Since 2018, the Federation’s Y&S Nazarian Initiative has partnered with The Braid (formerly known as Jewish Women’s Theatre) to continue to elevate the voices of the Iranian Jewish community through storytelling and theatre. Our partnership has led to significant numbers of Iranians submitting their work, the hiring of Iranian actors and musicians, showcasing the shows at Iranian-owned spaces, and hundreds of audience members getting to experience the Iranian Jewish story. We are proud to share that our partnership has continued to this day and has inspired a new show launching this month – Persian Sunrise, American Sunset that will feature the voices of second-generation Iranian Americans. We are committed to celebrating our rich, diverse community.
Ora Yashar, the producer of Persian Sunrise, American Sunset shares with us how the show came to fruition and the importance of storytelling in remembering traditions, lessons, and history. Purchase your ticket here.
Can you share with us the power of storytelling in this medium?
Salon theater is an extremely intimate way to see and experience stories come to life. In certain ways, I find it even more intimate than film/TV and traditional theater. Watching the personal stories of writers performed live by actors provides a quicker and more direct connection to the material and the emotion. The audience is taken on a journey via a collection of stories that weave together intricately and generate both emotions specific to each story and to the show as a whole through theme. It’s a very special experience.
What challenges did you find in producing a show like Persian Sunrise, American Sunset in the time we find ourselves?
We started looking for stories right at the beginning of the pandemic and throughout. It was difficult in the sense that everyone was in a state of distress and sharing their story with us wasn’t necessarily at the top of their to-do list. We also weren’t able to engage with the greater Iranian community on the level that we would have liked, for in-person events, etc. Much of our communication, just like everyone else’s, had to happen via zoom. Right now, our rehearsals are all happening virtually and our show will also be performed virtually. There’s certainly a sense of sadness that we won’t all be able to gather and experience this show in a venue physically together. Especially since Iranians don’t often get to experience their stories presented in such a way. However, I’m really excited that the show now has the ability to reach a much greater audience. Iranians and non-Iranians from all over the world can now watch the show and so I’m hoping its impact will be much greater as a result. I’m truly proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here in light of what we’ve all collectively been through this past year.
Why is it important to you to produce a show that amplifies the voices of the Iranian community?
As Iranians, we don’t often get to see ourselves portrayed or portrayed with authenticity in film/TV/media. Our community has such wonderful diversity, and our stories are each unique. However, we’re often either demonized or presented as the exotic for entertainment purposes. The depths of who we are far surpass any stereotype, and it’s important for those inside and outside of our community to see us presented in a real human way. With depth, complexity and dimensionality. As human. Entertainment is a vital bridge to empathy, and my intention with this show is for us in the Iranian community to have more empathy and understanding towards one another and for the non-Iranian community to have greater empathy for us as a people.
How did your partnership with The Jewish Federation first come about and what does the Federation’s support mean to you?
My partnership with The Jewish Federation started thanks to the wonderful Donna Maher who leads the Y&S Nazarian Initiative at the Federation. Knowing I was a writer/director, Donna always had her eye out to find entertainment-oriented opportunities within the community for me. In 2018, Donna informed me that The Braid (formerly Jewish Women’s Theatre) was interviewing for its NEXT fellowship. I was unfamiliar with salon theatre at that time, but the opportunity was intriguing. I applied and got it in as a literary fellow where I helped adapt stories for the show The Way Home. The Braid then asked me to come back in 2019 as a literary consultant and in 2020 I joined to co-produce Persian Sunrise, American Sunset. Although Iranians have a rich storytelling tradition, many don’t often see themselves as writers. I felt it was important to create an event leading up to the show that brought Iranians together in a space where they were able to learn how to craft their own stories. Donna and the Federation saw a unique opportunity for us to partner up and we held an extremely successful writing workshop for the community that actually resulted in some stories for our show. This event was also where we met one of the actors we cast! Through our discussions, Donna, Y&S, and the Federation saw how important this show was for the community and both the mirror and window it would serve as. It was also clear we could accomplish amazing things together! The partnership has truly meant so much to me, especially to see the Federation putting its support behind a show for all Iranian voices and playing a part in bringing our community together.