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Welcome to OpenForum.  We love plays that start a good conversation and there are many ways and places to have that conversation! This is your one-stop place to join in on the discussions going on about all the shows at Forum.

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OpenForum Blog:

"Sweden's Closet Racists"

Posted on September 14, 2016 in I Call My Brothers

The New York Times Op-Ed by I Call My Brothers playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri in response to the aftermath of the 2010 car bombing and suicide bombing in Stockholm. This essay led to the creation of his script for Brothers.

Credit: Ekta

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PILLOWTALK: An Interview with Maboud Ebrahimzadeh

Posted on March 23, 2016 in Season 12
The talented DC favorite and Forum Ensemble member -- and currently playing Katurian Katurian Katurian in our production of The Pillowman shares some words with us in an interview with Audience Engagement Coordinator, Natalie Piegari. 
 
NATALIE: You are an actor and writer, among other things. What role does storytelling play in your life? Why tell stories? 
MABOUD: I believe that we are all storytellers in some way. I actually recently released a podcast episode about storytelling (Lights Up: The DC Theatre Podcast - Old Works, Different Takes, New Lives). If you go back, like waaaaay back, stories are how we taught each other how to hunt, and gather, and so on. But as we have evolved its become less about survival and more about understanding I think. Empathy, to begin with, is critical in our experiences as humans, and vital in our growth as individuals and as a society. 
 
I think that stories offer us a way to understand aspects of our daily lives that we otherwise wouldn’t understand by providing a context in which to understand them, and enough distance to see the relation of a story to ourselves. 
 
 
So in a way, it is a survival thing, just not in the immediate sense of when we were decoding cave paintings of how to hunt buffalo.
 
Beyond all of that, it’s a communal experience, storytelling. It’s a way to connect with something or someone outside of yourself.
 
NATALIE: What is the role of the theatre artist in serving as a vehicle for stories? 
MABOUD: I think it is very much that, to serve as a vehicle for the story. Generally speaking, Theatre Artists, like good design, get out of the way of the story. That’s not to say that there isn’t artistry in the work we do, there is, but it all serves the work that is being presented. The story is trying to communicate something, we theatre artists help make it happen. We deliver the story to the audience. 
 
Now of course, each production will be unique in the way it tells the story, thus adding another layer. In this case, you’re not just seeing The Pillowman, you’re seeing Forum Theatre’s production of The Pillowman, which carries with it the perspectives and ideas of the director Yury Urnov, myself, and the whole production team, and our interpretation. In effect, you’ll be seeing The Pillowman through our lens.
 
NATALIE: Why tell stories like the ones Katurian tells? Or, stories like the play PILLOWMAN?
MABOUD: Why tell stories at all I suppose. This is a difficult one. Perhaps I’m not the right person to answer this as I am currently very much steeped in the notion that a story doesn’t need to “say things” to be a good story but, not everything needs to have a goal or purpose or an answer to the question why. Sometimes the best response to the question of ‘why’ is simply ‘why not’.
 
I think the play The Pillowman illustrates the subject of censorship and personal responsibility in an intriguing way. There’s the conversation of violence on television but there are plenty of violent books out there as well, the Bible being one of many. So I think it’s easy to draw a hard and fast rule about these things and feel better about where we stand, when the truth is violence doesn’t make us nearly as uncomfortable as uncertainty and ambiguity do. Uncertainty and ambiguity in the face of morality, a morality that inevitably changes and morphs with society. As does truth.
 
NATALIE: Are stories, particularly allegorical ones, also supposed to be ethically upright and morally unambiguous? 
MABOUD: No. I don’t think a story has any obligations to be any single thing at all, allegorical or not. Otherwise, you’d know how every story ends after finding out the main conflict. Allegory is basically an extended metaphor or a complete narrative where in characters and events often symbolize much larger ideas. If the devil is in the details, then ambiguity is the devil’s playground. And that I find much more interesting. You learn more outside of your comfort zone than in. So if a story only lives inside that comfort zone, then I don’t really see the point.
 
NATALIE: What does this production say that others do not? 
MABOUD: I’m not sure about other productions, but I can say that one thing I think is very unique about Yury’s interpretation and presentation of this play sets up a sense of complicity on the part of the audience. I wouldn’t call it an interactive piece but it is more immersive than any other productions I’ve heard of. Some of our audience members have found it more affecting than others and for them, it enhanced the themes. 
 
As a person who has done a fair amount of political and performance activism, I think one of the things it nods at is something Haile Selassie said, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

 
NATALIE: Have you ever felt censored as an artist -- or in life? 
MABOUD: Absolutely. As an Iranian living in a post-9-11 America, it’s a fact of life. Discrimination is a form of censorship. Prejudice is a form of censorship. Racism is a form of censorship. Beyond the obvious ways these things have played their parts in my everyday life, the more insidious ways it has effected my artistic expression has to do with the nature of how American theatre companies handle casting which is far from equitable. 
 
NATALIE: What will you take away from playing Katurian in this particular production of The Pillowman
MABOUD: Well, Katurian is a bucket-list character that I never thought I’d be given a chance to play (due to the aforementioned casting… issues) so there’s that for starters. Honestly, this is such a wildly different approach to the play that it’s not even the same character that I read on the page the very first time I read the play years ago. I can only describe this experience as a tapestry of feelings, full of surprises, scares, discoveries, mischief, and joy.
 
NATALIE: Two truths and a lie, please!
MABOUD:
English is the third language I learned to speak.
I am ambidextrous. 
People called me Mike for several years.
 
Natalie Ann Piegari (@nataliepiegari), Audience Engagement Coordinator
Natalie is a DC-based playwright, arts administrator and actor with a BA in Theatre from the University of Maryland. Plays she has written include Safe as Houses, The Funeral of Casey B. Collins, Left/Right, Sunday at St. Jude’s, Trash, the Knight’s Tale in Pointless Theatre Company’s production of Canterbury, Monster Match in Rorschach Theatre's Fall 2014 Klecksography: Haunting Monsters, and Unbound as part of University of Maryland's Alumni Commissioning Project at the NextNOW Festival. Her plays have been performed, workshopped and read at the University of Maryland, the Kennedy Center, and Mobtown Players in Baltimore. She founded and facilitates Bridge Club: A Writer's Collective, a writer's group that meets monthly. Upcoming: Normal/Magic, a fantastical double-feature, at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. @nataliepiegari
 
 
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Meet Forum’s new Managing Director, KJ Fisher!

Posted on November 16, 2015 in Season 12

 

An interview between KJ and Forum’s Marketing & PR Manager Emily Wilson

 

Emily: Tell us a little bit about yourself! Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? How did you find yourself in the theatre?


KJ: I grew up in Mishawaka, IN, which is right next to South Bend. No, I’m not a fan of the Notre Dame, but I am a huge Indianapolis Colts fan. My husband and I have been together for 6 years and married for 2 years. I am super close with my family and my husband’s family. We are definitely lucky that our families get along and actually enjoy being with each other! My husband and I live in Northeast DC with our fur baby, Hunny, who is our everything!

 

For my education, I attended Ball State University where I received a Bachelor’s in Theatre. I graduated in May from Carnegie Mellon University with a Master’s degree in Arts Management. One of the coolest things about my time at CMU was that I was able to spend a semester in Bologna, Italy. My Italian is not so good but I met some great people, saw some amazing art, and ate some amazing food. My time in Italy and at CMU really influenced my view on how art is a right and it belongs to the community.

 

I started doing theater with my mom and sister when I was just a wee one. It was something fun for the three of us to do do together. Our first show was A Christmas Carol. I did a lot of community theater and directed shows at one of the local middle schools during High School.
 

E: You have been working in the DC theatre community for a while now--what is it about the scene that excites you so much?

KJ: I have to say it's the people. When I moved to DC from Indiana, I knew no one. All of my friends moved to Chicago, LA or NYC. My family still lived in Indiana. From my first show, the theater community was very welcoming and supportive. The support of one another is what really allows the art to thrive in the area.
 

E: What is one performance (in or outside of DC) that has really influenced the way you look at the role art plays in our community?

KJ: Many of the influences that have shaped my view on the role of arts in the community have been people and experiences more so than performances. Graduate school played a big role in influencing how I look at the connection between art and the community, particularly my semester in Bologna, Italy. The conversations centered around art being a right, not a privilege. It is very important that art and culture are preserved and play an integral role in not only the development of a community but in the lives of the citizens.

 

The group of people that have influenced me the most would be the actors and the team at Art Stream. My work with Art Stream really showed how art and performing can play an integral role in our lives. It was an amazing experience.
 

E: What is your proudest accomplishment of your career thus far?

KJ: The teams I have worked with have had moments of success and moments of learning that have helped the shaped how things move forward. Through the combination of those two things, if the art can happen and people have access to the art, then that is the biggest accomplishment.
 

E: What is it that drew you to Forum Theatre specifically?

KJ: #TeamForum. The team at Forum is an amazing dedicated group of people who are dedicated to creating accessible and inclusive theatre. Forum actively works to create open dialogue around big topics and to make sure that anyone who wants to be a part of the discussion, can and is apart of the discussion. Forum makes theatre a right, not a privilege.
 

E: Do you have any advice for recent undergrads hoping to break into the theatre world?

KJ: Put down the smartphone and read a book. I’m only half joking. Disconnect from technology for a bit. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you just stop and reflect.

E: And probably the most important question...what is your spirit animal (wild or domesticated) and why?

KJ: Llamas. Llamas are magical.



Emily Wilson, Marketing & PR Manager

A Jersey girl at heart, Emily graduated from the University of Maryland in 2013 with a BA in Theatre and English. She has spent the past 5 years working in Marketing and Development for DC theatres including Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and Imagination Stage. She lives by the mantra "pic or it didn't happen" and wants you to go like the Forum Facebook page right now (www.facebook.com/forumtheatre.dc). She has strong feelings against balloons and eating cereal with milk. @emywils

 

 

 

 

 

 

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World Builders: Dramaturgical Notes

Posted on November 16, 2015 in Season 12

“Why do the doctors get to choose which happiness I keep? Why do they get to decide which sort of happiness I feel?” — Max

“I have never struggled with not caring, only with other people thinking that I should.” – Anonymous post from Actually Schizoid

We began rehearsals for World Builders armed with diagnoses and traits from the DSM-5, prepared to understand and portray personality disorders to a psychiatric T. As we delved into Johnna Adams’ vibrant, heart-wrenchingly honest story, however, we discovered that clinical definitions of Max and Whitney’s Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD) only paint a surface-level picture of these characters’ complex inner lives.

From a clinical perspective, SPD is one of 10 personality disorders described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. SPD is a Cluster A disorder (“odd/eccentric”), characterized by up to nine different traits, but generally “by a pervasive pattern of social detachment and a restricted range of emotional expression.” Although the extent to which individuals with SPD interact with the outside world varies case-to-case, many prefer living within their controlled, often fantastical and wildly imaginative, worlds; this trait seems unhealthy, abnormal, and intimidating to many outsiders —despite studies showing that “normal” individuals spend more than 30 percent of their own waking hours daydreaming themselves.

Although Max and Whitney have been hospitalized for and clinically diagnosed with SPD, their individual journeys constantly teeter from official DSM definitions. As we excavated the text more closely, we realized that a clinical perspective could not offer the nuanced tools we needed to truly understand this story.

We decided instead to investigate the human, day-to-day world of SPD. We combed through 24 pages of posts on Actually Schizoid, a tumblr blog dedicated to real-life stories of SPD and one of the Internet’s most comprehensive glimpses into this world, and discovered that this personality type is as malleable and complex as any other psychiatric diagnosis. The farther we dove into the blog, the more we realized that many individuals have no desire to treat their SPD; in fact, many are perfectly at-ease with their inner worlds and even consider their clinically abnormal personality to be an asset rather than a mental illness.

What makes Adams’ play so honest is not its adherence to modern psychiatry’s definition of SPD; rather, it is the nuance of her characters—both of whom adhere to and contradict standard notions definitions of SPD throughout the play—and the questions that their journey within the world of mental health reveal. The idea of a “disordered” personality in and of itself raises enormous questions: What constitutes a personality? Who defines “normal” and “abnormal,” and who has the right to deem whether a “disordered” personality needs treatment?

This is not to say that World Builders is rallying against modern psychiatry or demanding that psychiatric patients have full control over their treatment. Rather, Adams asks us to see ourselves in Max and Whitney as they grapple with their own definitions of normalcy and happiness, challenging our own preconceived notions about mental illness and offering a rare glimpse into these characters’ colorful and often-misunderstood worlds. 

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World Builders: Building Character

Posted on November 11, 2015 in DC Theatre



“It’s the closest thing I have to a heart.”

We continue Season 12 at Forum with World Builders: a love story by Johnna Adams. As this season's Directing Intern, I was fortunate enough to assist director Amber McGinnis Jackson on this production. I took part in the incredible journey of bringing this play about people who feel everything and nothing at once to Woolly Mammoth’s Melton Rehearsal Hall, where it is playing through November 21. Daniel Corey and Laura Harris star as Max and Whitney.

The core question that the team asked as we began table work was how to synthesize the fascinating and thorough research that our dramaturg, Maegan Clearwood, had collected about Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD) with the reality of Max and Whitney as Adams wrote them on the page. As Whitney recites early on in the play, individuals with SPD are “obsessively introspective, addicted to building an elaborate fantasy life, and indifferent to social norms.” These traits certainly check out with the Max and Whitney that we experience in Act I, the Max and Whitney who have freshly arrived to a drug trial designed to kill their worlds. They are awkward, abrasive, and unsure of how to connect with each other. The only reason Whitney seeks a connection with Max, the catalyst for our story, is for personal benefit—if her world dies, at least Max will be able to carry on the memory of it.

In the rehearsal room, the actors created posters with lists of traits from textbooks, online sources, and beyond. Jackson encouraged them to use the traits as a base line for character development, but to also be ready to explore far beyond. It was important to keep in mind that these traits were defined by doctors and psychiatrists, not actual human beings who are identified as SPD. A Tumblr page that Clearwood dug up, “Actually Schizoid,” did feature the stories of individuals with SPD from all around the world. What we discovered was that their stories were intensely specific. Many stories contradicted the doctors’ general opinions of SPD, which was no surprise to anyone. How could anyone define something so ephemeral?

The aspect left completely to the imagination of the actors was the visual interpretation of the worlds inside the characters’ heads. Their worlds are drastically different, which serves to highlight the individual nature of SPD. Both worlds are visually arresting and completely unique. Jackson encouraged Harris and Corey to find images that were reminiscent of their individual worlds. We hung these on the wall alongside the research posters, creating an enveloping environment that blends the known and the unknown.

 

The traits that Harris and Corey created for Whitney and Max were constantly evolving. What started as a childlike, hand on neck twisting gesture from Corey transformed over the rehearsal process into a tendency to pick at his hair. Harris discovered the power of Whitney’s voice to intimidate and convince Max of her needs. In the end, deftly guided by Jackson, they created two vastly different humans with one thing in common: rich, complex fantasy worlds. If you encountered Max on the street, and then Whitney five minutes later, you’d never guess that they would be diagnosed with the same thing—what doctors generically term “Schizoid Personality Disorder.”

Whitney at one point says, “[My world is] the closest thing she has to a heart. I don’t know who I’ll be if the pills work. Someone without a heart.” This line, to me, is the basis of character creation for these two. They know that they are different. They don’t desire to be like everyone else—like anyone else. These are people who are not only comfortable with but also proud of their uniqueness. The overarching question of the play, of course, is whether outsiders should be allowed to decide what kind of happiness a person should have. Because, by the end of our story, Max and Whitney can have a different kind of happiness, a typical kind of happiness. Harris and Corey slowly deteriorate their physical traits over the course of the story, resulting in two people who you would never guess have anything “wrong” with them if you passed them on the street—let alone that they are on medication for the same reason.  



 

Rebecca Wahls, Directing Intern
 

Rebecca Wahls is a DC-based director and actor with a BFA in Performance for the Stage and Screen from George Mason University ('15). She is a proud Artistic Associate, Teaching Artist, and Touring Company Member with Acting for Young People in Fairfax, Virginia. At Mason, she directed Dido, Queen of Carthage (sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research), Woyzeck, and many ten minute plays. Locally, she has assistant directed for Constellation Theatre Company and GALA Hispanic Theatre. She has also appeared in several plays at Mason and in the Capital Fringe Festival. www.rebeccawahls.com

 

 

 
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