We hosted a live chat on the LCT3 Facebook page with DISGRACED author Ayad Akhtar. Thanks to our fans, we had a great conversation with the playwright and learned even more about the new play. Below is the full transcript.
LCT3: Welcome Ayad! Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us and our fans this morning. So tell us about your new play DISGRACED. When did you start writing the play, and what was your inspiration?
Ayad Akhtar: Hi there. Thanks for having me. I starting writing DISGRACED almost four years ago now. It was inspired by a dinner party that I was at here in NY in which a discussion about Islam shifted people's relationships - some close relationships. It gave me the idea for a play about how Islam is discussed and the visceral nature of people's identifications with their ethnic/religious identities - even amongst a liberal secularist (young) crowd.
Ilene Budin: Hello...do you have any input into the direction and production of the play? Do you have any interest in directing your own work? Thanks.
LCT3: LCT3 fan Jeremy Wein asks: Has the piece changed or evolved since it was produced at American Theater Company in Chicago?
Ayad: Hi Ilene - the director Kimberly Senior is amazing. And we have a wonderful relationship. She really brings a different perspective on the play, a very human and fluent emotional response that is a really good counterpoint to a play that has a lot of ideas in it. I would love to direct my work someday, but for now I am so grateful to have found Kimberly!
Ben Coleman: What is it like working with Aasif, since he's a part of THE DAILY SHOW which is all over the election right now.
Ayad: Hi Jeremy - Yes, the play has changed a lot since Chicago. There's a new scene. And there's a lot of new material throughout. The production in Chicago really allowed me to see where the play needed to grow. And it's been great to have the space here at LCT3 to let it grow.
Ben. Aasif is the funniest man I know. Impossible not to be in stitches throughout rehearsal. But something folks don't know about him is what a savagely brilliant and moving actor he is. I have been watching him this past couple of weeks and been amazed at the depth and aliveness he is bringing to this role.
LCT3: In addition to your work as a playwright, you wrote the novelAmerican Dervish and you co-wrote and starred in the film The War Within. LCT3 fan Sarah Packard asks: what benefits and challenges do you find unique to writing plays, versus novels or screenplays?
Ayad: To me, it's all storytelling. There are obviously differences of form. Plays reveal story and character through dialogue; movies through images; a novel, through the more interior mode of narrating in prose. But at the end of the day, to me it's about dramatic storytelling: Characters coming to recognitions about their truths through reversals of their fortunes.
Ben Coleman: Did you write this play in reaction to anything from real life? There is a lot of anti-Muslim stuff going around these days... Sorry, I joined the convo a little late. I see you answered that in part above. Feel free to elaborate if you like, but here's another one for ya. How long did it take you to write the play? What is your writing process like?
Ayad: Hi Ben - Everything I write is a reaction to stuff in real life, in the sense that I see the artist's role as one of bearing witness. One of the complicated things for me as a Muslim-American writer working at a time when the political environment is so difficult is that I am seen as a spokesperson for the community. While I understand that, I see my job as an artist as requiring me to be free of any community. I can't curry the favor with any side. Otherwise I compromise my ability to comment freely, critically, joyously.
Ashley Lemonik: Hi Ayad. If you weren't a playwright or a novelist, what do you think you would be?
Ayad: Hi Ben - It took me about a year to write the first draft, and then I got into development. That has been an amazing process. And the script has evolved so much through work with actors. My writing process for the theater is really about getting something in shape to go into a rehearsal and start hearing it spoken. As an actor myself, I have so much trust in the process of building in the rehearsal room.
Ashley, my dad always thought I should be a lawyer. He said I could talk the monkeys out of the trees, and that I should put that gift to use. Oddly enough, I feel like DISGRACED, which is about a lawyer, is kind of a portrait of what my life might have been if I didn't become an artist.
LCT3: LCT3 fan Shannon Cameron asks: What is unique about having your play produced at LCT3?
Ayad: LCT is a class act. From the space, to the professionalism, to the intelligence that Paige Evans and her team bring to the development process. Plus, walking across the LCT plaza every morning to go to work?!? I sometimes can't believe my good fortune. Bwt - the Claire Tow is, I think, the most exquisite small theater I have been in anywhere in the world. (My dear friend JT Rogers - author of The Overwhelming -- said the same thing to me the other day.)
LCT3: Another question from LCT3 fan Shannon Cameron: What questions regarding race and identity do you hope your audience will leave asking themselves?
Ayad: Hi Shannon - My goal as an artist is always to create a field - of association, of possible meanings - that provoke a deeper responsiveness to questions we think we understand. I am not sure that answers are ever all that interesting. It is the discomfort of a question that is alive and troubling that causes the mind to work, causes one to engage. The more pressing the question, the deeper the engagement.
LCT3: One last question before we wrap up: if you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Ayad: Don't worry. Everything is going to be just fine.
LCT3: Good advice for all of us! Thank you so much for joining us this morning. And thank you to all of our fans for your great questions!
Shannon Cameron: Thanks Ayad and LCT3!
LCT3: Ayad's new play, DISGRACED, starts previews October 7th at LCT3's Claire Tow Theater. And you can purchase a copy of his book, AMERICAN DERVISH, at the theater. We hope to see you there!
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