’s a need for us.
In terms of Muslim majority contexts, the show has been staged in Indonesia. The organizers were keen on having their majority Muslim audience reflect empathetically on their own relationships to local minority communities. I learned from that experience that if the show were to go to another Muslim majority context, it is important that the Hijabi Monologues’ characters are performed as American Muslims living in the United States.
I mean, it’s not just outside the Muslim community, even people in the Muslim community sometimes have that expectation. A very simple answer to that question is my monologue I’m Tired
I also think I could answer that question with a story from the road.
I usually place that monologue at the very beginning of the show to set the tone. At one of our early shows, a young Arab-American woman stormed out after that monologue. She was furious. One of the ushers, who told us this story later, saw the woman about to leave and asked her, “Is everything ok?” She said, “I’m just really mad.I just think it’s really ridiculous that you have this big audience and platform to inform people about Islam and you’re using it to say cuss words.” She felt embarrassed as a Muslim woman who does not wear a headscarf and she happened to come with her best friend who was a hijabi.
The usher suggested she stay for the rest of the show because that’s just the first story. He advised her to voice her feelings during the Q & A session post-show. So she did. She stayed for the rest of the show and she said to the performers what she said to the usher, and before we could respond, her friend who wears a headscarf responded. She expressed her dismay that her friend felt that way when she didn’t feel that way at all; rather she said just by one simple f-word she felt relieved that she was given permission to be a human being for once. So it seemed like a conversation that those two friends had to have, right? I thought that was kind of amazing for us, too – because we were just getting started. It really showed that the desire from within a faith community for certain women to represent the community’s identity as models of perfection can be just as damaging as the desire from secular communities for those same Muslim women to stand in as models of Islam’s oppression.