Back in Spring 2010, I hosted a Persian New Year Murder Mystery Party, in which I made a bunch of Persian food (with some reinforcements from my mom), and invited a bunch of non-Iranian friends to my apartment for a dinner party. I assigned them each a role to play, and gave them each secrets. The characters I assigned were all initially inspired by people from my life, but then exaggerated and distorted to make space for the intrigue required for a proper Murder Mystery plot. There were secret dealings, conspiracies, and love triangles, that transformed my loved ones into archetypes from British Murder Mysteries, which, when layered with their Iranian origins, became media stereotypes of Middle Eastern people.
My friends were uncomfortable initially when I asked them to do things like speak with an accent, or wear a headscarf. But I insisted it was okay because I was telling them to do it. Over the course of the evening, with the aid of alcohol, everyone was able to ease into the situation a bit more. At some point, my Muslim Bangladeshi landord came up to tell us we were being too loud, and was startled to find my friends wearing headscarves. What is Happening?
I have to say, it was a fun night. But ever since, I’ve been asking myself the question: Why did I do that?
I thought about making a theater piece to figure it out, and went through many different ideas in my head over the years, but it wasn't until shortly after the Muslim Ban in 2017 that I actually felt the urge to begin writing. Although this latest event did not have an exact analogue in the Bush-era, I found myself constantly reminded of my emotions and psychological state in high school and college post-9/11 and found myself writing in a completely different direction, as a way of processing my whiplash to the W years, when the targeting of Muslims reached another fever pitch. I wrote about this, and just kept writing and writing.
Over the past couple of years, I started to work with Jeff on figuring out how the writing I was doing, which imagines a person hosting an event intended to stop a war between the US and Iran, connects back to this Iranian Murder Mystery play I’d been toying around with for years. In 2018 I shared my writing with Piehole, and later with the New Georges Jam, and in 2019 I did a reading of a full draft at the inaugural Emruz Festival, a festival of Iranian artists in Brooklyn. I shared my work with friends, and felt sure the next step would be asking people (like you!) if I could perform the piece in their living rooms, with zero aspirations of doing it in a theater.
This is why it was so strange when over the summer, Piehole was approached by Under the Radar at The Public Theater, asking us what we were up to, and seeing if we’d be interested in doing Disclaimer in the Incoming! series in January. We talked it over as a collective, and decided, after some initial sheepishness, to make this a Piehole piece! But what would this mean?
When one of our members had written a play, what exactly does it mean to make it a Piehole piece? The aspects of the play I felt unsure about had to do with the interactivity of the piece, and the unfolding dramaturgy of what is described versus what actually happens in the room. These are the aspects that I wanted the Piehole creative core to come together and figure out, as we continue adapting this piece for an ‘actual theater,’ as opposed to your living room.
This piece has enabled me to bring together many of my favorite things. I do love British Murder Mysteries. I also love making people do Iranian things. How these elements relate to the impetus behind the play, and what it all means, I’d like for you to experience through the show. But what I will say is that working together with Iranian and Iranian-American artists alongside my non-Iranian Piehole-mates is very meaningful to me, and makes the process itself a site for bringing together the different parts of my identity as an Iranian-American.
So, while this all began originally in an attempt to answer “Why did I host a murder mystery dinner party in which I made my non-Iranian friends play Iranian stereotypes?”, it became a way of dealing with the complex feelings surrounding the desire to (re)present “my people” well, and my resentment of others seeming to need me to do so. And as I keep creating, it’s taking me somewhere else altogether -- to a place where my collaborators and I are bridging these cultures and these countries without ever having actually intended to.
US-Iran relations appear to be as fraught as I’ve ever seen them, and I don’t know that this play will change that. But it’s certainly given me a way to process the layered feelings and experiences that directly and indirectly relate to this tense relationship. In true Piehole form, Disclaimer takes unexpected pathways into these issues, and I am so excited to invite an audience in figure it all out with us in January!