Authenticity vs. Opportunity: New Possibilities in MENASA Recognition & Representation

Zoom Panel Discussion

Watch with an Ars Nova Supra Subscription



Curated by Vision Resident RONA SIDDIQUI

Originally Premiered February 8, 2021
Estimated Run Time: 90 minutes


THOMAS SIMSARIAN DOLAN (Moderator) A performer turned academic, Thomas is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Studies at George Washington University, focusing on Middle Eastern diaspora and race. A recent recipient of the Calouste Gulbenkian Global Excellence Scholarship and Fulbright, Thomas has also published in the academic journal Mashriq & Mahjar, The Armenian Weekly, Huffington Post, Muftah, Arab America, HowlRound and Queerty, among others.

AZITA GHANIZADA (Panelist) was born at some point in between the Iran Revolution and the Soviets invading Afghanistan. Her family fled Afghanistan and landed in the suburbs outside the US Capitol as political asylum seekers. Her childhood wasn’t easy. The next several years following their displacement, her family would try their best to assimilate and resettle while working tirelessly on getting their immediate family out of various refugee camps, out of war and hostility and close to them in Northern Virginia. Having learned English on TV, she dreamed of being on television, so after graduating from University, she bought a one-way ticket to Hollywood, landing shortly before 9/11 and somehow found her way to becoming one of the first women from Afghanistan to lead a series on television in the US. Crediting only instinct and naivete, Azita has continued to work consistently on film and television, holding her own opposite Academy Award Winners and nominees such as Rachel Weisz, Mahershali Ali. David Strathairn, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Casey Affleck and others. But it was in 2017 that Azita had one of her greatest achievements, after two years of lobbying and studying the census, the contracts the diversity MOUs, Azita helped build the MENA category into the SAG-AFTRA theatrical contracts. The first time in 37 years a new diversity category had been introduced into Hollywood. She then went on to launch MENA Arts Advocacy and presented the first-ever study showing the bleak representation for MENA performers on television. Azita’s work with MAAC has been non-stop over the last several years from building the category; to rolling out education for studios and networks on the MENA experience in the arts; training casting directors on the MENA and MENASA regions; helping create open calls for Hollywood to get to learn more about MENA and South Asian performers; partnering with the US Census to increase education on the MENA category, and so much more.  She stumbled onto a path that hadn’t been plowed before and fights to help open the door, not just for her diaspora, but for the MENA region as a whole, and it’s only just begun.  Last year, she gave her first TedXTalk on the subject, and she has three films slated to premiere in 2021.   

JAMIL KHOURY (Panelist) is the Co-Founder and Executive Artistic Director of Silk Road Rising, an art-making and arts service organization that shapes conversations about Asian, Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans. A theater producer, playwright, essayist and filmmaker, Khoury’s work focuses on Middle Eastern themes and questions of Diaspora. He is particularly interested in the intersections of culture, national identity, religion and belonging.

SHARONE SAYEGH (Panelist) most recently played Bonnie on the 1st National Tour of Come From Away. Before that, she originated the role of Anna in The Band’s Visit on Broadway (OBC). Other Broadway: Mamma Mia!. Off Broadway: Mrs. Trumbauer in Road Show (City Center Encores), Anna in The Band’s Visit (Atlantic Theater Co, World Premiere), Sharone in The Wildness (Ars Nova, World Premiere), and Scheherazade in Scheherazade (Prospect Theater Co). Regional: La Jolla Playhouse, Muny, Florida Rep, San Jose Rep. TV: Instinct (CBS), Limitless (CBS). Syracuse University Alum, @sharonesayegh

TORANGE YEGHIAZARIAN (Panelist) is the Founding Artistic Director of Golden Thread Productions, the first American theater company focused on the Middle East where she launched such visionary programs as ReOrient Festival, New Threads, Fairytale Players and What do the Women Say?, and timely initiatives such as Islam 101 and Project Alo? Torange has been recognized by Theatre Bay Area and is one of Theatre Communication Group’s Legacy Leaders of Color. She was honored by the Cairo International Theatre Festival and the Symposium on Equity in the Entertainment Industry at Stanford University. A playwright, director and translator, Torange contributed a case study chapter to “Casting a Movement”, forthcoming from Routledge, 2019. Her translation and stage adaptation of Nizami’s Leyla Majnun is published on She has been published in The Drama Review, American Theatre Magazine, AmerAsia Journal, and contributed to Encyclopedia of Women Islamic Cultures and Cambridge World Encyclopedia of Stage Actors. At Golden Thread, Torange directed OH MY SWEET LAND by Amir Nizar Zuabi, and the premieres of OUR ENEMIES: LIVELY SCENES OF LOVE AND COMBAT and SCENIC ROUTES by Yussef El Guindi, THE MYTH OF CREATION by Sadegh Hedayat, TAMAM by Betty Shamieh, STUCK by Amir Al-Azraki, VOICE ROOM by Reza Soroor, and adapted the poem, I SELL SOULS by Simin Behbehani for the stage. Torange was a member of the artistic team that developed BENEDICTUS, a collaboration among Iranian, Israeli and American artists. She received a Gerbode-Hewlett Playwright Commission Award for ISFAHAN BLUES, a co-production with African American Shakespeare Company, and a commission from the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California to write THE FIFTH STRING: ZIRYAB’S PASSAGE TO CORDOBA. Other plays include 444 DAYS, WAVES, and CALL ME MEHDI, included in the anthology “Salaam. Peace: An Anthology of Middle Eastern-American Drama,” TCG, 2009. Born in Iran and of Armenian heritage, Torange holds a Master’s degree in Theater Arts from San Francisco State University.