A mystical plotline, original music and colorful costumes enthralled audiences at King’s Academy last week at its annual fall play. The Conference of the Birds drew a full house three nights in a row as the Department of Fine and Performing Arts presented a completely original play, created and performed by the King’s Players* and supported by the student-led technical theater crew.
The play was inspired by the Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar’s 12thcentury poem Manṭiq-uṭ-Ṭayr, which weaves together symbolism and wordplay in a metaphysical and spiritual story of struggle, reflection and enlightenment. The Conference of the Birds follows a motley flock of birds who embark on a journey together to find the legendary Mt. Qaf and Simurgh, king of all birds, their only hope to find a cure for the dreaded bird flu.
The students were involved in every step of the creative process, from scriptwriting and songwriting, to helping design their costumes and handling backstage technical lighting, music and cues. According to Director Victoria Moyer, who teaches drama at King’s, creating the play was a total perspective shift for the students, who are generally used to the more traditional approach of reading pre-written lines.
“They gained a sense of ownership and empowerment as creators,” said Moyer. “The process embodies so much of who they are. If one student was different, the whole dynamic, the whole play, would have been different.”
“I had to write some scenes and it was harder than I thought it would be,” said Jamila Kurani ’19 who played Duck in the play. “But it was nice to write your own dialogue and make your ideas come to life.”
The students had the opportunity to think like directors as well as actors. The process started with the whole cast working together over five weeks to develop the ‘big picture’ of the play.
“Before, you would have to act out someone else’s vision, and that’s difficult, but figuring out what you yourself want the play to be is difficult in a different way,” said Kurani.
“What is so great about this play is that it really doesn’t matter what your role is, because it was such a democratic process creating it together,” said Abigail Smith ’17 who played Hoopoe.
Writing the play themselves meant that the students had a lot more rehearsals and work to do to pull it all together. As a large cast, spending so much time with each other through every step of the process was also at times challenging, according to Moyer.
“We all had different visions for the play but had to meet each other half-way. That was hard and sometimes frustrating but it helped me grow as an actress,” said Maya Abdul-Qader ’17 who played Crow.
The play was performed in the smaller, more intimate space of the Gallery, which Moyer explained was a deliberate decision in order to allow the actors to connect with the audience, and draw them into the performance.
The birds journeyed through seven valleys - representing quest, love, understanding, independence, unity, astonishment and death – before they reached the top of Mt. Qaf. During their travails the characters learned important lessons and truths about themselves.
“Each one of us contributed something of ourselves to the characters, so there was some self-exploration as we wrote the play,” said Abdul-Qader.
At the end of their physical, and spiritual, journey, the birds walked through fire to reach King Simurgh. As they came through the other side, they did not find the king; instead, they were faced with their own reflections and realized the power was within themselves all along.
Art seems to have imitated life for the student-artists, who on their own journey to create this production discovered strengths and talents they never knew they had, and grew in the process.
“Creating your own work is a personal and emotional investment, and so many of them overcame their fears through this process,” said Moyer. “It was one of the best feelings I had as a director, seeing how proud of themselves they are.”
Actors*: Abigail Smith ’17, Nabila Siregar ’19, Hashim Khalayleh ’18, Hadeel Al-Shawwa ’19, Jamila Kurani ’19, Hazar Ghaith ’19, Seif Ariqat ’18, Yara Mustafa ’20, Maya Abdul-Qader ’17, Rakan Haddadin ’19, Elyana Konsul ’18, Selina Al-Masarwah ’19, Zaid Al Zoubi ’20