Az Theatre collaborating on My Heart is in the East

Please contact Az Theatre if you want to be invited to this reading on Friday 6th September

My Heart is in the East 

By Jessica Litwak

  1. The Project

The My Heart is in the East (MHITE) project centres around a play that deals with Moslem – Jewish relations across centuries. 

The play is a thwarted love story that reclaims the transformative power of language;  a place for poetry in the relentless face of twitter, wider social media and words that polarise, to overcome our loneliness and find out what might be the language of our hearts. Confronting the deep divisions of faith, culture and gender in unexpected ways, My Heart is in The Eastpresents possibilities of re-imagined beginnings for those who are no longer young.

In addition to the play itself we will be providing different strands of community engagement: workshops, classes, seminars, discussions. These activities will extend intercultural dialogue and creative connections across borders and communities. 

MHITE shines a light on a cultural heritage neglected by most Western narratives: La Convivencia, when Moslems and Jews were able to co-exist fruitfully for centuries. Not through rose-tinted spectacles, but by the working out of differences in religion, gender and social status through belief in the power of language and the imagination. MHITE seeks to explore a shared identity around what binds us rather than divides us – both 1000 years ago and today.

We are partnering with theatres and also multi-faith centres to bring this project to life in the UK, prior to its touring abroad. 

We see MHITE as a play with lots of potential in creative learning and community engagement.  A flexible, portable, technically savvy project going to non-traditional spaces as well as theatres. The point where international touches local.

  • The Play

My Heart is in the Eastis a 2-handed play that takes place across two time-frames: present-day New York / Iraq and Medieval Spain, where oral poetry contests contributed to communication and cultural exchange between Moslems and Jews.

In New York a Jewish American professor (Miri) receives an invitation to Basra, Iraq to lead a series of puppet building workshops. An Iraqi Muslim (Ishmael), a street poet who is employed as a mercenary gravedigger, is hired to be her translator. Their relationship is both discordant and interdependent. They travel to Beirut trying to find a way out, but can only connect when they find themselves cast into the anteroom of a large poetry contest 1,000 years earlier in Cordoba, Spain. The play uses magical realism, music, puppets to carry us through time and space. At the core of the story is a rich and complex relationship between two actors, the characters they play and the language(s) they speak.  

  • The company

Az Theatre is a UK based theatre company which focuses on: 

Performing arts inspiring activism; 

Research, development and production projects;
International and local partnerships.

Az is led by Artistic Director Jonathan Chadwick

Jonathan Meth is a Director of Az and previously an associate of the company.

Az Theatre is a Limited Company and a Registered Charity

  • What we want to do

Combine playing in recognised performance spaces with performances in multi-faith spaces.

In this way audiences from different communities can access the production as well as the public engagement work we are offering around it.

This is with a view to building a model for transnational touring, where either programmers or multi-faith spaces have expressed an interest.

We have an extensive network of international connections that we have developed.

We now want to build the prototype production for summer 2020, to test an initial incarnation in order to deliver a high-quality experience to audiences, but also to present the work to interested festival programmers, multi-faith organisations and performance venues.

  • Why this project now

We are in a time of increased Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, cultural division and anxiety. Through history we can re-frame the present and re-shape the future. There was a time when Jews and Muslims lived together harmoniously and the Arts and Sciences flourished: Spain 1000 years ago. (Few people know that in AD 1000 Cordoba was the most populous city in the world). MHITE crosses divides to open up the possibilities of dialogue in the minds of the audience: East / West; ancient / contemporary; women / men; Muslim / Jew – with insight, wit, humour and the transformative power of language.  Cordoba thus becomes a code for creative coexistence. 

  • Public Engagement

There is a menu of offerings that the MHITE team can provide for producing or hosting venues. Among the many options are:

The Post show experience: After the scripted play ends, audiences are invited to participate in a poetry contest in the spirit of ancient Andalusia. This group effort builds community with laughter and creativity, warming the group to participate in a guided discussion about the issues in the play of art and peace. Each performance hosts a special guest panelist. 

Workshops: The creative team offer a variety of workshops. Puppets for the People (a workshop in a unique form of puppet building), Performance and Peacebuilding (a theatre and drama therapy workshop that teaches varied tools in theatre for personal and social change), Playwriting, and Conflict Transformation.

Lecture/Seminars: The team members offer lectures and seminars on the history, the poetry, and the cross-cultural communications within the play.

Through collaboration with multi-faith spaces we will consult with them as to what their communities might best engage with.

  • Target Audiences 
  • Standalone piece of theatre.
  • Also operates as generator of community engagement.
  • Jews and Moslems
  • Not simply interfaith. 
  • Other communities that may be divided.
  • Reaching across silos.
  • History of Al Andalus – an alternative version of Europe. 
  • Who we are

Jessica Litwak,(Playwright, Actor) an Internationally recognized leader in socially engaged theatre is an award-winning playwright, actress, educator and puppet builder, based in New York. She is the Artistic Director of The H.E.A.T. Collective and the founder of Artists Rise Up New York.

Fred Fortas,(Actor) a Paris-based actor born in Algeria and fluent in French, English, German and Arabic, has worked extensively in theatre, film, radio and television in England, France and around the world.

Jonathan Meth(Director) is a London-based dramaturg, producer, and lecturer, and has directed over 20 UK productions. He founded and curates – The Fence – a network for 250 playwrights and cultural operators across 50 countries. In 2013, with Steve Tiller he co- wrote, directed and produced Two Schmucks, Three Opinions, which looked at the Israel / Palestine conflict through argument, social media, biography, and audiences sharing food. 

Rosalind Parker(Creative Associate + Interfaith Liaison) is a researcher and practitioner in the area of religion and aesthetics. Her work focuses on inter-faith contexts and Muslim / non-Muslim relations. She has worked for London Jewish Museum and King’s Cultural Institutes collaboration, the Women’s Interfaith Network. She was the Artistic Director of Ulfah Arts and Media, a Muslim women’s social enterprise.

Anna Oggero (Producer/Production Manager) is a London-based performer, theatre producer, and legal consultant born in Italy. She is currently Project/Production manager at Opera Co-Pro Ltd. the innovative London born service to help opera companies co-producing operas and renting or selling recent productions, and Production Manager of the JEWish Cabaret Theatre Company.

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Lazhar Ghozlane(musician) – Paris-based oud player with l’Ensemble Alhambra, to provide live musical accompaniment.

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  • Future Plans

Our initial aim is to produce MHITE in the UK, to which we will invite interested international programmers from venues, festivals and multi-faith spaces.

For example, Thomas Engel has offered to host a reading/presentation at the German ITI headquarters in Berlin, where they have a small theatre space and to invite programmers from eg Gorki Theatre and other theatres in Berlin. At the same time we will look to link up with The House of One, Berlin’s dedicated multi-faith space.

In addition to Berlin, building on existing connections, we are exploring potential interest in: Brussels, Prague, Lille, Stockholm, Amsterdam /Rotterdam, Washington DC, Haifa.

  1. Work have we done so far

An early version of the script was given a staged reading at Graeae’s space in 2015, (with actor Philip Arditti) with an invited audience of 35. Following feedback the script was reworked and Fred Fortas was brought on board. The intention was always to involve a Muslim actor. We worked with Philip as an initial vehicle for text exploration because he is London-based and known to the director as both an excellent performer, and an actor who would ask searching questions of the material.

With the main creatives living in New York, Paris and London we have developed the work when our schedules permitted, taking a consciously slow approach. 

August 2016 two-day workshop on My Heart is in The East with Jessica Litwak and Fred Fortas in London to explore not just the play but the whole project.

August 2017 two-day R&D laboratory on My Heart is in The East with Jessica Litwak and Fred Fortas at Bazar Café, La Charité sur Loire.

June 2018 four-day R&D laboratory on My Heart is in The East with Jessica Litwak, Fred Fortas & Rosie Parker at Bazar Café, La Charité-sur-Loire.

The development of the play has been supported by LaMama in New York and Bazar Café in La Charité-sur-Loire