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Diving Deep Into ‘Disgraced’

Center Theatre Group Engages Audiences Before and After the Curtain Falls on Ayad Akhtar’s Acclaimed Drama

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Pictured (L–R): Moderator Khanisha Foster discusses images of Muslims in the media with "Disgraced" director Kimberly Senior and Salam Al-Marayati and Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee at our June 15 Community Conversation.

Equally heart-wrenching and incendiary, Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Disgraced (which plays the Mark Taper Forum through July 17, 2016) poses “thorny questions of identity and religion in the contemporary world” (Charles Isherwood, The New York Times) that confound not just the characters onstage but the audience members watching them.

The difficult dialogues Disgraced creates make it a perfect play for Center Theatre Group to encourage audiences to dive into through pre- and post-show audience engagement programs we’ve been expanding and enhancing over the last year at the Taper.

The cornerstone of our Disgraced engagement strategies is our Stage Talks program, which features conversations with members of the cast immediately after every performance. “This is an opportunity to have a conversation that is about all of the very many questions Disgraced raises,” said Center Theatre Group Literary Manager Joy Meads. These questions can often be “fraught with emotion and complicated,” said Meads—but they “become much safer to engage within the architecture of a story.” She added, “In theatre, you have a room full of people united by nothing but time, space, and shared experience who—through the safe space of that story—are able to talk about what they think matters, and how they think the world works, and to listen to the perspectives of people who see things differently.”

Director Kimberly Senior said that the cast has come to call the Stage Talks “the second act of the play.” Senior, who directed the World premiere in Chicago in 2012 and has brought the show to regional theatres across the country, said that audiences not only want to talk about this play; they need to talk about it.

We’re keeping the conversation going with additional pre-show Community Conversations—on topics like cultural appropriation, Islam in the media, and unconscious bias—led by subject experts, scholars, and activists. We’re also providing patrons with a curated list of links to blog posts, podcasts, and other resources.

Our June 17 Youth Theatre Forum invited teenagers to spend a day engaging with Disgraced and grappling with the questions it poses. Students participated in three pre-show workshops where they discussed how our biases—both conscious and unconscious—impact the way we see other cultures; how art can spark big conversations about ethnicity and religion; and their own faiths and beliefs. Center Theatre Group teaching artists and youth facilitators—alumni from our Student Ambassador and internship programs—worked to create a safe space for these important and intimate conversations. The workshops were followed by dinner and—of course—the show.

It’s all a part of our larger mission to make the work on our stages more accessible to both existing and new audiences.

“Our upcoming 50th season has us asking big questions,” said Center Theatre Group Director of Social Strategy, Innovation and Impact Leslie K. Johnson. “How can we be a more inclusive, more relevant organization to our city? It’s about being more than a theatre company. It’s about looking to have a more impactful footprint in the community.”

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