An Interview with Taous Khazem
Mizna sat in on a rehearsal of "In Algeria They Know My Name," an upcoming, one-woman play written by and starring Taous Khazem. Afterwords, we picked Taous's brain to learn more about the inspiration of the play and where it's headed next. Be sure to catch it this weekend at Dreamland Arts, April 15-17. Tickets available on Dreamland Arts's event page.
How did the concept for In Algeria They Know My Name begin?
The show started as a bunch of journal writing. I discovered writing as an outlet for dealing with the stress, cultural shock and homesickness I had when I moved in with my in-laws. When I moved back to Minnesota in 2011, I contacted Zaraawar Mistry (who had helped me create my first one woman show "Tizi Ouzou" back in 2007) and told him that I had the beginnings of another show.
What has the process been like to create this performance? Whom have you worked with on it?
Zaraawar and I started meeting to work on the script in 2012. IATKMN had its first performance in June 2015 at Mixed Blood Theater as part of New Arab American Theater Works that I co-produced with Kathy Haddad. I also worked with a team of designers and a choreographer (some of the best in town), Mike Croswell, Mike Wangan, Sonya Berlovitz and Regina Peluso. Zaraawar is the dramaturg and director.
Have you had any challenges along the way?
Performing as a theatricalized version of myself is very intimidating. I had always shied away from doing that in the past.
What is your favorite part of the performance?
My favorite part is the scene where Mohammed and I try and figure out the paperwork we need in order to get married.
Has your family seen it, and if so, what were their impressions?
My Mom has seen it and so has my aunt and uncle. They all said they laughed and cried. I warned my parents as I was writing it that I would be playing them and commenting a bit on their relationship. They are both artists and understood that by making art I deal with my own issues.
How do you approach portraying your Algerian family members and friends to an American audience?
I find I have to explain a lot of context that might be obvious for an Algerian audience. My goal is to play each character as authentically as I can--they are broad brush strokes--there is humour. I hope I am humanizing Algerians for Americans.
This play premiered last summer in the New Arab American Theatre Works Festival and now is being produced by Mizna and Dreamland Arts. How has the play evolved through this process?
It's less about how the play has evolved and more about me evolving as a performer--finding more depth, finding the rhythm in the language, playing character with more nuance and specificity.
How does In Algeria They Know My Name compare to your other work?
It's in the same vein as Tizi Ouzou in that it's me telling a story of being in Algeria. As I said before this one has me, Taous, as a character, the narrator experiencing things as they happen, Tizi Ouzou has a lot more fiction weaved in.
What is next for this play?
I would like to tour it around the US. I think Algerians would appreciate it, but I really made it with an American audience in mind.
Mizna is a Twin Cities non-profit arts organization that promotes contemporary expressions of Arab American culture. We publish the literary journal Mizna: Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring Arab America, produce the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, and offer varied other readings, performances, art projects, and community events involving an exceptionally talented and diverse range of local, national, and international Arab American artists.
Cinema Arabiata an Arab film blog by Mohannad Ghawanmeh.
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