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The Theatre School At DePaul University Awards The 2021 Cunningham Commission For Youth Theatre To Omer Abbas Salem


Salem will be writing a play for families and young audiences that focuses on assimilation, a major theme in his work.

The Theatre School at DePaul University has announced that Omer Abbas Salem has been awarded the 2021 Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre. Salem will be writing a play for families and young audiences that focuses on assimilation, a major theme in his work.

The idea for the play originated from a podcast about two children of Woolpit who arrive in a British town in the 12th century with no explanation of their past. After the children acclimate, they learn to speak English and are able to tell townspeople more about their lives. One child assimilates, and the other child does not. The story explores the conscious and unconscious consequences of changing to fit into the larger culture and what can catalyze that process.

"This is the perfect time to tell a story about the dangers of forced assimilation, especially when goaded by community thought," explained Salem. "I was raised in Syria and Turkey and woke up to the sound of the Athan every day. I grew up in a world where religion colored everything even when we weren't talking about it and that's how I like to create the world of my plays. I've always wanted to write a play for young audiences and this was the perfect opportunity to do that while discussing the invisible influence of religion."

Salem will develop the play over the next year with input from the Cunningham Commission Selection Committee which includes Theatre School faculty members Michelle Lopez-Rios, Jeff Mills, Coya Paz, and Committee Chair Phil Timberlake.

"This play will investigate individuality and community in an exciting way," Timberlake said. "Salem's vivid take on this story, engaging with timely issues of self-discovery, is exactly what we would like to encourage. We are thrilled to offer Salem the opportunity to explore his theatrical vision."

The Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre was established at The Theatre School to honor the memory of the Rev. Donald Cunningham, a Chicago priest, playwright, and lover of theatre. The purpose of the commission is to encourage the writing of dramatic works for young audiences that affirm the centrality of religion, broadly defined, and the human quest for meaning, truth, and community. Playwrights from the Chicagoland area and alumni of The Theatre School are eligible to apply each year. The Theatre School intends to produce the plays created through this commission in its award-winning Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences series. Chicago Playworks has welcomed 1,523,850 audience members since it began in 1925. Once completed, Abbas Salem's new play will be considered for The Theatre School's 2022-2023 season as its world premiere.

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