Contemporary Theater Students Shed Light on Refugee Story at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival

February 08, 2018

Sophomore students from Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s contemporary theater program were honored to perform their devised work, Displaced: A Response to Qurban (2017), at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), Region 1, on February 2. The theme for this year’s KCACTF was “50 years of social change,” and was held at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut. Each year, KCACTF gathers roughly 18,000 students from colleges and universities from around the country with the aim of elevating the quality of college theater programs.  

KCACTF’s keynote speaker, Mauricio Salgado—a noted artist, activist, and founding member of Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP)—was an artist in residence at the Conservatory during the fall 2017 semester. Salgado collaborated with visual artist An-Lin Dauber, composer Anaís Azul, dramaturg James Montano, and Conservatory movement coach Alli Ross to lead the creation of Displaced with the contemporary theater program’s sophomore class. The piece was presented at the end of the fall semester as part of the program’s Ensemble Performance Lab (EPL), which serves as both a learning environment and incubator for new works.

Displaced is a response to Qurban, a piece that explores the personal stories of teenage Afghan refugees Jawid Masumi and Jawad AliZadeh. Masumi and AliZadeh teamed up with Qurban’s cocreater and ASTEP member Abby Gerdts to write a play telling their story of migration from Afghanistan to Turkey. They hoped that the piece would both raise awareness about the complex challenges many Afghans face and celebrate the courage of those seeking sanctuary.

Gerdts and Salgado forged a partnership to continue building awareness through community opportunities like the sophomore Ensemble Performance Lab’s Displaced. Not only did Salgado bring the message and work of Qurban to the Conservatory’s students, but Masumi also made a surprise visit the Conservatory campus in the fall, and was interviewed by contemporary theater sophomores.

Contemporary theater student Susanne McDonald, a member of the ensemble, explains that interviewing Masumi was “essential in our process” of creating a response to Qurban. “The refugee experience is something that I will never understand and probably never go through. However, I can connect to the sense of displacement and the possibility that something like a hurricane could have the capability of creating a similar experience for me personally.”

McDonald and her fellow ensemble members were thrilled to have their work selected as part of KCACTF’s first-ever fringe festival, an ideal bookend to Salgado’s keynote address. Significantly, Displaced was the first student-devised work to be presented by the contemporary theater program to an off-campus audience, and was so well received that instructors from other institutions came away eager to bring the show to their schools.

“It was incredibly rewarding to hear that this story is something people believe should continue to be told, and that our approach moved people,” says Atlee Jensen, another sophomore contemporary theater student. “Performing at the festival reminded me how much we have learned during our time at the Conservatory—and reminded me of our potential as we continue forward.”

Learn more about the Conservatory’s B.F.A. in contemporary theater program, and learn more about the KCACTF.