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Kunafa and Shay

Kunafa and Shay is a podcast produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons by co-hosts Nabra Nelson and Marina Johnson. Kunafa and Shay discusses and analyzes contemporary and historical Middle Eastern and North African,(MENA) and Southwest Asia and North African (SWANA) theatre from across the region.

Kunafa and Shay highlights MENA/SWANA plays and playwrights, spotlights international community-engaged work in the region, and ponders the past, present, and future of MENA/SWANA theatre in the United States and beyond. Theatre artists and scholars Nabra Nelson and Marina Johnson bring their own perspectives, research, and special guests in order to start a dialogue and encourage further learning and discussion.

The name, Kunafa and Shay, invites you into the discussion in the best way we know how: with complex and delicious sweets like kunafa, and perfectly warm tea (or, in Arabic, shay). Kunafa and Shay is a place to share experiences, discuss ideas and, sometimes, engage with our differences. In each country in the region, you’ll find kunafa made differently. In that way, we also lean into the diversity, complexity, and robust flavors of MENA/SWANA theatre. 

A promotional graphic for Kunafa and Shay featuring Mazen Alaa.
Nubian Theatre
Podcast

Nubian Theatre

9 July 2024

Nubia has a long history of theatre, both before and after the displacement of the 1960s. In this episode, hosts Marina Johnson and Nabra Nelson highlight Nubian theatre, including the only Nubian opera, Opera El Aml by Mohy El Din Sherif. With special guest Mazen Alaa from Nubian Geographic, this episode focus on Nubian theatre in Abu Simbel and the effect that the displacement had and continues to have on theatre in Nubia and the Nubian diaspora today.

A promotional graphic for Kunafa and Shay featuring Sarah Fahmy
Ibn Daniyal and Puppetry 
Podcast

Ibn Daniyal and Puppetry 

2 July 2024

Hosts Marina Johnson and Nabra Nelson look at MENA and SWANA puppetry traditions with guest artivist Dr. Sarah Fahmy. They talk about her production of the first recorded full play in English of Ibn Daniyal, The Shadow Spirit; the Aragoz Puppet; and, coming more into current puppetry practice by MENA folks, Fahmy's own ecofeminist puppetry practice.

A promotional graphic for Kunafa and Shay featuring Ottoman Art.
Ottoman Theatre
Podcast

Ottoman Theatre

25 June 2024

Hosts Marina Johnson and Nabra Nelson discuss Ottoman theatre, emphasizing its significance in global theatre history. They highlight the Ottoman Empire as a pivotal point of cultural exchange comparable to the Greek and Roman empires. They focus on three major forms of traditional theatre—Ortaoyunu, Karagöz, and Meddah—and dive into these forms of “plays performed in the open,” shadow theatre, and storytelling.

A promotional graphic for Kunafa and Shay featuring ancient architecture.
People of the Cave
Podcast

People of the Cave

18 June 2024

Hosts Marina Johnson and Nabra Nelson talk about Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim and his “unstageable” classic play People of the Cave. They provide historical context of the play, al-Hakim’s career, and the Christian and Islamic stories that served as al-Hakim’s inspiration.

A promotional graphic for Kunafa and Shay.
Majnun Layla
Podcast

Majnun Layla

11 June 2024

Audiences pack houses to see stories about forbidden love. Romeo and Juliet is a famous Western example of this phenomenon, but the trope goes back much further, to a poem that likely inspired even inadvertently Shakespeare's famous play. In this episode, we look at the timeless tale of Layla and Majnun made famous by Nizami Ganjavi as a poem and later adopted for the stage and the screen countless times.

A promotional graphic for Kunafa and Shay.
The Triumph of Horus
Podcast

The Triumph of Horus

4 June 2024

​​In this episode, hosts Nabra Nelson and Marina Johnson discuss the oldest surviving play, The Triumph of Horus. The play is an Ancient Egyptian script from the thirteenth century BCE that tells the story of the triumph of the god Horus over Set. Nabra and Marina go through the plot of the play, its history and significance, and give an overview of other forms of Ancient Egyptian theatre.

A promotional graphic for the Kunafa and Shay podcast.
Theatre in Palestine
Podcast

Theatre in Palestine

31 January 2024

How can theatre make an impact in moments of crisis? During a time of ongoing genocide and brutal occupation in Palestine, this special episode focuses on Palestinian theatre and political action across borders. We discuss The Gaza Monologues and To The Good People of Gaza. Then Palestinian actor, writer, and scenographer Jeries AbuJaber joins us in conversation about what is currently happening in the West Bank and Gaza and his experience as a theatre artist in Palestine.

A promotional graphic for the Kunafa and Shay podcast.
Queer Dramaturgies in Turkish Theatre
Podcast

Queer Dramaturgies in Turkish Theatre

24 January 2024

How can we think of queerness as a form of political intervention? In this episode, we talk with Erdem Avşar about Turkish theatre, queer utopias, and ghosts. We examine queer dramaturgies in Turkish and international theatre, discuss translation into and from Turkish, re-think temporality in playwriting, and question what queer utopias look like onstage.

Promotional Graphic for Kunafa and Shay.
Producing Queer Middle Eastern and North African Theatre on the American Stage
Podcast

Producing Queer Middle Eastern and North African Theatre on the American Stage

17 January 2024

This season, we have talked about what it means to create characters who break out of boxes and create new queer representations. Once these characters are created, then comes the challenge of having your work produced. In this episode, we talk with Kareem Fahmy who has dealt with the considerations of producibility and what it means to have his work produced on stages in the United States.

Promotional Graphic for Kunafa and Shay.
Femme Middle Eastern and North African Representation in Lebanon and the United States
Podcast

Femme Middle Eastern and North African Representation in Lebanon and the United States

10 January 2024

This season, we further complicate notions of MENA womanhood by exploring the additional intersection of queerness in femme MENA theatremaking. Two queer Lebanese femme theatremakers based in the United States, Lama El Homaïssi and Sarah Bitar, join us to discuss how intersectional identities show up in their work and life, and the social atmosphere for femme MENA theatre artists in Lebanon and the United States.

A promotional graphic for the Kunafa and Shay podcast.
Affinity Spaces for Middle Eastern and North African/Southwest Asia and North African and LGBTQIA+ Artists
Podcast

Affinity Spaces for Middle Eastern and North African/Southwest Asia and North African and LGBTQIA+ Artists

13 December 2023

Affinity spaces have been an undercurrent of discussion across the three seasons of Kunafa and Shay. In this live session at the 2023 MENATMA Convening at Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco, in partnership with Mizna+RAWIfest, Marina and Nabra sit down with artists to discuss the nuances of MENA and SWANA affinity spaces and MENATMA, Mizna, and RAWI’s roles in facilitating national cultural affinity among artists of intersectional identities.

Kunafa & Shay teaser image with guest headshots.
Home and Exile in Queer Middle Eastern and North African Theatremaking
Podcast

Home and Exile in Queer Middle Eastern and North African Theatremaking

6 December 2023

MENA cultures are deeply familial with a strong connection to home, defined geographically and through close family bonds. With fraught political and religious opinions about queerness throughout the region, making queer art can threaten those deep connections. How do queer MENA artists consider those complications when making theatre? How do individuals change culture in the face of possible exile? Multi-hyphenate artists Zeyn Joukhadar and Raphaël Aimé Khouri interrogate these questions.

A promotional graphic for the Kunafa and Shay podcast
Queering Film
Podcast

Queering Film

22 November 2023

Film reaches a larger public than theatre due to the way it is produced and disseminated. In this way, it has a large and lasting cultural impact. In this episode with Mike Mossalem and Amin El Gamal, we discuss the ways the film and theatre fields influence each other as they both contribute to culture change and performance methodologies.

A promotional graphic for the Kunafa and Shay Podcast
Art, Activism, and Connecting to the Past
Podcast

Art, Activism, and Connecting to the Past

8 November 2023

Activism and storytelling often go hand in hand. What does it mean for queer art and activism to take center stage? How can we look to the future while honoring the places and people from where we all came? In this episode, Sivan Battat talks about their ancestral storytelling workshops within queer and Middle Eastern communities and how they see the relationship between art and activism.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image with guest headshot.
Art as Politics
Podcast

Art as Politics

25 October 2023

Is art inherently political? Must artists consider sociopolitics in the development of their work? Hamed Sinno’s art has been constantly and publicly politicized. In this episode, we hear about Sinno’s own artistic process and how they approach their art in light of this politicization and their perspective on the role of art in politics in the MENA region and beyond.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image with guest headshot.
Breaking Out of Queer Boxes
Podcast

Breaking Out of Queer Boxes

11 October 2023

Queer SWANA theatremakers are constantly breaking out of boxes. Even within queer and/or SWANA spheres, some artists are pushing boundaries and redefining broad identity categories. Join two such artists, Bazeed and Pooya Mohseni, in a discussion on the present and future of SWANA theatremaking.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image with guest headshot.
Queer Representation in the United States
Podcast

Queer Representation in the United States

27 September 2023

In this episode, playwright and dramaturg Adam Ashraf Elsayigh joins co-hosts Nabra Nelson and Marina Johnson to unpack what it means to put queer SWANA characters on stage and discuss the future of representation in the United States.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Buffer Fringe Performing Arts Festival
Podcast

Buffer Fringe Performing Arts Festival

4 October 2022

In this special episode, Marina and Nabra sit down with Lebanese actor, theatremakers, and peacebuilder Raffi Feghali to talk about the Buffer Fringe Festival. Buffer Fringe is an annual festival with a mission for peacebuilding and social justice, organized by Home for Cooperation and situated in the buffer zone in Cyprus. Buffer Fringe runs 7-9 October 2022, presenting three days of international, interdisciplinary, experimental performances under the theme of Pockets (beyond). Join us as we explore improv in Lebanon, experimental theatre in a geographically contentious area, and artistic curation for peacebuilding.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Season Debrief
Podcast

Season Debrief

8 June 2022

To end the season, this episode will have Marina and Nabra sitting down to tea to talk about highlights from this season and what is to come in the future.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Balancing Comedy and Drama as a Middle Eastern and North African Playwright
Podcast

Balancing Comedy and Drama as a Middle Eastern and North African Playwright

With Yussef El-Guindi & Leila Buck

1 June 2022

As politicized ethnic groups, playwriting comes with a sense of responsibility and history for many MENA and SWANA writers. Balancing drama and comedy in plays that deal with MENA politics, identity, and history can be difficult, but is also crucial for inviting audiences into our stories and addressing stereotypes and historical harm. Join two prominent playwrights and pillars of the MENA community, Yussef El-Guindi and Leila Buck, as we have an open conversation about how they approach their writing and reflect on what their work means in a greater societal context.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Multihyphenate Artists
Podcast

Multihyphenate Artists

With Denmo Ibrahim and Sarah Fahmy

25 May 2022

Artistic identities can be complicated, and many theatremakers work equally within two or more disciplines simultaneously. The most interesting work is rarely created in a vacuum. These multidisciplinary artists create diverse projects in all senses of the word, broadening our idea of what theatre can and should be. Today, two such multihyphenate artists, Denmo Ibrahim and Sarah Fahmy, converse about their multiple identities, how they reconcile and manage their myriad expertise, and the role of multihyphenate artists in today’s theatre landscape.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Creating the Change: Featuring Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi
Podcast

Creating the Change: Featuring Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi

With Raymond Bobgan and Omar Kurdi

18 May 2022

MENA artists continue to work hard to create representation in large theatrical arenas by pushing for their work to be produced on contemporary stages. However, since some major theatres only allot 1 or 2 slots a year for plays by BIPOC artists, and MENA artists have frequently been ignored. They have found other ways to create thriving artistic spaces for actors, directors, and playwrights alike. Masrah Cleveland Al Arabi has created a space for MENA artists to thrive. This artist-led organizational infrastructure serves as an example of how change can be made within existing theatrical structures. Today we are joined by Raymond Bobgan and Omar Kurdi.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Iranian Theatre Companies
Podcast

Iranian Theatre Companies

With Parmida Ziaei (Seda, Seattle) & Shadi Ghaheri (Peydah, NYC)

11 May 2022

In the greater conversation about MENA or SWANA identity, many national and ethnic groups do not neatly fit into that category or are in between geographic areas. One of the largest groups that are both within and without what is considered the “Middle East” is Iran. So many Iranian leaders are making intentional space for the diversity and specificity of their culture by creating companies for Iranian artists. In this episode, we highlight two Iranian theatre companies: Seda Iranian Theatre Ensemble in Seattle, WA, and Peydah Theatre Company in NYC.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Centering Perspectives of Color in Theatre Criticism
Podcast

Centering Perspectives of Color in Theatre Criticism

With Arti Ishak and Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel

4 May 2022

For artists, getting a quality review of their show is often critical to continued success. It can make or break new plays and emerging artists. However, works by BIPOC artists have often been subjected to the white critical gaze in reviews, which has frequently not made any attempt to account for the complexity of culture outside of the reviewer’s own understanding. There has been a major push by BIPOC artists to counter the white supremacy of reviews, including who writes the critiques and what they write about. In this episode, Arti Ishak and Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel talk about their experiences as MENA artists and critics, how they negotiate the field of criticism, and what changes can and must be made to the landscape.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Community Engagement through Art and Programs
Podcast

Community Engagement through Art and Programs

With Pirronne Yousefzadeh & Lia Fakhouri

27 April 2022

Community engagement is more than a post-show talk or touring production. These two directors and administrative leaders are community engagement practitioners in everything that they do, including their artmaking and program curation. They work both as independent artists and through organizations. We will discuss the nature of community engagement as an artistic practice, how their MENA backgrounds influence their practice, and how the theatre atmosphere is or should shift to be community engaged in an authentic and equitable way.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Site-Specific and Devised Theatre in Lebanon
Podcast

Site-Specific and Devised Theatre in Lebanon

With Sahar Assaf & Zeina Daccache

20 April 2022

Site-specific performances have the possibility to truly make all the world a stage. To produce site-specific and devised theatre performances in the United States and abroad, artists must engage with the questions of the politics of any space, what communities inhabit or use it, and who is invited into it. Sahar Assaf, a Lebanese theatremaker and the new artistic director of Golden Thread Productions, and Zeina Daccache, an actor, director, and the founder of Catharsis: Lebanese Center for Drama Therapy come together to talk about site-specific and devised theatre pieces in Lebanon, the rest of the MENA world, and the United States.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Theatre as Advocacy/Palestinian Theatre
Podcast

Theatre as Advocacy/Palestinian Theatre

With Ahmed Masoud and Hanna Eady

13 April 2022

Theatre is a powerful tool for political and community advocacy efforts. From the stage to the streets, theatre can illuminate underheard narratives, reveal different perspectives on political events, and humanize the struggles of groups. There is a long history of theatre as a tool for advocacy in the Palestinian community in the US and abroad. In this episode, we talk to two Palestinian writers and theatremakers who have been using the art form as a way to bring awareness to the conflict in Palestine, give audiences with concrete tools for change, and provide direct relief to Palestinians internationally.

Kunafa and Shay Teaser Image.
Representation Behind the Scenes
Podcast

Representation Behind the Scenes

With Betty Shamieh & Tracy Francis

6 April 2022

Last season we talked about on-stage representation in contemporary theatre. But what does representation look like behind the scenes and why is it important? How does the process change when there are MENA creative team members, production staff, directors, and playwrights involved from the inception of a project to its closing night? What role does this representation play in new work development? We will discuss all of this and more with playwright Betty Shamieh and artistic director of Boom Arts Tracy Francis as they share their past experiences, insight, and ideas for the future.

A woman with a blue headscarf, red shirt, and jeans sits next to a man in a brown vest, gray shirt, and tan pants on stacks of books. The man is holding a book open and both people appear to be speaking. They are in front of other piles of books with half of a chalkboard visible in the background.
Afghan Art and Advocacy
Podcast

Afghan Art and Advocacy

With Yousof Sultani

20 September 2021

On this special episode of Kunafa and Shay, Marina and Nabra are joined by actor and activist Yousof Sultani, who discusses his experiences in the theatre field as an Afghan American artist and the advocacy and community organizing he does for the people of Afghanistan.

On a colorful background the headshots of a woman with short hair, a woman with curly hair, and a man with short hair are all seen.
The Middle Eastern and North African Theatre Movement Today
Podcast

The Middle Eastern and North African Theatre Movement Today

With Lameece Issaq, Torange Yeghiazarian, and Jamil Khoury

2 June 2021

In this final episode of Kunafa and Shay, Marina and Nabra are focusing on MENA theatre in the United States with playwrights Lameece Issaq, Torange Yeghiazarian, and Jamil Khoury.

A family sits around a table in a production photo from Food and Fadwa.
Culinary Diplomacy
Podcast

Culinary Diplomacy

26 May 2021

Join Marina and Nabra on this week's episode of Kunafa and Shay as they discuss Middle Eastern and North African cuisine in theatre and their lives.

A woman dressed in white kneeling on the floor and cutting off the peel of an orange. She sits in front of one sunflower.
Forum Theatre in Palestine
Podcast

Forum Theatre in Palestine

With Iman Aoun and Edward Muallem

19 May 2021

On this week’s episode of Kunafa and Shay, join Marina and Nabra as they discuss Forum Theatre in Palestine with Palestinian actors and founders of ASHTAR Theatre Edward Muallem and Iman Aoun.

A woman in a black hijab and tan trenchcoat burns a piece of paper cut out in a wavy design.
Complicating Notions of Womanhood
Podcast

Complicating Notions of Womanhood

12 May 2021

On this week's episode of Kunafa and Shay, Marina and Nabra discuss Western ideals of women, specifically Arab women, and two adaptations of Western plays by Arab women. The hosts also explore the authentic Arabic feminist themes in the plays Jogging: Theatre in Progress and Noura.

A view looking down at the street where there is a circle of bystanders watching a street performance happen in the middle of the circle.
Egyptian Street Theatre
Podcast

Egyptian Street Theatre

with Mohab Saber

5 May 2021

On this episode of Kunafa and Shay, Marina and Nabra discuss Egyptian street theatre with Egyptian curator and coordinator Mohab Saber.

The performers of Eleven Reflections on September, including Andrea Assaf.
Drama on Video
Podcast

Drama on Video

With Andrea Assaf

28 April 2021

On this week’s episode of Kunafa and Shay, join Marina and Nabra as they discuss MENA drama on video, touching a wide range of plays. Marina and Nabra also interview Andrea Assaf about her works, DRONE and Eleven Reflections on September.

5 actors stand upstage looking at one actor who stands closer to the camera, downstage. They hold scripts and look very somber.
The Power of Verbatim Theatre
Podcast

The Power of Verbatim Theatre

With Jen Marlowe

21 April 2021

On this week’s episode of Kunafa and Shay, join Marina and Nabra as they interview Jen Marlowe about her company Donkeysaddle Productions, where Jen conducted interviews for fifteen years to create the verbatim piece There is a Field, a play about Asel Asleh, a seventeen-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel killed by police in October 2000. Donkeysaddle used this piece to connect communities in the way it was subsequently performed and then documented. Listen to find out how this piece came to be.

9 male actors are sitting and standing in a stage space facing both toward and away from the camera, at the audience.
Drama Therapy: The Work of Zeina Daccache
Podcast

Drama Therapy: The Work of Zeina Daccache

14 April 2021

On this week's episode of Kunafa and Shay, join Marina and Nabra as they discuss Zeina Daccache's work using drama therapy in Lebanon to empower inmates in the carceral system.

A collage of stereotypical Middle Eastern figures
Representation 101: Trends of Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African Theatre in the US
Podcast

Representation 101: Trends of Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African Theatre in the US

7 April 2021

Join Nabra and Marina as they discuss how MENA theatre in the United States was affected by 9/11, analyze post-9/11 trends in MENA theatre from their own perspectives, and also examine popular MENA plays of the twenty-first century. Setting the stage for future episodes, this discussion illuminates how theatre has contributed to representation of Arabs in popular media and highlights the playwrights who have fought against the stereotypes that were made mainstream by the widespread racism and xenophobia following 9/11, which continue to this day.

two people kneel in front of ornate architecture, petting a black and white cat
Meet the Hosts
Podcast

Meet the Hosts

Kunafa and Shay: Episode 1

31 March 2021

In this first episode of Kunafa and Shay, meet our hosts Nabra Nelson and Marina J. Bergenstock!

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Series are collections of content curated around a specific theme. HowlRound works with curators to develop topical pieces meant to spotlight current events and happenings within the commons.

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