Theater as Cultural Diplomacy in Paris, France

During the summer of 2016, SIPS funded Salma Khamis (SFS ’17) and Jonathan Thrall (SFS ’17) to travel to Paris, France to hold a two-week long workshop comprised of French citizens and their Middle Eastern refugee peers. Due to the ongoing European migrant crisis, France has witnessed an influx of refugees of Middle Eastern origin. Salma and Jonathan held this two week theater workshop to facilitate dialogue and understanding between French and refugee people living in Paris to address the societal fractures underlying today’s France and ease refugees’ process of integration.

Not only was Salma and Jonathan’s workshop successful in becoming a depoliticized, safe space for cultures, languages, and ideas to flow freely, but both of them could see active changes in the way that their participants responded to one another over the course of these two weeks. Salma and Jonathan documented the entire workshop with videos and photographs – this footage is being put together now, hoping to be debuted around January. This footage will be used to deconstruct the harmful stereotypes in characterizing the traditional portrayal of Middle Eastern identity in European discourse.

About Salma and Jonathan: Salma and Jonathan became interested in theater as cultural diplomacy through their academic and personal experiences. Jonathan, a dual citizen, became aware of the discriminatory assumptions of contemporary politics in his home countries of France and the United States while Salma, born and raised in Egypt, became interested in ‘discursive spaces’ where unprejudiced intercultural engagement can occur. As a student of comparative studies, Salma’s primary academic focus is the building of intellectual, linguistic, and cultural bridges where they have yet to exist. Meanwhile, through his studies, Jonathan is interested in the construction of exclusionary group identities. This project is a combination of these experiences and their background in theater performance.