This fall, Ping Chong + Company is extending our latest production in the Undesirable Elements series, Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity, into a touring module with a suite of performances aimed at educational and public audiences. These presentations are taking place in venues around New York City and the region.
Today’s Community Spotlight is on a past UE participant who shared his own experience of Muslim identity in Tales from the Salt City seven years ago at Syracuse Stage in Syracuse, NY. Emad Rahim is now a Kotouc Endowed Chair and Associate Professor at Bellevue University. Here, he reflects on the impact of being a part of Undesirable Elements.
How did you come to engage with PC+C?
I was invited to share my story with PC+C by Kyle Bass, dramaturg at Syracuse Stage. PC+C was developing its Undesirable Elements piece Tales from The Salt City, telling the unique stories of seven Syracuse residents–first-hand narratives–who were in some way living outside the dominant culture. My story of surviving the Cambodian Killing Fields and overcoming great odds as a refugee living in Brooklyn and Syracuse fit well with the vision of Ping, Kyle, and Sara Zatz for the Syracuse Stage production. My experience and my personal journey reflect what could be perceived as “undesirable elements.”
What was a meaningful moment or take-away from your experience with PC+C?
One night after a performance of Tales from the Salt City, we were invited to meet with a group of audience members. Two older ladies approached me with tears in their eyes. Before saying a word to me, they both wanted to give me a hug. They shared with me that they were both survivors of the Holocaust. They told me that, while I was a lot younger than they were and I was not Jewish, my experience in the Killing Fields and my journey in America resembled their own stories. This type of encounter continued to follow all of us who were a part of that Undesirable Elements production. It proved to me the power of storytelling through interview-based theater. Our personal stories brought strangers together and made a community feel a lot closer.
How did your time with PC+C influence what you’re doing today?
My experience with Ping Chong + Company and with that project has changed my life forever. The theater exercises and vocal lessons, along with the many hours I spent on stage performing, made me a stronger teacher and public speaker. When I started the project with PC+C I quickly realized I knew very little about my past and upbringing. Now, I am an Endowed Professor and an award-winning author, traveling the country sharing my stories at conferences, universities, high schools, and public events. My story was turned into a short documentary titled “Against the Odds,” which has been featured in the Huffington Post, IntelligentHQ and Worldclass Magazine.
In addition to my work at Bellevue University, I’m also a Jack Welch Fellow teaching with the Jack Welch Management Institute and write for Forbes Magazine and the Syracuse New Times. I am writing my first biography “From The Killing Fields to the Boardroom: the SALT Effect,” which I hope to finish in the fall of 2015.