/How 3 Actors Overcame Trump’s Travel Ban to Take the New York Stage

How 3 Actors Overcame Trump’s Travel Ban to Take the New York Stage

“The Jungle,” a brand new British play a few French refugee camp, was an apparent candidate to switch to New York: critically lauded, commercially profitable, well timed and talked about.

But it had one huge drawback: Three of the 17 folks in the London forged had been residents of predominantly Muslim international locations whose residents have been barred by President Trump from touring to the United States.

The present’s inventive staff and producers had been reluctant to transfer the play with out all the forged members, saying their life experiences — a number of had lived in the Calais refugee camp being depicted — gave the show its authenticity. But trying to get two Iranians and a Syrian into Trump-era America to perform a drama that is inherently sympathetic to refugees was, to put it mildly, daunting.

“The odds were against us,” said Stephen Daldry, who is directing the play alongside Justin Martin. “We knew it was going to be a challenge.”

Over several months, a coalition of celebrities (including Sting and Benedict Cumberbatch), religious leaders (the former archbishop of Canterbury) and politicians (the mayors of New York and London) joined forces in an effort to persuade the administration to grant the actors a waiver from the ban.

Of course, there was contingency planning: An Iranian-American actor, Arian Moayed, was quietly flown to London and intensively rehearsed for a key part (he even went on one night in the ensemble) so he could replace one of the refugees in New York if need be.

And then there was a zany-seeming gamble: After one of the Iranians was initially rejected by the State Department, the producers decided that, rather than try to persuade the United States to admit the Syrian actor, they would endeavor to win him British citizenship, thinking that would be an easier path to New York.

It worked. All three performers — Ammar Haj Ahmad, the Syrian refugee who successfully became a British citizen, and two Iranian refugees, Moein Ghobsheh and Yasin Moradi — were ultimately granted employment visas by the State Department, made it through airport security (Mr. Moradi was held for hours of questioning because he had once been fingerprinted while fleeing across Serbia) and are now happily rehearsing in Dumbo, Brooklyn.

“I still can’t believe I’m in America,” said Mr. Ahmad, 36, who was trained as an actor in Syria before seeking asylum in Britain, where all three men live now. “It’s bizarre that we live at a time when you need all this work to get one person to another country, and amazing that it happened. But I also feel very privileged, because every day I’m here, I think about the millions of people who can’t go from one place to another.”

“The Jungle,” cast intact, will start performances Tuesday in anticipation of a Dec. 9 opening at St. Ann’s Warehouse, a prestigious and globally minded nonprofit theater on the Brooklyn waterfront. The show has an immersive set — audience members sit in a replica of an Afghan cafe at the camp, and post-show performances and talks will be held in the same geodesic dome that was used by the show’s writers, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, when they established the Good Chance Theater at the camp in 2015. The play is scheduled to run for eight weeks, which will make it the longest-running show in the theater’s history.

Mr. Ghobsheh, a 23-year-old songwriter and musician who is now using the first name Milan, and Mr. Moradi, a 26-year-old kung fu practitioner who competed on the Iranian national team, were both discovered by the theater in the Calais camp, known as the Jungle. Mr. Moradi, who is Kurdish and said he fled Iran because it had become increasingly difficult for his people, started teaching kung fu to other refugees in the Jungle, and then began performing as an actor. He said he believes in the power of the play. “I think it is going to be helpful to show our story,” he said.

“The issue of refugees is on everyone’s mind right now,” Mr. Covey said, “so a powerful artistic piece coming out of that context is very compelling, and when this first came in, we said, ‘We have to do this, and we have to make it work.’”

The case was given a push by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat whose office urged the State Department and the American Embassy in London to take a look. “Welcoming refugees is what the Statue of Liberty stands for and what our nation stands for, and this play is so important because it gives refugees a chance to bring their powerful experiences to the United States,” she said in a statement.

Source link Nytimes.com

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