Scheherazade, the new show from Generic Ensemble Company, was inspired in part by 1001 Arabian Nights, in part by the current political climate, and in part by the lives of its ensemble members.
Originally conceived by Generic Ensemble Company artistic director kt shorb, the idea was immediately met with approval. "A couple of us were just like 'Yep. We're gonna take that idea and run with it,'" says ensemble member Laura J. Khalil. "And so we've been working together on the idea probably since around this time last year."
Other cast members joined the project later, but all brought ideas from their personal lives to add to the story. Scheherazade retains the Arabian Nights structure of one woman telling stories to her captor, but switches the setting to an unspecified time in the near future, in an international airport in a nation known only as "The States." That fictional country is "not unlike the United States, but it's not necessarily America," says Khalil.
The central character, played by Khalil, is a women from a fictionalized Middle Eastern country who has been detained at the airport and must now justify her existence to the authorities there. The stories she tells make up the bulk of the play and were inspired by the experiences of the ensemble members, several of whom are of Middle Eastern descent.
"I identify as a gay male," says ensemble member Donnesh Amrollah. "And my character Yusef... is also identified as a gay male, but in the Middle East. He has to keep his love secret or face consequences. I'm from Iran. If I was to go back to Iran... I [would] have to hide who I am."
Aisha Melhem, another ensemble member, hopes the stories in Scheherazade will make audiences think about Islamophobia and their own fears and prejudices. "I definitely would like the audience to have a visceral reaction," she says. "I feel like that's more impactful and will cause people to reevaluate what our country is doing and also to reevaluate themselves."