Arts & Events

‘What the Women Say’ Poetry and Performance

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday March 04, 2009 - 07:00:00 PM

Golden Thread Productions, the Bay Area’s specialists in theater and other performances exploring Middle Eastern identity, will co-present, with Sunbula: Arab Feminists for Change, and ASWAT Bay Area Arab Music Ensemble, “What the Women Say” their annual evening of poetry and performance for International Women’s Day on Sunday, dedicated this year to the women of Gaza, featuring poetry by Deema Shehabi and Dina Omar, a staged reading of the blog writings of Majeda Al Saqqa from Gaza and a performance by Al-Juthoor dance company at La Pena Cultural Center. 

Golden Thread will also present “Reclaiming Nooroz: Reflections of Rebirth & Survival from the Clutches of War” at La Pena at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 20, including a repeat performance of the staged readings of Majeda’s blog, readings concerning Iraq by Maxine Hong Kingston’s Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace writing group, plus Middle Eastern music and dancing to celebrate the Persian New Year, Norooz.  

Earlier that day, the Golden Thread Fairytale Project will present The Girl Who Lost Her Smile, a story from Karim Alrawi, inspired by a Rumi tale, told in Naghalli Persian storytelling style at 10 a.m. at La Peña. Free (donations accepted). 

Torange Yeghiazarian, founder of Golden Thread, commented on the events and on her company: “Majeda writes both factually and poetically on her blog, depicting everyday struggles, trying to survive—how children respond to the violence, the questions they ask, about trying to buy food or kerosine for lamps—the everyday, mundane stuff, more powerful to hear about than soldiers and tanks.” 

On Norooz, she said, “It may seem strange to combine the two together—Persian New Year and the anniversary of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. But it was on Norooz. I was talking with Nadine Ghammachi of La Peña about what a huge slap in the face that was ... did somebody know what day it was? Did they think people would be distracted? It was heartbreaking. Norooz is celebrated wherever the Persian Empire was in Antiquity—in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Central Asia. So it gives us the opportunity to reclaim the holiday after six years of war, the same sort of devastation that’s gone on throughout history. It’s New Year’s, spring starts again, and we can rebuild from the destruction of the past. We’ll turn it into a party, with oud playing, Iranian folk music, dancing.” 

Yeghiazarian, who has lived in Oakland for 15 years, was born in Iran of Armenian Christian and Iranian Muslim parents. Her mother was an actress there. “She made her first film at 17—and was thrown out of high school. But it didn’t stop her. Her family supported her.” 

Although she only saw one of her mother’s films, never seeing her perform onstage, Yeghiazarian “saw a lot of theater as a child. I grew up with aunts—one was a choral director—and my grandmother. My dad owned a night club. There were always artists roaming in our house.”  

Yeghiazarian’s mother stopped acting in film right before the Revolution but taught theater to children and collaborated with Eastern European artists. 

In 1978, the family sent Yeghiazarian’s sister out of Iran to her uncle in Connecticut. The rest of the family followed. Later, she would get a degree in microbiology at UC Berkeley and work in that field. Deciding she wanted to focus more on theater, she took an MFA program at San Francisco State: “not just acting, but writing and collaboration.”  

Her first project was with Iranian director Manijeh Mohamedi, Mohamedi’s actor husband andYeghiazarian’s mother. “I learned more about my mother and her work after I moved to California than I knew before,” she said. “It rekindled our relationship.” 

Yeghiazarian started Golden Thread partly in answer to the situation that discouraged a career for her in acting: typecasting that resembles ethnic profiling. “I’d been told I would never get cast for a lead role. They didn’t say as a housekeeper, but that’s the impression I got, and that it was because of my background.” 

Since 1996, Golden Thread has produced one or two plays a year, except for 2003-06, when the company could only afford to stage their annual ReOrient festival of one-acts, which has put on an impressive 50-plus short plays, some of unusual quality, all dealing with Middle Eastern themes.  

The next ReOrient will take place in October-November.  

A Girl’s War, Joyce Van Dyke’s “Armenian-Azeri love story,” has been extended till March 15 at Thick House, on San Francisco’s Potrero Hill, where Golden Thread is in residence. In July, they’ll open Ecstasy in the River, commissioned through their new plays project, Kimia (from the Persian for alchemy), by Denmo Ibrahim, best-known as a performer with the experimental troupe mugwumpin and in the cast of George Packer’s Betrayed, now at the Aurora, as an Iraqi translator in the American Embassy.  

Kimia has also produced Benedictus, in collaboration with Iranian and Israeli artists, about the political stalemate in the region. And Middle Eastern America, a bi-annual national new plays initiative, founded by Golden Thread in partnership with The Lark Play Development Center in New York and Silk Road Theatre Project in Chicago has just made its first award—to Adriana Sevan, a writer-performer of Armenian, Dominican and Basque heritage. 

“Our big goal is to impact American theater artistically,” said Yeghiazarian. “Hal Gelb said it’s not enough to look for plays already written. We want to expand the mainstream. These playwrights and artists are Middle eastern-American. I think we’re on the verge of something exciting. I expected 10 submissions for the play initiative; we had over 40, very strong artistically. Even the name Kimia, by the way—it’s Semitic, Arabic and Hebrew, in origin, but is Persian and Turkish, too, and related to the European words for alchemy and chemistry, themselves from Arabic ... confirms my perhaps naive belief we have so much in common with each other. There’s that tendency for minorities to claim their own territory—like arguing who was the first to wrap dolmas in grape leaves! But breaking boundaries, the title of one of our first productions, is what Golden Thread is all about.” 



Presented by Golden Thread Productions at 7 p.m. March 8 at La Peña  

Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave.  

$10 ($8 students/seniors).  


Golden Thread: (415) 626-1138.