Theater as communicator? Silk Road Rising shows how it can be done

By Deb Christian

Co-founders Malik Gillani, a Muslim of Pakistani heritage and Jamil Khoury, a Christian with Syrian ancestry, describe the work of Silk Road Rising at RCC 2017.

Photo by George Conklin.

CHICAGO (March 31, 2017) — A special feature at RCC’s 2017 convention was a workshop that tells the story of how the arts, theater specifically, functions as a communicator. Silk Road Rising is a theater group using live performance and online videos through primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American playwrights, authors and actors to reveal universal human stories.

Co-founders Malik Gillani, a Muslim of Pakistani heritage and Jamil Khoury, a Christian with Syrian ancestry, showed two documentaries. One, Sacred Stages: A Church, A Theatre and A Story, shares with viewers the unique relationship between Silk Road Rising and the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, one of the city’s oldest Christian churches. The need of the acting troop for a place to be and of the congregation to better utilize space in their historic building is seen is this 28-minute film. It is a shared commitment that established this partnership.

The second film, called The Balancing Arab, was produced to explore the intercultural tensions between two American friends. The events at a shared evening at one friend’s Arab American Cultural Center, especially political discourse, are seen through very different lenses and an intense discussion ensues. The ultimate goal of The Balancing Arab is to demonstrate that difficult conversations can be successful.

Partnerships between Muslim and Christian, church and theater, playwrights and actors, innovative arts programming and evolving notions of Americanness permeate the work of Silk Road Rising and allowed RCC participants to think about theater as an essential form of communication plus see successful examples.

By representing communities that both intersect and overlap, this drama group encourages and advances a multicultural worldview. Silk Road Rising is live stage work that expands representation. It is digital artwork that increases access to the arts. It is community engagement. It is an arts learning program. It strives to build bridges and create a world where art is valued over ideology and questioning is more important than dogma.

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