Behind the Curtain / by R. Sheth

November 26, 2004
BY JENN Q. GODDU AND CARRIE L. KAUFMAN

The Saving Face Theatre Council of Chicago has a somewhat ironic name. The moniker for the newly formed collaborative of not-for-profit theatre and performance companies presenting Asian-American experiences is inspired by a commonly held idea in many Eastern cultures that you don't want to be caught doing something bad. Yet when the members of Saving Face's companies take to the stage they want to be seen—it's part of the reason the council was formed in the first place.

The council was formed six months ago to bring greater visibility to the companies in Chicago presenting Asian stories, said Malik Gillani, executive director of Silk Road Theatre Project, and one of the motivating forces behind Saving Face. "We thought it was probably better for us to work as a group to expose Chicagoans and critics to a story that's not often told."

Once Silk Road's management team came up with the idea, Gillani said, "We started discovering that there were all these organizations that we'd never heard of before, some that had been around for 20 years."

Silk Road, dueEast Theatre, Mango Tribe, Pintig Cultural Group, Rasaka Theatre Company, Stir-Friday Night! and Tea Company each joined the council. Many were tired of fighting an uphill battle to introduce new audiences to non-Western stories, Gillani said. "I think that many of them felt, I don’t want to say lost, but they weren’t able to attract attention. They weren't able to get through the cloud that’s created by so many theatre companies in Chicago."

Saving Face's membership encompasses cultural and ethnic experiences from the Middle East, India, Asia and even Asiatic Russia. It's hoped that Saving Face's upcoming first annual festival of staged readings and performances will be a good way to introduce audiences to the work all of the council members do.

By crossbreeding audiences Saving Face aims to get members of the various Asian-American communities here in Chicago to be more supportive of the arts at large. As it stands now, they often want to see themselves presented on stage, but appear to have little interest in a show drawn from another group on the Asian continent. "That's a challenge for all the Saving Face constituencies," Gillani said.

The festival features Saving Face’s seven member companies in performance in the Studio Theatre in the Chicago Cultural Center. Festival events, including an Asian identity workshop for teens, spoken word and music performances, begin Sat. Dec. 4 at 11:30 and again on Sun. Dec. 5 at 1 p.m. Admission is free. For more information call 312/744-6630 or visit www.chicagoculturalcenter.org.