Building Bridges with Laughter, Music and More

A year-long engagement with Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern culture through comedy, music, theatre and film, begins Aug. 28, 29 and Sept. 8.

Iranian-American comedian Negin Farsad will kick off the series of special events in "THIS Bridge: Arab, Middle Eastern & Muslim Artists," Aug. 28.

By Barbara Melendez

     USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 27, 2014) – At a time when geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East continue to dominate the headlines, the arts just might offer a path to get beyond differences toward something closer to mutual acceptance. A year-long series of events at USF is helping to pave the way.

Art2Action Inc., in partnership with USF, will present, each month through fall of next year, plays, concerts and art exhibitions that aim to broaden awareness and understanding under the heading “THIS Bridge: Arab, Middle Eastern & Muslim Artists.”

Iranian American comedian Negin Farsad, named one of the 50 Funniest Women by The Huffington Post, appears Thursday, Aug. 28 at 8:30 p.m. in the USF Marshall Center Oval Theatre.

Farsad’s work has been called “smart, funny and fascinating” by the Wall Street Journal, "Hilarious and Delightful" by Salon's Best of Fest. Her residency at USF kicks off the season of guest artists from around the nation, and the world, visiting the USF Tampa campus. The series is part of an interdisciplinary program involving collaborations with various USF academic departments, student associations and community partners.

Farsad is also a co-producer of the film “The Muslims Are Coming!” which will be screened Friday, Aug. 29 in University Lecture Hall 101. She will be on hand for a discussion of the new “docu-comedy.”

On Monday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. in the Barness recital Hall in the USF School of Music, “Eleven Reflections on September,” a work by noted performer, writer, director and cultural organizer by Andrea Assaf, featuring Iranian singer and Daf player Aida Shahghasemi.

October 2 through 13, Donna Mejia, a transnational fusion dance artist specializing in North African and Arab dance forms mixed with Hip Hop and Electronica will be in residency. There will be one event open to the public. Check here for the date and time.

Choreography by Mejia will be featured during the annual USF Fall Dance Concert from November 6 through 15 in USF Theatre I. A post-show panel discussion will be held at one of the performances. Check here for date and time.

December 3 and 4, students involved with the "Building Bridges" project with present an original theatre work exploring themes of gender, identity, religion and U.S. policy in the Middle East. It is directed by Andrea Assaf. It will be staged at the USF Theatre Building in room TAR 120. Times will be announced.

“This is a wonderful introduction to Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim cultures,” said College of The Arts Dean James Moy. “‘THIS Bridge’ directly supports the goals of our college to encourage global cultural awareness and diversity. Further, it contributes to a learning environment that is actively engaged in contemporary issues.

“Art2Action is the ideal partner for this project, given their national scope and mission-driven commitment to interdisciplinary performance, women artists and artists of color, innovation and impact. I believe This Bridge will provide a truly comprehensive experience, not only for our students, but also for our University and our community.”

School of Theatre & Dance Director Marc Powers added, “We’re very proud that Dora Arreola (assistant professor with the USF Theatre Department) is the USF project director for ‘THIS Bridge.’ Working in conjunction with the Theatre Department's ‘Women of the World’ theme, this partnership with Art2Action Inc. will introduce our students to a broad range of Arab and Muslim women artists and performers, working in multiple disciplines the one-week intensive residencies on campus over the coming two years.”

Writer, director, performer and cultural organizer Andrea Assaf presents her first work in the series Sept. 8, and returns in December of this year and October 2015.

Assaf says she is thrilled to collaborate with USF on this important work.

“Art2Action’s mission is to create, develop, produce and present new and devised theater work, interdisciplinary performances, performative acts, and progressive cultural organizing,” she said. “Our project, “THIS Bridge: Arab, Middle Eastern & Muslim Artists” presents – mostly – women artists working in multiple disciplines. It's perfectly aligned with our dedication to supporting women artists, artists of color, cultural equity and innovation. We are tremendously excited about the positive impact this project will have, promoting dialogue across campus, and in the Tampa Bay community.”

The program is supported by a $189,200 grant – one of only six nationwide – awarded to the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) "Building Bridges: Campus Community Engagement Grant Program," a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

In addition to USF, community partners include Sacred Grounds Coffee House, the Arab American Community Center (AACC) which produces annual Arab Festivals in Tampa and Orlando, student groups such as the Arab Cultural Association (ACA), and others. While in town, artists also offer workshops for community groups, such as the Veterans Recovery Center, the JFCS Center for Survivors of Torture, and more.

Even as the show goes on tour to the Aram American National Museum and to La MaMa ETC in New York City, spring of 2015, still more is coming to USF next year.

Starting with “The Burnin',” the newest work from Progress Theatre, led by African American Muslim Artistic Director, Cristal Chanelle Truscott, Jan. 25 through Feb. 1.

Iraqi American playwright Heather Raffo visits the USF School of Music to develop her newest libretto, “Fallujah,” based on the true story of a U.S. Marine March 15 through 22.

During National Poetry Month at USF, Tony-award winning poet and performer, Suheir Hammad, along with Slam champion Tahani Salah, and poet Amir Rabiyah will appear April 3 through 12.

Next fall, audiences can look forward to a residency/work in progress, titled “Drone” with guest artists Bina Sharif and ArtSpot Productions in September followed by a USF Theatre main stage production of “9 Parts of Desire” by Heather Raffo, directed by Andrea Assaf in October.

Then from October through November, Egyptian Graffiti artist & muralist Aya Tarek will create a new work outside the USF Contemporary Art Museum building.

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563