The Founding Steering Committee, made up of a diverse community of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) American artists, educators, and administrators, is proud to announce the launch of MENA Theater Makers Alliance (MENATMA), the first national alliance devoted to MENA artists and stories in the American theater. MENATMA’s mission states: “MENA Theater Makers Alliance amplifies the voices of Middle Eastern and North African theater makers and expands how stories from and about MENA communities are told on U.S. stages. We will take space, make opportunities, champion artists, and build relationships with other marginalized communities and allies to create a more vibrant American theater.”
The launch of MENATMA marks the next step in the tireless efforts in community building, artistic development, and cultural production led by MENA artists and organizations for more than two decades. Along with a push towards more inclusion, MENATMA also highlights the excellence and aesthetic diversity of artistic work from MENA communities and their essential place in American theater. MENATMA’s efforts intentionally build on the long-standing work of Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latinx communities to redefine and reframe the white supremacist lens of American theater.
“We stand on the shoulders of so many who came before us, to continue the work of building an American theater that is reflective of this nation’s rich diversity,” said Torange Yeghiazarian, Founding Artistic Director of San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions, which was the first American theater company in the nation devoted to the Middle East. “How exciting to launch our national alliance in this moment of unprecedented change and massive calls for racial justice and social equity.”
“We’ve gone from genies in a bottle and dancing harem girls to maniacal terrorists and raving misogynists. Not exactly a great track record on representation. Why? Because ‘representation’ was created without us and never for us, and oftentimes against us,” said Jamil Khoury, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Artistic Director of Chicago’s Silk Road Rising. “MENATMA is about claiming the mantle of representation. It’s about MENA theater artists telling our own stories and defining our own art-making.”
Theatre Communication Group’s Director of Artistic and International Programs, Emilya Cachapero, adds: “I’ve had the great pleasure of witnessing the evolution of MENATMA through formal convenings and informal community conversations. The contributions of vibrant MENA artists to the larger theater ecology should be more widely known, cherished, and supported, and I’m certain that MENATMA will be instrumental in accomplishing this.”
MENATMA defines the Middle East and North Africa broadly and inclusively in order to embrace the multiplicity of ethnic and religious identities that span Southwest Asia, North Africa, Central Asia, the Caucasus, parts of Mediterranean Europe, and Diaspora communities. Theater is also defined broadly and inclusively, welcoming artists of all disciplines and practices from traditional to contemporary, as well as all professionals that support the development and production of theater. MENATMA is committed to the inclusion of people of all races, ages, abilities, sexual orientations, genders, gender identities, socioeconomic statuses, citizenship statuses, and religions. MENATMA is also committed to anti-racist, decolonizing practices.
The MENATMA Steering Committee includes Andrea Assaf, Catherine Coray, Deborah Eliezer, Denmo Ibrahim, Evren Odcikin, Jamil Khoury, Kate Moore Heaney, Kathryn Haddad, Leila Buck, Michael Malek Najjar, Nora el Samahy, Pia Haddad, Shoresh Alaudini, Torange Yeghiazarian, and Tracy Cameron Francis. These individuals represent the ethnic diversity of MENA communities, hail from all corners of the United States, and include founders of MENA-focused organizations, as well as younger newcomers.
Founding Organizations for MENATMA include institutions with decades-long commitment to MENA artistic communities: Golden Thread Productions, Silk Road Rising, Noor Theatre, The Lark, Maia Directors, Art2Action, Inc., and New Arab American Theater Works. MENATMA also acknowledges the invaluable support of Theatre Communications Group (TCG) and The Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists (CAATA).
The mission and structure of MENATMA was created in collaboration with hundreds of MENA theater makers through surveying and in-person gatherings, including the convenings for the Middle East America Initiative hosted by The Lark (2009, 2012, 2016); ReOrient Forum gatherings (2009 through 2017) and the National MENA Theatre Artists Convening hosted by Golden Thread (2019); MENA community gatherings as part of the CAATA National Conference and Festival hosted by Oregon Shakespeare Festival (2016) and Silk Road Rising (2018); as well as numerous affinity spaces hosted at TCG National Conferences.