Theater’s roots are historically tied to pedagogical knowledge. Long before the invention of paper, or perhaps the written language, the stage served as the most effective manner to pass on information and bridge gaps in education, class, or culture. While technology has mitigated much of this, theater is still imperative in today’s society because it does what most news bites cannot do—it implores us to feel.
Exile Theatre of Kabul, Afghanistan, promises to cause its audiences to do just that. Their collaboration with Bond Street Theatre of New York, Beyond the Mirror, informs the viewer of Afghanistan’s struggles since 1979—the Soviet invasion, Mujahideen wars, Taliban rule, and present-day U.S. occupation. The full-length play, co-written and co-directed by both groups, uses Dari dialogue (subtitles are projected on a screen behind the actors) mixed with unscripted video footage of Afghans telling their stories of tragedy and hope for a better future. Dance, live accompaniment on rebab (stringed instrument), and news reports performed in English round out the play.
“Exile” is not just a name but part of the troupe’s history, as the actors had to disguise their work as street fights or unprompted interaction during the rule of the Taliban, which forbade all forms of art. “I was amazed and impressed by their stories,” says Joanna Sherman of Bond Street, who co-directed Beyond the Mirror with Mahmoud Shah Salimi. The ensembles came into contact months after 9/11 while Bond Street performed at Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar, Pakistan. They quickly joined forces and traded theater techniques and ideas. Exile and Bond Street have since toured the U.S., India, and Japan, presenting their play to great response.
The Baltimore Sun writes that the play provides a rare glimpse “at ordinary (Afghans) often overlooked in media reports. … That this piece exists at all is a form of triumph.”