“We create theater with our heart and ourselves”

The stories that take place far from us can be the most important to live. Hamid Dehghani, a graduate student at the School of Communication, believes that as a director he has a responsibility to intentionally challenge misconceptions.

“We don’t need to follow the current trend — we create trends. We need to think about what stories we can bring to start a new conversation,” said Dehghani, who came to Northwestern in 2018 to start the MFA theater program in directing.

Her passion for acting started at an early age, performing in school plays in Kharg, an island in the Persian Gulf in southern Iran. He studied acting at the Art University of Tehran where he first tried directing and discovered “a deep and fundamental joy”. As a theater director working in Tehran, he had read books and plays about American theater and wanted to know more about how people do theater in the United States.

As a graduate student from the North West, Dehghani’s directing projects included “A Moment of Silence”, “Eurydice” and more recently “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”, the magical and realistic drama by Rajiv Joseph which follows two US Marines, their Iraqi translator and a quick-witted tiger through a war-torn Baghdad filled with ghosts and puzzles.

Northwestern Now spoke with Dehghani about his experiences directing for American audiences.

What was the biggest challenge you overcame at Northwestern?

The biggest challenge was making the transition after working for an Iranian audience. You cannot become an American director instantly. You have your whole life and your country with you.

The first play I staged here in 2019 was “A Moment of Silence” by Mohammed Yaghoubi. It was very political and a big problem in Iran when it was produced. It was removed because of the play’s political themes. When I produced it here, I found that audiences weren’t able to get many references. They were engaged only in the story.

I had to figure out how to use my identity as an Iranian director but also create works for American audiences. This is a three year process.

How is the American public different?

America is very big and there are many problems in the United States itself. When things happen far away, for example, a war in the Middle East, that’s news. Americans do not identify with the inhabitants of certain countries. They are not humanized because they do not know them well.

I thought I could be a bridge between what I know and feel as a Middle Eastern artist and present pieces to American audiences that humanize people who are far from American.

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