Middle Eastern Theatre and Politics

Still to this day, the Middle East is continually erased from global histories of the theatre. Given the pervasive Western view of Islam as an oppositional force to modernity and a source for “Muslim rage,” the region’s cultural particularities have been presumed ill-suited for the emotional complexity and humanistic qualities of drama. Over the course of the semester, this class will rewrite narratives on both Middle Eastern identity and the history and utility of theatre and performance in the Greater Middle East, with an emphasis on exploring the ways Muslim theatre artists over the past one hundred years have used the stage to speak to power. We will read plays that illustrate a diversity of perspectives, spanning the countries of Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Palestine-Israel, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen, as well as diasporic productions staged in the United States, France, England, and Germany. We will interrogate critical theory by Middle Eastern scholars and artists, integrating these writings within understandings of Western performance theory, seeking to navigate the cultural poetics and semiotics of Middle Eastern performance. Ultimately, we will attempt to answer this question paraphrased from Audre Lorde: How is one to dismantle the master’s house with colonial tools?

Although this class is designed for graduate students, it can easily be made into an undergraduate course. The content is inspired by my own research as well as the advocacy I engage in as the Chair of ATHE’S Middle Eastern Theatre focus group, and it is therefore a particularly rare (and vital) class to be taught in universities today.