Growing up, Iranian-Americans like Ora Yashar often saw themselves portrayed only as the Exotic Other: in his words, “either terrorists or Princess Jasmine.” But Yashar’s generation was raised in the United States – Iranian heritage living its own American histories. “Now we are bridging the gap between our old world and our new,” notes another millennial Iranian-American, Asal Akhondzadeh.
Yashar and Akhondzadeh are part of a plethora of Persian talent – writers, actors, musicians and, in Ora’s case, producer – of The Braid (formerly Jewish Women’s Theater) ‘s newest living room show, Persian Sunrise, American Sunset. . The autobiographical accounts of these Iranian-Americans will take dramatic life in four live performances on Zoom between June 19 and June 28. For dates, times and tickets visit: http://www.the-braid.org/psas.
The Braid offers a unique cultural experience at the intersection of storytelling and theater, in which true stories from writers of all professional backgrounds are brought to life by skilled actors and presented on stage or digitally.
Nine years ago, it was the first theater company to feature the stories of Iranian Jewish women, in Saffron & Rosewater, including powerful escape stories from the 1979 revolution. The hugely successful show included a performance. in front of more than 800 people at 92nd Street Y in New York City and sparked a desperately needed conversation in American Jewry about how the experiences of their Persian members had too often been overlooked.
Since then, the artistic director of The Braid, Ronda Spinak, began to notice that “in our emerging artist program called NEXT @ The Braid, we were starting to see stories of second generation Iranians, and their identity issues were different from those of the first generation.” Spinak felt that these voices, too, “deserved to be highlighted”. So she contacted Yashar, one of the emerging NEXT artists: “Ora impressed me with his keen sense of editing and adapting stories in the theatrical / narrative style of The Braid.”
Together, they decided to expand the focus on saffron and rose water. The Braid has long since decided to include stories of all genres, but Yashar suggested including non-Jewish voices as well – a bold move given The Braid’s mission to raise the voices of the Jewish community. But for Yashar, who grew up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley and had Iranian friends from all walks of life, it was important that this show reflected that interfaith synergy.
It is a mixture literally embodied in Akhondzadeh, the child of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother. Her story tells how, as a freshman, she celebrates her first Passover Seder away from her family. As the Haggadah is read, she notices the differences in seder rituals between her fellow Askhenzai table and her Persian upbringing. And in her new post-9/11 world, she wonders how much of her old life she should reveal.
In a passage adapted from her memoir, Concealed, acclaimed writer Esther Amini recalls how her father fought to forget the horrors he faced in Iran by religious fanatics. In America, he couldn’t shake off his paranoia and distrust of strangers, but despite everything, his love for his daughter never wavered.
Farnoush Amiri, reporter for NBC News and NPR, tells how, as a teenager, she learned to hide the signs of her “otherness” – straightening her hair, eating American foods. But she can’t hide the lasting memories of the “extreme police” her family was subjected to by federal agents when they first moved to Orange County.
Another young woman remembers the night she and her family went from Iranian to Iranian-American. She recounts the challenges she now faces in her new life as her parents forbid her to join in normal teenage rituals: having a boyfriend, going to Burger King and shaving her legs … all behaviors that call into question its “purity”.
Next, a young gay man shares his struggle to exercise his power of attorney to end the life and suffering of his terminally ill mother, as he tries to forgive her for not loving her unconditionally.
These stories and many more like them will be performed by a cast including Iranian-American actors both veteran and new to The Braid.
As a director Susan morgenstern note: “We have a responsibility to present these stories through authentic voices of the Persian community. I am extremely proud of the concerted efforts we have made to find Persian actors – and these efforts have paid off!”
She is also enthusiastic about pushing the Zoom theater medium, after a year of adapting and innovating: “While there are challenges in mixing music and visual images in Zoom performances, we added more of the two to each successive show. We have two extremely talented singers in this cast, so I’m especially looking forward to bringing in some original and traditional Persian music, as well as some imagery that will highlight the stories. We will “braid” these elements together – stories, songs, images – to create a beautiful, cohesive and moving experience. “
This is one that writers like Esther Amini hope to resonate not only with the Iranian community, but also the world over: “The Braid informs and educates viewers about what it is to come from Persian culture. and at the same time to be raised in United States. It is an honor that my story is included on this show. “
Persian Sunrise, American Sunset will feature stories written by Esther Amini, Asal Akondzadah, Farnoush Amiri, Matthieu Nouriel and Dorit Nowparvar, Haideh Herbert and Elnaz Moghangard. Their stories will be interpreted by Nima Jafari, Niloo Khodadadeh and Ava Lalezarzadeh and will present musical performances by Pontea Banayan.
The production of Persian Sunrise, American Sunset is made possible in part by the generous support of the City of Santa Monica, the Y&S Nazarian Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and the Robert Sillins Family Foundation.
Persian Sunrise, American Sunset will feature four live performances on Zoom from opening night from June 19-28. For dates, times and tickets visit: http://www.the-braid.org/psas.
The Braid (formerly Jewish Women’s Theater) is the 2020 winner of The Argonaut’s Best of the Westside “Best Live Theater Award” and the Santa Monica Daily Press Award for “Most Loved” in the live theater category. Her performances feature stories, artwork, and other inspiring Jewish programs that highlight Jewish contributions to contemporary life. Now in its 13th season (bat mitzvah), The Braid theater show, comprised of original dramatic performances, each written on a specific theme, showcases the diverse and eclectic community of writers, artists and creators who celebrate life. Jewish, one story at a time. Learn more about The Braid at: www.the-braid.org.