TCG Diversity & Inclusion Salon–Middle Eastern American Theatre series
JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.
GUY BEN-AHARON: My work revolves around directing and producing translated plays – most of which are American premieres – from Israel, Germany, Switzerland and soon France. I help curate a number of series of staged readings that tour within the framework of cultural institutions and universities. My current on-going projects are Israeli Stage, German Stage (part of the Goethe-Institut Boston), Swiss Stage (part of swissnexBoston | Consulate of Switzerland) and am launching French Stage in the spring (part of the French Cultural Center and the Consulat General de France à Boston). The plays ‘premiere’ in Boston, and then tour up-and-down the East Coast (from Atlanta to Toronto).
JL: How do you identify in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and heritage? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?
GBA: I rarely like to identify myself that way, but rather see my work as part of my identity. I remember having this conversation with my mother a couple years ago; she asked, “How would you define yourself?” and I replied, “A theatre director.” That being said, I strongly identify with Jewish culture and history and know that I am who I am because of my formative years in Israel. As an Israeli-American who has lived in three different countries and loves to travel (am just now writing from Southern Germany!), my greatest interest lies in connecting artists, playwrights and audience members across borders, building cultural bridges that tie us together and remind us of the universality of our day to day life and of the bigger questions that we are all facing as human beings living in and sharing an increasingly globalized world.
JL: How has this identity impacted your ability to work in the American Theatre? Have certain opportunities been made available to you owing to “who” you are? Have certain doors been closed to you?
GBA: I think being of a more international background has given me some credibility to do the work that I do.
JL: Do we need racial, ethnic and gender based culturally specific theaters? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community?
GBA: Definitely. The American Theatre is certainly making great steps to include culturally specific plays and themes in their programming, but without culturally specific theatres advocating for these kinds of works to be seen, the fight and the progress would be much harder and slower.
I think the key lies in inviting and welcoming audiences other than the specific culture presented in the programming, so that we can bridge cultures and create dialogue amongst different types of people. I truly believe that this is the only way we can get over our prejudices and ultimately, if we create enough dialogue and bridges, understanding will breed peace.
JL: What can theatres do to better serve a larger and more inclusive community?
GBA: Collaborate. Theatre institutions have a hard enough time making ends meet, and are therefore scared of presenting works that they think their audience might not embrace or identify with. This is an excellent opportunity for them to collaborate with another institution that has better ties to a community that the culturally specific programming could serve. I am constantly reaching out to artistic directors in Boston with offers to co-produce Israeli plays with Israeli Stage; each of us has our resources and audiences, our connections to certain artists and our fortes in producing – why not join hands and have a bigger impact on our respective communities as well as the greater community at large?
Born in Israel, Guy Ben-Aharon is the Producing Artistic Director and Founder of Israeli Stage (www.IsraeliStage.com), an initiative dedicated to sharing the vitality and diversity of Israeli culture. After the success of Israeli Stage, Guy was asked by the Goethe-Institut Boston to develop German Stage, by swissnexBoston to develop Swiss Stage and by the French Cultural Center and the French Consulate to develop French Stage. A proud Emerson College alum, Guy was profiled in The Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, Ha’aretz and Yediot America for his work to promote international theatre.
Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com