by Correspondent, Tehran Bureau
Iranian director Kiomars Moradi has completed rehearsals for The Skyless City, written by Pouria Azarbayjani in collaboration with Moradi, which made its American debut at Dreamland Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota. The multimedia stage production premiered in Tehran in late 2009 to enthusiastic audiences, but was ultimately banned at home by the Iranian government over concerns about its subject matter: the international trafficking of women from the Middle East. (In June 2010, Tehran Bureau reviewed the Iranian production as part of a survey of the Tehran theater scene.) At the 2010 Avignon OFF Festival, critics chose The Skyless City as Best Foreign Theater. Moradi also presented the play at the Laboratory Theater Festival in Italy this past summer. He spoke with Tehran Bureau about the show and his experience preparing for its first performance in the United States.
Tell us about the story.
The Skyless City tells the story of four women from different parts of the Middle East and what they encounter trying to build new lives for different reasons. In order to do so, they have to escape their current situations.... Nasrin, from Iran, and Alma, from Afghanistan, are in an abandoned subway station in Paris. They are waiting to receive their passports from the human trafficker who smuggled them from the Middle East. They remember other women from other countries in the Middle East who were with them on this difficult journey and didn't make it. The women who disappeared are present too.
Well, I use different media to convey the story. Nazgol Naderian and Fatemeh Naghavi, two actresses from Iran, are on stage through video. So they are present in spirit, telling us of their journey and their reasons to depart. Taous Khazem and Eliza Rasheed will perform as Nasrin and Alma on stage interacting with Nazgol and Fatemeh.
Why human trafficking and why human trafficking in the Middle East?
Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking -- the smuggling of migrants by criminals who exploit desperate people, many of whom endure unimaginable hardships in their bid for a better life. The Middle East is no exception. The American audiences have often heard of oil prices, of war, of terrorism, and of political turbulence in the Middle East. They do not hear the story of women who seek a better life. These women try to find better education, to have more opportunities, or to live with whom they love. Many in the West take these [things] for granted. This play is an effort to bring together four different characters from the Middle East. These women have stories that you do not hear about in the media. Still their stories are not unique. Many experience the same hardships and face the same realities on a daily basis in the Middle East.
This is not your first time presenting the piece. What is different this time?
My experience this time was different in two ways. First, it was my first time working with artists trained in American theater. They are very talented. Still, we had our challenges -- good challenges, of course.... It was difficult for them to imagine the surrounding conditions and to understand the perspective. This we overcome together. The second way concerns the secret language. When you work in Iran as a director or as a playwright you use a secret language, a combination of symbols and concepts implying what you mean without saying it. This was new for my [U.S.] team. In the States, people can say what they mean to say. This secret language is not easily understood. I had to explain, or [at points] to reread the play [and] change it for an American audience, who might not have the same perspective. [Editor's note: For more on the issue of the secret, or coded, language of contemporary Iranian theater and how it translates to a Western performance context, see 'Ka': Dying for the Master and Communication Breakdown: Iranian Drama, Western Stage.]
What is new about the production in St. Paul, then?
Although I have been in different international festivals, this has been my first appearance in the States. In festivals, I had a specific audience, a mix of art lovers and critics. Here I am bringing this play together as a member of the community and not as a guest. I have to promote it and to find the audience for it.... This is a cross-cultural voyage for me right now.
What are your hopes for it? What are you looking to accomplish?
I hope for this play to find its audience and to find demand for it elsewhere. I think The Skyless City has a lot to say about the plight of Middle Eastern women, and I would like to take it to other states as well. As I said, there is much more about the Middle East than what people hear. I hope this play brings them a taste of things they miss [hearing] about the Middle East.
Photographs by Adeab Azadegan © The Skyless City.
Via Tehran Bureau