The Knights of Salisbury Debuts at D.C. Capital Fringe Festival
Posted by Tess Waggoner on July 12, 2019 in Blog
Picture it: it’s the 1960s in an East coast suburb. A group of teenagers form a rock-and-roll band, and a young married couple agrees to manage them. As they put the band together, and get a handle on their instruments, the teens experience the trials and tribulations of coming-of-age as they learn from their neighbors about life and music-making.
This is classic Americana. But at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C. this and next weekend, audiences will also get a glimpse into the real, lived experiences of Arab American communities in the Northeastern United States in the 1960s as Arab American Tim Caron makes his playwriting debut with the new rock musical The Knights of Salisbury. D.C. theater-lovers and Arab Americans alike will get to “taste the man'oushe” with fresh, authentic and original portrayals of American life when the show opens Saturday.
AAI went to visit the playwright and cast at a recent rehearsal and hear about the production firsthand. Caron told us that he drew inspiration for the plot of his musical from the story of Bruce’s Springsteen’s high school band, The Castilles, which was also managed by a middle-aged couple. While the plot is inspired by Springsteen, several of the characters and themes are based off of Caron’s own personal experiences, childhood memories, relationships, and family members. Caron incorporated his ancestry in subtle ways throughout play. One character in the musical is directly inspired by Caron’s grandfather, the child of two immigrants from Lebanon. In the show's press release, he stated,
“A prominent community of Arab Americans emerged in the Boston area. I’m deeply proud of my grandfather, and I’ve long wanted to express my respect and gratitude towards the community he came from. I hope that this show demonstrates that, even in a small way.”
The show’s leading lady, Nadine Foty, is a Washington, D.C. based actress and musician whose work emphasizes the power of art and culture in shaping perceptions. She told AAI,
“As an Arab American woman, sometimes it is hard to find characters to play. All the roles are just belly dancers or terrorists. We need to have more real stories and real characters that have nuance. ”
She spoke about the importance of having theatrical and mass media productions that create space for accurate representations of Arab and Arab American women. Foty told us that she rejects roles that perpetuate stereotyped portrayals of Arab and Arab American women in theater and film because she wants to change stereotypes, not perpetuate them.
The Knights of Salisbury, she said, offers a clear alternative by,
“having people do the things that people do, and they just happen to be Arab American. We are a part of the American experience as well.”
Nick Adjami, who stars as one of the band members and also plays bass in the show, told AAI how exciting it was to debut a role that so closely mirrors his own upbringing. Like Caron, he grew up in an Arab American family in suburban Massachusetts. Adjami recently graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in sociology and theater, and has appeared in several shows such Avenue Q, The Pirates of Penzance, and Kiss me Kate. Working for an anti-discrimination nonprofit by day, Adjami shared with us that the character development research he did for the show led him to learn more about the rich history of Arab American immigration to Massachusetts over the last century.
"It was so rewarding to be learning what is really the history of my family and my community as I was preparing for the role... I'm excited to [fight stereotypes] as part of showing the real range of identities we have."
Throughout our conversation, cast members Foty and Adjami discussed the various ways Arab Americans have sought more and better representation of their identities in arts and culture and how they hope to contribute to that larger work through this production. They emphasized the importance of having leaders and role models to inspire younger generations of Arab Americans, so they know that they can and should claim all the aspects of who they are in their artistic endeavors-- and that such endeavors need not stay sidelined as hobbies. Actor Mo Hafez, who plays Foty's spouse and co-manager of the band in the show, had a successful career in IT for fifteen years; however, he left that behind him to pursue a full-time career in acting after being inspired by the recent successes of other Arab Americans with Egyptian ancestry in the film and television industries. Hafez has performed in several local Northern Virginia theater productions and hopes to move towards the big screen.
Foty, Adjami and Caron made clear that this play bears little resemblance, stylistically, to some other attempts in the arts to address Arab American identity, precisely because of the lack of distinction made in Caron's work. Fouty said,
"we don't need to be didactic to make art that is rooted in social justice."
In the play, Arab Americans aren't singled out, but portrayed as they are: neighbors, friends, and sometimes, even bandmates. In this case, the social "justice" is getting to be seen for who we are: just like everyone else.
With a diverse cast, an original soundtrack, and a timeless coming-of-age plot, The Knights of Salisbury showcases a catchy mix of ‘60s rock tunes and more "conventional" musical numbers that can be enjoyed across generations. This unique story celebrating music, culture, friendship, and dreams will be live on stage at DC’s Westminister Presbyterian Church during the showtimes listed below.
This blog was co-authored by Sibel Al-Barzinji, 2019 AAIF Summer Communications Intern and Tess Waggoner.