December 4, 2022
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Life & Culture

Students collaborate on cross-cultural theater project

Associate professor Kathleen Mulligan and Ithaca College students worked with a creative team made up of U.S. and Pakistani citizens to create a cross-cultural piece of theater about violence with their production “On Common Ground.”

Playwright Linda Alper, director David Studwell and Pakistani artists Imran Iftikhar and Rabia Pasha from Theatre Wallay in Pakistan came to Ithaca to collaborate with students from the college from Oct. 19 to Nov. 14. The production has been in development since 2016.

“It was an amazing experience,” Pasha said. “What was really important was sharing experiences that we have in Pakistan with experiences that they have in the U.S. and realizing that we’re really not that different.”

Mulligan and Studwell are both Fulbright scholars. The production was funded by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad through a $347,000 grant Mulligan applied for.

Mulligan said she asked for the grant because the embassy had approached Theatre Wallay, asking them to do another project with the U.S. after their initial success with a similar collaboration with Theatre Wallay on “Voices of Partition” in 2015.

The purpose of the residency was to collaborate with students from the college to create new material for “On Common Ground.” Fifteen students from the college participated in the Block II course Rehearsal and Performance for one credit in conjunction with the project.

To create the script, Alper said, she gave prompts to the Pakistani actors in Theatre Wallay to get a sense of their own stories surrounding the topic of public spaces, such as their favorite memories of a public space. She used those prompts to create a cohesive script for the production.

“We’re all dealing with they’re really dealing with, in a very extreme way losing public space because of so much terrorism and violence that has compromised their public spaces,” Alper said.

Similarly, Alper said she gave prompts to students at the college to write about public spaces from their perspective. The material they worked on together may be featured in the Spring 2018 tour of “On Common Ground” in the Pakistani cities Peshawar, Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, Mulligan said.

Audrey Lang, a sophomore theater studies major, worked with the “On Common Ground” team in a stagemanaging role and as a writer. Lang said it is exciting that the work could be featured in the Pakistan tour.

“It’s interesting how a project like this could connect people who, otherwise, I never would have met,” Lang said.

During the residency, Alper, Studwell, Iftikhar, Pasha and Mulligan also presented a panel at the Fulbright Association conference Fulbright: Now More Than Ever in Washington, D.C. Studwell said they presented the panel “Finding Common Ground Through the Art of Theatre” on Nov. 6 because they never would have been able to work on the production without the Fulbright Association.

Before the residency, “On Common Ground” toured in Oregon in the summer of 2016.

Senior Rachel Canter, a theater arts management major, and junior Juliana Ardila, a documentary studies and production major, worked on the tour.

“Before I was with Theatre Wallay, I didn’t even like theater,” Ardila said. “I was just there for a job, but they honestly made me fall in love with theater.”

She said her job was to follow around the actors and other team members to capture the trip and make a video. During the trip, Ardila said she made some of the best friends she has ever had.

“We’re all really the same,” she said. “It’s so funny how people think that we’re so different but really we’re the same. Our jokes are just in different languages.”

Canter said she had a management role in the production and spent a lot of time managing the grants. She said she also worked in publicity and public relations.

“From waking up and going to sleep, being surrounded by the artists I was working with and the art we were doing,” Canter said. “It was a nice little taste of professionalism and working on the real show.”

As the tour moves on to Pakistan in the spring, Alper said, the U.S. team will no longer be continuing with the production.

The grant does not include funding for the U.S. members to continue on the spring tour, and they all have previous obligations in the U.S., so they will not continue on the tour, Mulligan said.

Ashley Stalnecker can be reached at or via Twitter: @Ashley_Stal