Student work ‘Saudi Scenes’ highlights personal experience

By Darian Rahnis, Staff Writer

Senior Faisal Al Yousif debuted four scenes collectively titled “Saudi Scenes” in the studio theater in Degenstein Campus Center on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

The scenes were directed by associate professor of theater Anna Andes and co-directed by Al Yousif. The scenes featured Al Yousif in addition to senior Violeta Migirov, junior Kemah Armes, sophomores Sarah McMillin, Nolan Nightingale, Stephen McKnight and Joanna Kantz and first-years Emily Dellinger, Samuel Emmanuel and Rowan Miller.

The four scenes performed were titled “Ducks in a Train,” “Angels,” “1953” and “Behind the Doors.”

Al Yousif became aware of the lack of Saudi plays compared to other Arabic plays when he was a student in Andes’ Non-Western Theatre class.

“It didn’t take [Al Yousif] long to quickly look through the book and say to me, ‘There are no Saudi plays,’” Andes said. “We have Lebanon and Palestine and Syria and [United Arab Emirates], Egypt, all around but

there were no Saudi plays.” “We do have [Saudi] plays,” Al Yousif clarified. “I guess nobody had ever tried to translate them and let them be read.”

Al Yousif remembered watching “Tom and Jerry” as a child and thinking about how far American culture can travel. “Even though ‘Tom and Jerry’ is not the correct representation of the culture, it has something that’s there and we can all enjoy it,” Al Yousif said. “I tried to create something similar that’s not light, not heavy: something that the audience would find enjoyment to see as well as to learn.” According to Andes, Al Yousif was adamant that it be obvious he was writing in his second language.

“[Al Yousif] felt very strongly that the play’s language, the text, reflect the fact that he is writing in his second language and that we not [remove] any awkwardness or word use or what have you,” Andes said. “We wanted it to reflect that and try to bridge culture there and bridge language.”

Al Yousif became serious about filling this gap regarding Saudi plays and his commitment was evident to Andes.

“He’s very committed to this and he’s very committed to these plays having a future beyond here as he steps out into the world as a Saudi playwright with a Saudi voice,” Andes said. 

Al Yousif also added an innovative element to his work by having men and women perform together on stage.

This comes up in the last scene, “Behind the Doors,” which is a love scene between a man and a woman.

“Within that short scene I think the audience could get the message that we are trying to send,” Al Yousif said. “We have a door that’s separating both genders and it has deep cultural ideas in it.”

Armes commented on his surprise when he first read the scene. “I described it to my friends as the shortest and most romantic love scene that I’ve ever read and I don’t put that lightly,” Armes said. “I think the shortness adds to the quality of the scene… I find it super sweet and super romantic.” According to Andes, Al Yousif drew from personal experience when writing the scenes.

Multiple cast members highlighted the experience of learning more about Saudi culture. Emmanuel said, “For me, I always like to learn about different cultures and experiences.” “Working with [Al Yousif] is an enlightening experience because when I go home I go, ‘A lot of people need to see this, get a little bit of Saudi to take home with them,’” Emmanuel continued.

Kantz said, “When I auditioned for this, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.”

“I didn’t know a whole lot about Saudi culture, but during rehearsal, just hearing [Al Yousif’s] stories, it really made the play come alive,” Kantz continued. “Hearing his stories made it even more wonderful to be a part of because it’s something real.”

According to Miller, each night provided a new learning experience for the cast.

“I was very confused when I first got the script: the scenes didn’t at first seem to make a lot of sense, but every night I would ask questions and every night I would find out more of the story and culture and it was such an enlightening experience,” Miller said.

Audience members echoed the cast’s sentiment about experiencing a new culture.

Sophomore Richard Berwind said, “I don’t know a lot about Saudi culture so I thought it was really interesting seeing all these different scenes written by someone I’ve seen around campus.”

“I thought that was really cool, seeing someone’s work brought to life before it was actually published,” Berwind continued.

Armes echoed the same sentiment when speaking about Al Yousif and his work on throughout writing and directing “Saudi Scenes.”

“It’s original art, who doesn’t want to be a part of that,” Armes said. “I think [Al Yousif] has a personality on this campus that not a lot of people have.”

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