myNewYorkeye: Tell us about the play?
Art Shrian: This powerful, tragic love story takes place in the most cultured society of its time, Islamic Baghdad, 1100 CE. The brilliant, beautiful daughter of a loving, tolerant, family, has three suitors. Two are childhood friends, the third a passionate, rising religious leader. His anti-intellectual movement will help destroy society. Ideas and ideals collide, as today, with dire consequences.
mNYE: Tell me about your role in the play?
AS: I play DIYA AL-DIN, the passionate, rising religious leader and suitor of the girl, Fatima. She is in love with Diya, his passion, his persona and invites him to meet her family. Diya has ambitious new ideas to spread knowledge and happiness all over the world. But for him, knowledge and happiness strictly comes from the study of Koran and submitting to Allah. When he finds people that do not share his point of view, a storm ensues leading to unexpected results.
mNYE: What is the most challenging part of the role for you?
AS: As an actor, when you play a character, you cannot identify it as an antagonist. That's for the audience to decide. So I had to understand and justify Diya's position and feelings. I had to work hard to empathize with him, even though he shares quite extremist views. Thankfully, our director JB Bruno shared the same view and we worked together to present Diya as a highly motivated and opinionated rather than a crazy person. Although challenging, it was a very interesting process and I'm very excited about the results.
mNYE: Talk a little bit about your passion for theater, what is it about a live audience that motivates us to late see you as a thespian?
AS: I strongly believe that theater is the highest form of acting, it's the pinnacle of art for the actors. The process of developing a character and story for the theater is just wonderful. From table-read to multiple rehearsals to live audience feedback, you get an opportunity to deeply understand and tailor the character in its best form. It's the best acting teacher and more.
When you are on the stage, you have nothing to hide behind and no do-overs, just like real life . You lay yourself bare in front of the audience. Which may be scary, but it's also highly inspiring and rewarding. To be able to bring characters and stories to life in front of a live audience, to be able to live the life of these characters on stage, non-stop for 90 minutes, and be able to get immediate feedback, hopefully, praises and admiration is unlike anything else.
mNYE: Last question what do you want people to take away from this place?
AS: We live in highly divided times right now, with people sharing extreme views and biases on each side. This play is like a reflection of the world we live in and gives a glimpse into the psyche of people. It's based on the truth of a prosperous time in the past, which got destroyed due to extremism and lack of human understand and connect. I hope people see the play and are able to relate to it in some way, which may lead us to realize the importance of acceptance, tolerance, and love.