'Otherwise' Updated

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On the set: Dianne Monroe and Salwa Arnous. Salwa proudly wears the colors of the Palestinian flag. Photo by Justin Parr.
Otherwise Occupied
March 9-18
8pm Fri-Sat,
3pm Sun
Jump-Start Theatre
108 Blue Star
The second incarnation of Otherwise Occupied, an original play first performed at San Antonio’s Jump-Start in 2005 that asks “What is it like to live, love, and resist in a contested country?” will be performed at Jump-Start beginning March 9. The Current caught up with Otherwise playwright Dianne Monroe and her collaborator, artist Salwa Arnous — two justice-loving women set on telling the stories of modern Palestinian women.


Can you tell me about the structure of Otherwise Occupied and how it’s changed, if it’s changed, from the first time it was performed?

DM: It is probably over half new material. `Salwa and I` work together — I’m Jewish and she’s Palestinian — and we did long-distance interviews with women of Palestine. We kept some of the very best from the first and then we added new material, including material from this last summer: Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

The style is kind of a storytelling style that goes in little vignettes.

Will you tell me about your working relationship, and how you got started as collaborators?

SA: The first time `Dianne` watched Habibi, she saw what we were doing — helping them — and she asked me to help her with Lost Recipes. So we did that, and then a lot of people asked me, “What is the common thing between you guys?” and I thought, “We are totally different!” (Laughs.) So I went to Palestine and Israel during Christmas of ’03, and I got a lot of women there, begging us “Just tell our story, please.” So when I came back home, “Dianne,” I said, “you are a wonderful artist. Can you help me with this project?” She said “I will think about it.” It took her maybe about 4-6 months.

DM: It did?


SA: Yes! And she said, “OK, OK, OK.” We made arrangements with people, and I had all of their telephone numbers, and she came to my apartment and sat down and we started calling people — first emailed to find out what was the best time for them. So we did that and every time she interviewed someone she got more excited, “I need more names! More names!”

I think in the beginning she interviewed around six or seven, and after that she sat down and put it together and came in and asked me, “What did you see here?” and so we talked a lot about it until we did the first one.

DM: The first one was really successful and I think it showed that people have an interest in understanding the people in the Middle East, and telling that in terms of personal stories rather than political speeches is a really effective way, so we got a whole lot of positive feedback. We wrote a grant to the Puppet Foundation, which funds work that might otherwise have difficulty getting funded, and we got a small grant to redo it as a tour-able show, so that’s what we’re doing.

What’s the community reaction been like and has that impacted Otherwise Occupied?

DM: From the people we know, we had a tremendously positive response, and I’m not talking only about people who are already concerned about the issue. But the style that I wanted to do it in was such that you’re telling human stories of people trying to make lives under difficult situations, and I feel like there’s great curiosity, so that really broadly we heard really favorable things from people who really appreciated the stories and the way they were told. I am sure there are people who don’t feel that way because it’s a very charged situation. We tend not to hear those things.

SA: The play, when you put it together, the part about harsh times, she makes a joke of it, and people accept it easier.

Have any of the women that you interviewed been able to read the play?

SA: We sent it to some of them but not all of them.

How do they feel?

SA: Really, they thank us a lot. It’s like, something gets heard, in America. It’s like, “Thank you, you did at least a drop in the ocean” … but  … feeling hope. It’s something like, “One day, people will hear about us.” A lot of times I feel like the Palestinian people, they’re hoping because they believe in God and believe in justice. One day, they will get their right.

DM: It’s very touching, because we keep an email contact with some of the people, and some we haven’t been able to. But when we went into rehearsal we were able to say, “We’re going into rehearsal and I included this story of yours, or that story …” and the emails we got back were very touching because people said, “Oh, you make my day, because I’ve been feeling despair.”

One of the things we were doing was there were two people we kept up with prominently during this two-year period, so we constructed them as the main characters, and then they play other characters as well, but we have the first part being the original material, and then in the second part we go back to them and find out how their lives have been and what they’ve been doing with the obstacles they’ve been encountering. 

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