Feb 17, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1072: Kareem Fahmy

Kareem Fahmy

Hometown: Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada 

Current Town: New York City 

Q:  What are you working on now? 

A:  I’m both a playwright and a director. On the writing side, I’m doing some revisions on my latest play, A Distinct Society. The play's inspired by a remarkable real place, a library that sits on the border of the U.S. and Canada that has become a safe space for Middle Eastern families separated by Trump's “Muslim ban.” It's a little bit of all the things that define me: Canada, the Middle East, America. I’m also in the early stages of writing a play about a female college basketball star who decides to adhere to the Ramadan fast during her championship season. As a director, I’ll soon be at the helm of a workshop of a cool new Crystal Skillman play, Pulp Vérité, followed by a gig directing some 2nd year MFA acting students at NYU.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person. 

A:  I grew up in French-speaking Canada, and my family was one of the few English-speaking ones in our neighborhood, and definitely the only Muslim one. That feeling of otherness and isolation was definitely a defining quality of my growing up. I managed to overcome that and find my tribe of theatre people (outsiders attract other outsiders!) but the characters in my plays tend to have that quiet loneliness that I was so familiar with in my youth.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be? 

A:  I’m the co-founder and co-chair of the Middle Eastern American Writers Lab at The Lark, and of Maia Directors, a consulting group that works with artists and organizations telling stories from the Middle East. Advocacy for Middle Eastern inclusion in the American theatre is what I do day in, day out, both as a writer and a director. While I think this change is already (slowly) happening, I would like to see the emergence of a real “canon” of contemporary Middle Eastern American plays, that provide a broad spectrum of stories, forms, and voices. My community is still hugely underrepresented compared to some of our sister communities, and I’m trying to change that one conversation and one play at a time. 

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out? 

A:  Build your network. A huge part of what I do every day is connect with people: other writers and directors, actors, dramaturgs, literary managers and artistic leaders. You have to build relationships with people so they want to work with you. That takes years! A colleague and friend of mine said to me recently: “It's been AMAZING for me to see how well you leverage your authentic relationships.” I loved that! Because for me relationships in this field have to be authentic and meaningful, not opportunistic or surface-level. And it’s the support and encouragement I’ve received from this incredibly kind community of theatremakers that has kept me going all of these years and brought me to where I am today. 

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:  My latest play, A Distinct Society, is part of New York Stage & Film’s Winter Season and will be getting a reading on Thursday 2/27 at 3pm at The Lark, directed by Taylor Reynolds. Info & link to RSVP is https://www.newyorkstageandfilm.org/nycprogramming

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