October 13, 2005
Silk Road Theatre Project’s world premiere production of Yussef El Guindi’s Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith (October 13 – December 30, 2005), directed by Stuart Carden, breaks new ground for Chicago theatre: dramatic representation of Arab- American and Muslim-American lives that is authentic, three dimensional, and grounded in human experience. According to playwright El Guindi, Ten Acrobats promises to “dig deeper and flesh out the dynamics and strains of a Muslim, immigrant family attempting to manage in an environment not always hospitable to them… exploring the generational frictions, as well as the different coping mechanisms adopted by the kids, and their parents, as they try to live out their faith in the U.S.”
The combined Muslim and Arab populations of the Chicagoland area are estimated to be over 400,000, yet both communities are still either neglected by local theatres or are reduced to simple caricatures. El Guindi hopes that Ten Acrobats “humanizes Muslims” and shows that the family portrayed is “also just another struggling family trying to achieve [their] version of the American dream.” While he hopes that audiences will find the story entertaining, El Guindi knows that what most viewers will walk away with is a sense of familiarity. “I just think other people will recognize their families- and their family history- in this play. It is basically an American immigrant story.”
Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith is the story of the Fawzi family, an Egyptian immigrant family struggling to find their place within American society. As the characters navigate inter-generational conflict, their Islamic faith, and the values of two cultures, the audience catches a glimpse into a community rarely seen so intimately in contemporary media culture. What the audience finds is that “we’re just as screwed up, and normal, as other families,” El Guindi quips. “Since there’s been such intense focus on Muslims recently, most of which’s been negative, I feel any play that attempts to flesh out Muslims in a three dimensional way is probably doing a much needed job at the moment. Not that I’m presenting this family without its warts. I’m leaving the warts in. I’m even dramatizing the warts! As well as throwing in the kitchen sink, dirty dishes and all.” Ten Acrobats is unique in that it’s a Muslim-American family drama steeped in both Muslim identity and the American experience, evoking universal themes such as faith, culture, belonging and desire; forming the beginnings of an entirely new chapter to the American immigrant narrative.
“Thank God they decided to form Silk Road [Theatre Project] a few years ago. They are fulfilling the much needed job of providing a venue for voices not normally heard from,” states El Guindi. True to Silk Road Theatre Project’s mission of showcasing playwrights of Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean backgrounds whose works address themes relevant to the people of the Silk Road and their Diaspora communities, Ten Acrobats doesn’t shy away from controversial subject matter either. However, the play maintains nothing but the highest respect for Islam and its practitioners. “It saddens me that certain Muslim organizations are not looking at the big picture of the play, which overall is extremely positive, and only focusing on some of the details. And for me of course the details are also part of this positive picture in that they show Islam as being an encompassing religion of tolerance,” El Guindi adds. “At the end of the day, the play is not about any one religion, but about people, and the traditions they grow up in, and how those traditions may help or hinder an individual in their efforts to find their place in the world. In ‘Ten Acrobats,’ by the end, we see what a positive force and support Islam has been for this family.”
Yussef el Guindi’s play dares to ask questions, questions about religious observance, about belief, about living in a secular society, about being Muslim in an overwhelmingly Christian country. “I do think any religion has to remain pliant enough to be engaged in an on-going debate. Or rather, its practitioners. I worry that those who elect to be the guardians or gatekeepers of any religion are sometimes overly-protective, to the point of perhaps strangling the trust spirit of that religion,” el Guindi muses. “Those religions that have survived and thrived had done so because at their core is a message of love and tolerance. And support. I believe this play attempts to uphold that message. I really do.”