California Shakespeare Theater Expands Community Engagement With Support Of Humanities Grant

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California Shakespeare Theater (Cal Shakes) is proud to expand support for the Shahrazad Squad, a group of Bay Area Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian (MENASA) women artists and leaders, whose gatherings and story-sharing were ignited by 1001 Nights (A Retelling) by Evren Odcikin and Leila Buck, a new play commissioned by Cal Shakes' New Classics Initiative excavating current political relevance from the classic text, A Thousand and One Nights.

California Humanities announced in January that Cal Shakes has been awarded $18,000 for the Shahrazad Squad which began in 2016 as a collaboration among MENASA women artists and community leaders who have a cultural connection to the folktales that make up A Thousand and One Nights. Organized and led by Raeshma Ravzi, the Squad includes Arab and Iranian founders of music and theater organizations, Yemeni and South Asian activist leaders, Iranian-American filmmakers and writers, a second-generation Afghani spoken word poet, a Lebanese-American singer and activist, a Pakistani-American news producer, a Sudanese scholar, and newly arrived Syrians. Together, their conversations and subsequent open community dialogues aim to disrupt conventional stereotypes about Middle Eastern and Islamic cultures by supporting joyful, nuanced, community-based, and human narratives about MENASA communities in this political climate.

"These projects will bring the complexity and diversity of California to light in new ways that will engage Californians from every part of our state, and will help us all understand each other better," said Julie Fry, President & CEO of California Humanities. "We congratulate these grantees whose projects will promote understanding and provide insight into a wide range of topics, issues, and experiences."

As part of the grant, the Sharazad Squad will be holding three additional community dialogues leading up to the opening of 1001 Nights (A Retelling) all circling around the themes of women's leadership in MENASA communities, interrupting patriarchy, and building connections and resilience through collective storytelling.

"For MENASA communities, narratives about us have been weaponized by the mainstream. Our Project is driven by a dual need to challenge those narratives and highlight the community-building power of storytelling," said co-conceiver and co-playwright, Leila Buck.

"The weaving of artistic and community voices embodied in this collaboration between Evren, Leila, Raeshma and the Shahrazad Squad represents the extraordinary potential of our New Classics Initiative to ground our old stories in our contemporary moment," said Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting, "We at Cal Shakes are grateful to California Humanities for recognizing this initiative with their support."

Beginning in March the Shahrazad Squad will participate in the Reflections on Home (March 1 - March 28, 2020) exhibit at Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC), which will feature the work of Bay Area immigrant artists, each expressing their reflections on "home" and "belonging." Squad members will be serving tea and facilitating dialogues in the form of tea ceremony on March 22, 2020 as part of the Tea Around the World event at OACC. Other events include a panel discussion with Golden Thread Productions around the theme of women leadership following their production of On The Periphery (March 15, 2020) co-produced with Crowded Fire Theater, and a Civic Dialogue (August 20, 2020) specifically about "the nights" with Dr. Samer Ali, an Associate Professor of Middle East Studies and Director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan. More information to be announced.

1001 Nights (A Retelling) by Evren Odcikin and Leila Buck in association with Golden Thread Productions runs August 19 - September 9, 2020 at the Bruns Amphitheater. More information can be found at

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