Rohina Malik will craft play from the perspective that will be performed at 10 colleges and universities across the country

 - Actor and playwright Rohina Malik has been commissioned to present the Muslim point of view in the Big Bridge Theatre Consortirum's second play, which will be performed around the country.

The Big Bridge Theatre Consortium is continuing its effort to promote peace and interfaith dialogue with the commissioning of the second of three writers to craft a play dedicated to combating xenophobia, sectarianism and racism in the United States.

The consortium of George Fox and nine other university theater departments has brought on board as its second playwright Rohina Malik, who will craft the second in a three-part series of plays addressing issues that have become paramount in the national discourse of late.

The plays are written from the perspective of the three Abrahamic religions: Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Malik will present the Muslim viewpoint.

"We are thrilled that Rohina Malik – a critically acclaimed, Muslim-American playwright – has accepted our second commission," said Rhett Luedtke, professor of theater at George Fox and artistic director of the Big Bridge Consortium. "Her writing is humorous, intelligent and culturally relevant given our political climate."

Luedtke explained the process the consortium went through to choose the next playwright:

"It takes us approximately nine months to select a playwright. In October 2018, we hired MaiaDirectors (an organization in New York City that advocates for the inclusion of Middle Eastern stories as a part of the American cultural conversation) to help us find an initial group of Muslim-American playwrights who were interested in working with us.

"MaiaDirectors got to work immediately and began contacting playwrights across the country. By February 2019, we had a short-list of 13 playwrights to consider. Each of them provided us with a play of theirs to read, information about their careers and why they might be a good fit for us.

"Faculty representatives from each of our consortium schools then had two months to read all of that material. In April we reduced that list down to three finalists and gave them until June 15 to come up with a play proposal with character descriptions and a plot outline.

"All three finalists were excellent choices and the richness of their play proposals made it really difficult for us to arrive at a finalist. However, by July 1, we had concluded that Malik was our top choice. We are simply thrilled that she said yes when we offered her the commission."

First play in the final stages

Malik follows Arlene Hutton, who was commissioned in July 2017 to write "The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month," the first play in the series that will be performed at universities nationwide during the upcoming academic year. Malik's play will be produced on consortium campuses during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Hutton met with actors, professional artists and student interns in June 2018 for a week of workshops as part of the multi-year program. Ten professional actors from the Portland area joined seven GFU interns for four hours every day of the workshop.

Director Marianne Savell from Seattle, dramatist Jessica Dart, Luedtke serving as artistic director and Hutton guided the actors through the script.

Hutton's play was written to highlight the peaceful, historical tradition of a lesser-known branch of Christianity, the Shakers. Tied to the 18th century roots of Quakerism in England, the largely pacifist and liberal-minded group began settling in colonial America in 1861 near Mount Lebanon, New York.

Luedtke said the final draft of Hutton's play is due to be delivered to the consortium by Aug. 1. Hutton will continue to re-work the play at each school through the 2019-2020 school year as she gathers feedback from each of the schools that produces the work. She is expected, he continued, to begin rehearsals on Sept. 2 at Hope College in Michigan.

"By the time George Fox University produces it in February 2020, I expect the play will have shifted a little bit," Luedtke said, adding that when it is performed at Seattle Pacific University in April 2020, it will be "an even sharper script. Our hope is that the play is ready to be published and then produced at other collegiate and professional theaters across the country beginning next summer."

Malik is expected to present a first draft of the play in July 2020; a playwright's workshop will be held soon after and a final draft is slated for submission in August of that year.

The search for a playwright to craft a play from the Jewish perspective will begin in fall 2020, Luedtke said.

Funding for the development of the three plays came from a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust in Portland.

A strong background as a playwright

Luedtke said that Malik, a London native of South Asian heritage, is a critically-acclaimed playwright and solo performance artist based in Chicago. Her one-woman play, "Unveiled," premiered at Chicago's prestigious 16th Street Theater and was lauded among reviewers. Her plays "The Mecca Tales" and "Yasmine's Necklace" were both nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for best new play, Luedtke said.

Malik's plays have been produced at theaters from Boston to Dallas, Baltimore, Spokane and Seattle. She is a resident playwright emeritus at Chicago Dramatists, an artistic associate at the 16th Street Theater and an artistic associate at the Voyage Theater Company in New York City. She was awarded the 2018 Lee Reynolds Award, given annually to a woman active in any aspect of theater whose work has helped to illuminate the possibilities for social, cultural or political change. 

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