Sunday, July 16, 2017

How One Person’s Friendship and Facebook Feed Changed the Way I Look at the World

Sometimes people walk into your life and immediately feel like old friends.  Playwright Paula Vogel calls them fellow travelers.  Theatre brought Hana Sharif into my life, and after working on a project long distance we found ourselves face to face in a hotel room in Montgomery, Alabama where we sat on the couch and talked for what seemed like hours. 

Raised in Houston by politically active parents, Hana grew up loving books and escaping into the adventures and worlds of others.  “It created a great sense of curiosity about the choices we make and what motivates people,” she explains.  From a young age, Hana was writing and performing her own plays, but it was an experience in high school, directing a play during Black History Month, that proved life changing.  Hana was hooked.  She attended Spelman College, studying English and Theatre, then went on to receive her MFA in directing from the University of Houston.  Since graduating, her work has been seen across the country.  

Hana believes that theatre has the ability to be transformative and uses it as a platform for social change.  She seeks out opportunities to create work that both serves as a reflection of who we are and envisions who we have the potential to become.  She isn’t afraid of asking tough questions – not of the artists she works with or of the world around her.  And she always leans in.  She listens.  She engages in thoughtful dialogue.

As the Associate Artistic Director at Baltimore Center Stage, Hana has directed a wide variety of plays that address the human condition.  Two years ago, in response to the rise in racially motivated shootings, the theatre set out to initiate and engage audiences in conversations about race, class, and violence in America.  The result was My America, Too, a series of ten short plays written by commissioned playwrights from various backgrounds.  The plays sought to explore the issue of racial violence, each from a different perspective.  Six of the plays were then filmed on location around the country, with each location having some relevance to the story being told:  the looted CVS in Baltimore, the church in Charleston, the exact location where Trayvon Martin was killed.  Filmed gorilla style without permits, the cast and crew risked arrest as they brought these stories to life.  The finished shorts were then posted on YouTube, making the stories accessible to a wider audience.  I was honored when Hana asked me to participate; the assignment forced me to ask some tough questions of myself and those around me. 

As theatre artists, we make a career out of seeing the world through the lens of the characters we bring to life on stage.  But our friendship has gone beyond the worlds we create in the theatre.  Hana has given me a peek at the world through her lens.  And oddly, it came in the form of her Facebook feed. 

It began with our daughters, really.  As Facebook friends we followed one another through almost parallel pregnancies and have watched our girls grow up together. We are both raising fierce, independent young women.  We both actively engage in open, honest conversations about the past and the present in ways that are accurate but age appropriate. 

Hana’s Facebook feed became more than just a way to watch her daughter reach milestones.  As a Muslim and an African-American, Hana is a vocal advocate for under-represented voices; she shares stories that are unapologetically political, sometimes radical, and always insightful and articulate. Through these stories she has challenged me to check my own prejudices and assumptions as I’ve sought to dig a little deeper into the issues that we face. 

I’ve spent my adult life wearing the badge of white liberalism.  It’s become a blanket term that many hide behind without really taking the time for thoughtful reflection on what that means. And as I strive to hold myself accountable, I have realized that I’ve been wearing the badge but not always doing the work. 

Hana is one of the busiest people I know.  She juggles a full time job in the theatre, which extends past the traditional workweek to include evenings and weekends.  But somehow she manages to maintain a successful professional life, while also prioritizing family time.  She makes it work thanks in part to the support of Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, who has created an inclusive environment for working parents at the theatre.   

Coordinating schedules has taken months.  We planned to get together with our girls in DC, but life gets in the way.  After scheduling and rescheduling we make do with Facetime.  In New York for casting, Hana talks to me while she waits for her daughter to have her hair done.

So much of why I write is to make sense of the world around meTo step away from what's familiarTo tell the untold story.  I thank her for her friendship and for the artistic opportunities she’s given to me.  But most importantly, I thank her for challenging me to be my best self – to ask the hard questions of others and myself.

Follow along with 40 Lunches on Facebook
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend.

No comments:

Post a Comment