The Statue of Liberty is the inspiration behind the latest theater festival tackling Islamophobia, to be held in New York next month.
The Lady Liberty Theater Festival will be premiering in New York on September 7 and run until September 25, showcasing the works of award-winning playwrights Monica Bauer and Aizzah Fatima.
The Christian and Muslim collaborating duo will feature three one act plays which defend diversity in the US, tied together by the ideals represented in the Statue of Liberty.
Monica Bauer’s “No Irish Need Apply” was recently seen at the Kennedy Center and the Irish Arts Center and focusses on two people from different backgrounds finding common ground in an era of polarization and difference. “Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever” imagines the day Donald Trump buys the Statue of Liberty.
Speaking to Al Arabiya English ahead of the show, Monica explains how the festival strives to embody the values and ideals of what the Statue of Liberty represents:
“The Statue of Liberty has been the welcoming light for new immigrants to this country for generations, famous around the world as the symbol of America as a nation of immigrants. On the base of the statue is the poem by Emma Lazarus that begins ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ That celebrates the inclusive welcome for all that we want to treasure and keep alive in the age of Donald Trump!
“I asked our webmaster to find an image of the Statue of Liberty wearing a hijab, and she came up with this fabulous image of the hijab as an American flag! I thought, what could be better to symbolize a welcome for Muslim immigrants! But when we put it up on our Facebook page and made it public, we got some heated responses from a few American women who only saw the hijab as a symbol of oppression. They have not had my experience of meeting many young women who have chosen to wear hijab on their own, who see it as a choice not a mandate.”
What followed was a discussion on social media, which Monica says pleased her: “Too often, we only ;preach to the converted,; speaking only to those who already share our point of view. We want our festival to be an opportunity for those who celebrate their Muslim heritage and those who don’t understand it at all to meet in the safe space of comedy and drama, laugh together, and cry together. That’s why we hope that, even though we are just two women theater artists with a tiny budget, we will be able to reach a lot of people this September in New York!”
Monica, who was born and raised in Nebraska, said she had very little knowledge of the Middle East or Islam. Her life-changing event came when she spent a year teaching at the American University in Cairo. “I feel a debt to these friends and students, a responsibility to share my understanding of the many, many faces of Islam. So when I started watching the rise of Trump, I knew I had to fight back, somehow! I actually wrote one of the plays, ‘Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever,’ as a direct reply to Trump!”
Collaborating on the project is Aizzah Fatima, who’s play “Dirty Paki Lingerie” – which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - is a story of six American-Muslim women drawn from real-life interviews.
It was important for both her and Monica “to make a statement with our art in this current political climate before an important election year. I’m excited to bring together such talented female artists whose works explore the immigrant experience, tackle Islamophobia, and what it truly means to be American,” she told Al Arabiya English.
The Festival also includes a “Day of Diversity” with free staged readings on September 11th, including an inter-faith prayer.