Volume 2

Silk Road Solos: A Three-Thread Performative Stitch

Silk Road Solos: A Three-Thread Performative Stitch
by Jamil Khoury
Founding Artistic Director, Silk Road Rising

For years we at Silk Road Rising have been contemplating a special commitment to solo performance artists.  The time for that commitment is upon us.  Our calendar year 2015 season includes productions of six solo plays, with more to follow in 2016.  Writer/performer devised solo plays occupy an important space in the canon of plays suitable for Silk Road Rising, and for reasons that align conspicuously well with our mission of harnessing one’s own representation.  Many writers and performers, particularly women and particularly women of Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds, are afforded greater artistic freedom and more robust opportunities in the arena of solo performance than in traditional theatre.  Solo performance levels the playing field by enabling artists to tell their stories as they wish to tell them.

Solo work is the ultimate bootcamp for theatremakers—it forces artists to exercise their writer muscles, actor muscles and, in many cases, their producer muscles.  While some may deride solo performance as a “proxy” or “consolation” in lieu of a “regular” play, it is anything but:  it is a genre of theatre that puts the individual artist firmly in control and translates the deeply personal into the profoundly theatrical.  Along the way, it introduces voices and perspectives all too often suppressed or denied.  When executed with skill and integrity, the cathartic, empathic potential of solo performance is boundless.

In curating Silk Road Solos, we set out to assemble a group of female artists who would share meaningful stories that are honest, entertaining, illuminating, humorous, and courageous—artists who could translate personal experience and fieldwork into emotionally compelling theatrical journeys.  In Kim Schultz’s No Place Called Home, Minita Gandhi’s Muthaland, Rohina Malik’s Unveiled, Puja Mohindra’s A Great Dive, Marissa Lichwick’s Yellow Dress, and Jameeleh Shelo’s My American Cousin, we found precisely those artists and stories. That all six artists are women is of great significance to us, as stories focused on and written by women are far too rare on America’s stages, and all too often silenced in our Silk Road communities.

The antecedents of these six powerful plays are found in three great traditions, or “threads,” one rooted in “Old World” antiquity, the other two in American civil rights struggles which gained momentum in the 60s and 70s and continue to this day.  The three traditions are:

  1. Oral storytellers and epic poets of the historic Silk Road (roughly 200 B.C.E to 1600 A.C.E.):  Blending spectacle with learning and morality tales with mischief, and traversing China to Syria and beyond, the oral storyteller embodied a whole canvas of characters and conflicts, ideas, events and dreams, using only his voice and body, and a few props at best.  The storyteller would enact narratives—both simple and elaborate—before audiences hungry for entertainment, knowledge, and contact with the outside world.  The celebrated Silk Road storyteller assumed many roles, including artist, ethicist, interpreter, translator, historian, ambassador, adjudicator, social commentator, and soothsayer.
  1.  The feminist performance art movement:  Inspired by agitprop theatre, women’s liberation, and radical activist politics, feminist performance art begins with the assumption that the personal is political, women’s lives matter, women should be respected and heard, and that women can love their own bodies.  As a performative genre, it questions and subverts our assumptions about women, gender, and power, exposes misogyny and violence against women, promotes women as owning and enjoying their sexualities, and creates space for women of all ages, races, sexualities, gender expressions, body types, and socio-economic backgrounds to blend art with activism, imagination with strategizing, and righteous anger with outrageous rebellion.
  1. The Asian American solo plays movement:  In empowering Asian American theatre artists to reclaim the mantle of their own representation, Asian American solo plays have become a vital force in constructing identity, building community, resisting racism, and challenging invisibility.  Fodder for artists include:  deconstructing stereotypes and the myth of the “model minority,” disrupting orthodoxies of Asian American identity politics, airing tensions between individual desires and family expectations, dating and marrying non-Asians, balancing assimilation and cultural heritage, being Hapa (mixed blood), being an Asian adoptee, honoring, adapting, and reinventing traditions, navigating intersections of racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia within immigrant and second generation communities, and battling Orientalism of both the external and internal varieties.

Looking forward, we envision Silk Road Solos as an ongoing project—a rolling festival of sorts.  As evidenced by the lineup, we’ve committed to producing a diverse and eclectic group of stories seldom heard on Chicago’s stages, and already we’re making plans with additional artists.  As an organization, we see solo performance becoming an integral component of Silk Road Rising’s repertoire, along with traditional full-cast plays, video plays, staged readings, documentaries, public school arts education, civic engagement initiatives, screenings and presentations, community outreach, and panel discussions.  The strong link between contemporary solo performance and the historic Silk Road acts as a vivid reminder:  the present is best served when we honor the past and imagine a just future.

Jamil Khoury is the Founding Artistic Director of Silk Road Rising. Jamil is currently writing the full length version of his play Mosque Alert which will be produced at Knox College, on February 25-28, 2015. Mosque Alert grows out of an online interactive new play development and civic engagement project that was launched in 2011, exploring resistance to the building of mosques in communities across the U.S. This unique, first-of-its-kind pairing of artistic and civic processes received the 2013 Change Maker Award from South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).  Recently, Jamil released both his latest video play, Multi Meets Poly: Multiculturalism and Polyculturalism Go On a First Date, and his second documentary film Sacred Stages: A Church, a Theatre, and a Story, which he co-directed with Malik Gillani. Jamil devised two critically acclaimed cabarets, Re-Spiced: A Silk Road Cabaret (2012) and Silk Road Cabaret: Broadway Sings the Silk Road (2009). He conceived of and was a featured playwright in SRR’s production of The DNA Trail: A Genealogy of Short Plays about Ancestry, Identity, and Utter Confusion (2010). His short play WASP: White Arab Slovak Pole inspired the video play both/and (2011) and the documentary film Not Quite White: Arabs, Slavs, and the Contours of Contested Whiteness (2012). His video play The Balancing Arab (2012) was adapted from his short play 63rd and Kedzie, originally produced as part of Theatre Seven’s Chicago Landmark Project. Jamil is the 2013 recipient of the Actor’s Equity Association’s Kathryn V. Lamkey Award for promoting diversity and inclusion in theatre, and the 2010 recipient of the 3Arts Artist Award for Playwriting. Jamil holds a M.A. in Religious Studies from The University of Chicago Divinity School and a B.S. in International Relations from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is a Kellogg Executive Scholar (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University) and has been awarded a Certificate of Professional Achievement in Nonprofit Management.


Arab Stages
Volume 1, Number 2 (Spring 2015)
©2015 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Founders: Marvin Carlson and Frank Hentschker

Editor-in-Chief: Marvin Carlson

Editorial and Advisory Board: Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Dina Amin, Khalid Amine, Hazem Azmy, Dalia Basiouny, Katherine Donovan, Masud Hamdan, Sameh Hanna, Rolf C. Hemke, Katherine Hennessey, Areeg Ibrahim, Jamil Khoury, Dominika Laster, Margaret Litvin, Rebekah Maggor, Safi Mahfouz, Robert Myers, Michael Malek Naijar, Hala Nassar, George Potter, Juan Recondo, Nada Saab, Asaad Al-Saleh, Torange Yeghiazarian, Edward Ziter.

Managing Editor: Joy Arab

Table of Content

  • Science Fiction in the Arab World: Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Voyage to Tomorrow (Rihlatun ilal-ghad) by Rani Bhargav
  • Tawfik al-Hakim and the Social Responsibility of the Artist by Majeed Mohammed Midhin
  • Junūn: Poetics in the Discourse of Protest and Love by Rafika Zahrouni
  • Ritual and Myth in Dalia Basiouny’s Magic of Borolos by Amal Aly Mazhar
  • Staging the Self: Autobiography in the Theatre of Sa`dallah Wannous by Ali Souleman
  • The Arab Theatre Festival by Jaouad Radouan
  • France’s Théâtre de la Tempêt: An Arab-based Alternative Theatre Model by Magdi Youssef
  • A Dramatic Anticipation of the Arab Spring and a Dramatic Reflection Upon It by Eiman Tunsi
  • Rania Khalil’s Flag Piece by Dalia Basiouny and Marvin Carlson
  • Silk Road Solos: A Three-Thread Performative Stitch by Jamil Khoury

Short Plays

  • Excerpts from Jihad Against Violence: Oh ISIS Up Yours! by Fawzia Afzal-Khan
  • Alternative Dramaturgy for Jihad Against Violence: Oh ISIS Up Yours! By Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Nesrin Alrefaai, Katherine Mezur
  • ReOrient Theatre Festival 2015:
    Bitterenders by Hannah Khalil
    Lost Kingdom by Hassan Abdulrazzak
    Picking Up The Scent by Yussef El Guindi
    The House by Tala Manassah & Mona Mansour


  • Edward Ziter’s Political Performance in Syria – A Book Review by Safi Mahmoud Mahfouz
  • The Gap Between Generations: The Revolt of the Young: Essays by Tawif al-Hakim– A Book Review by Michael Malek Najjar


  • Malumat: Resources for Research, Writing/Publishing, Teaching, & Performing Arts compiled by Kate C. Wilson


Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
Rebecca Sheahan, Managing Director

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