Diversity on show in ‘Arabian Nights’

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Cultural diversity is on display in the semester’s first production from the Sam Houston State University department of theatre and musical theatre.

Catherine Stallard | The Houstonian
Catherine Stallard | The Houstonian

“Arabian Nights” by Mary Zimmerman is a play inspired by the Arabian classic “One Thousand and One Nights.” The tale is a compilation of different stories, incorporating several characters whom each depict a moral or lesson to be learned.

The production is directed by SHSU lecturer of theatre Kevin Crouch, who said the cast of 16 actors must play multiple characters within the play, requiring them to be on stage for the entirety of the show.

Crouch, who received his B.F.A. in theatre from SHSU, said audience members will not only see the morals expressed in these performances but can also learn about a different culture.

“I think [the play] brings light to how beautiful the culture in Arabia was,” Crouch said.

The difference in culture between Arabia and the SHSU community is a theme stressed heavily by both cast and crew. Sophomore musical theatre major Dominic Pecikonis said this is important for audiences to see because typically many are accustomed to the Middle East in a political sense and this show sheds a different light on the region.

“In modern day America right now, it’s really important to see the beauty of this culture and of a culture that we don’t quite understand,” Pecikonis said. “All we hear about is the war and things that are going on with that. We don’t take the time to look at that culture and see the beauty in it and I think this show does that.”

Crouch said ultimately he searched for actors who were not afraid to take risks with their performances and try new things without fear.

“I did hand them basically a full scene and said ‘play all five characters in the scene,’” Crouch said. “[That] separated people quickly as in who could take a risk…I wasn’t looking for right or wrong. I was looking for people who were willing to just jump in and feel free to fail and make [a] big choice. It’s jumping in and being open to being inspired by the rest of the group.”

Freshman theatre major Tanith Albright said the audition prepared them for what was to come in the rehearsal process.

“The freedom the audition gave us made making bolder choices easier,” Albright said.

Pecikonis said the show incorporates multiple art forms which allows the cast to gain experience and practice in different areas other than just acting.

“[The show] uses more than just acting,” Pecikonis said. “It uses music [and] it uses dance. We’re getting to practice more than just acting as an ensemble. We’re getting to practice moving as an ensemble and singing as an ensemble.”

Senior theatre major Rachel Watkins said Crouch gave the cast creative liberty and allowed them to contribute ideas to the show.

“Kevin gave us a lot of freedom to play with everything because if these stories aren’t elaborate, it’ll just fall flat,” Watkins said.

Crouch explained how it was very important to him that the cast had a say in designing the different elements of the show. He said his process as a director is to work with the cast as a team rather than simply tell them what to do and how to do it.

“The way I work is we’re all in this together,” Crouch said. “I’m their eyes outside the process and together we’re telling the story. I want them to make choice. I want them to bring what they feel creatively to the table.”

Crouch and the cast hope the audience takes away valuable messages after seeing the show. They want viewers to embrace the stories, feel a variety of messages and learn about a different culture, as well as to appreciate the act of storytelling.

Crouch said he wants the audience to simply enjoy the performance without overthinking it.

“Honestly at the end of the night, I just want us to tell some beautiful stories,” Couch said. “The audience can take what they will. Hopefully they leave smiling. Hopefully they laugh a lot in some of the parts. We’re not trying to hit you over the head with some big political message. We’re just trying to tell you some beautiful stories.”

“Arabian Nights” opens tomorrow and runs through Saturday in University Theatre Center Showcase Theater. House opens at 7:30 p.m. and shows begin at 8 p.m.

There will be a matinee performance on Saturday with house opening at 1:30 p.m. and show beginning at 2 p.m.

For more information and to purchase tickets, contact the University Theatre Center at 936-294-1329.