The talented DC favorite and Forum Ensemble member -- and currently playing Katurian Katurian Katurian in our production of The Pillowman shares some words with us in an interview with Audience Engagement Coordinator, Natalie Piegari.
NATALIE: You are an actor and writer, among other things. What role does storytelling play in your life? Why tell stories?
MABOUD: I believe that we are all storytellers in some way. I actually recently released a podcast episode about storytelling (Lights Up: The DC Theatre Podcast - Old Works, Different Takes, New Lives). If you go back, like waaaaay back, stories are how we taught each other how to hunt, and gather, and so on. But as we have evolved its become less about survival and more about understanding I think. Empathy, to begin with, is critical in our experiences as humans, and vital in our growth as individuals and as a society.
I think that stories offer us a way to understand aspects of our daily lives that we otherwise wouldn’t understand by providing a context in which to understand them, and enough distance to see the relation of a story to ourselves.
So in a way, it is a survival thing, just not in the immediate sense of when we were decoding cave paintings of how to hunt buffalo.
Beyond all of that, it’s a communal experience, storytelling. It’s a way to connect with something or someone outside of yourself.
NATALIE: What is the role of the theatre artist in serving as a vehicle for stories?
MABOUD: I think it is very much that, to serve as a vehicle for the story. Generally speaking, Theatre Artists, like good design, get out of the way of the story. That’s not to say that there isn’t artistry in the work we do, there is, but it all serves the work that is being presented. The story is trying to communicate something, we theatre artists help make it happen. We deliver the story to the audience.
Now of course, each production will be unique in the way it tells the story, thus adding another layer. In this case, you’re not just seeing The Pillowman, you’re seeing Forum Theatre’s production of The Pillowman, which carries with it the perspectives and ideas of the director Yury Urnov, myself, and the whole production team, and our interpretation. In effect, you’ll be seeing The Pillowman through our lens.
NATALIE: Why tell stories like the ones Katurian tells? Or, stories like the play PILLOWMAN?
MABOUD: Why tell stories at all I suppose. This is a difficult one. Perhaps I’m not the right person to answer this as I am currently very much steeped in the notion that a story doesn’t need to “say things” to be a good story but, not everything needs to have a goal or purpose or an answer to the question why. Sometimes the best response to the question of ‘why’ is simply ‘why not’.
I think the play The Pillowman illustrates the subject of censorship and personal responsibility in an intriguing way. There’s the conversation of violence on television but there are plenty of violent books out there as well, the Bible being one of many. So I think it’s easy to draw a hard and fast rule about these things and feel better about where we stand, when the truth is violence doesn’t make us nearly as uncomfortable as uncertainty and ambiguity do. Uncertainty and ambiguity in the face of morality, a morality that inevitably changes and morphs with society. As does truth.
NATALIE: Are stories, particularly allegorical ones, also supposed to be ethically upright and morally unambiguous?
MABOUD: No. I don’t think a story has any obligations to be any single thing at all, allegorical or not. Otherwise, you’d know how every story ends after finding out the main conflict. Allegory is basically an extended metaphor or a complete narrative where in characters and events often symbolize much larger ideas. If the devil is in the details, then ambiguity is the devil’s playground. And that I find much more interesting. You learn more outside of your comfort zone than in. So if a story only lives inside that comfort zone, then I don’t really see the point.
NATALIE: What does this production say that others do not?
MABOUD: I’m not sure about other productions, but I can say that one thing I think is very unique about Yury’s interpretation and presentation of this play sets up a sense of complicity on the part of the audience. I wouldn’t call it an interactive piece but it is more immersive than any other productions I’ve heard of. Some of our audience members have found it more affecting than others and for them, it enhanced the themes.
As a person who has done a fair amount of political and performance activism, I think one of the things it nods at is something Haile Selassie said, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”
NATALIE: Have you ever felt censored as an artist -- or in life?
MABOUD: Absolutely. As an Iranian living in a post-9-11 America, it’s a fact of life. Discrimination is a form of censorship. Prejudice is a form of censorship. Racism is a form of censorship. Beyond the obvious ways these things have played their parts in my everyday life, the more insidious ways it has effected my artistic expression has to do with the nature of how American theatre companies handle casting which is far from equitable.
NATALIE: What will you take away from playing Katurian in this particular production of The Pillowman?
MABOUD: Well, Katurian is a bucket-list character that I never thought I’d be given a chance to play (due to the aforementioned casting… issues) so there’s that for starters. Honestly, this is such a wildly different approach to the play that it’s not even the same character that I read on the page the very first time I read the play years ago. I can only describe this experience as a tapestry of feelings, full of surprises, scares, discoveries, mischief, and joy.
NATALIE: Two truths and a lie, please!
English is the third language I learned to speak.
I am ambidextrous.
People called me Mike for several years.
Natalie is a DC-based playwright, arts administrator and actor with a BA in Theatre from the University of Maryland. Plays she has written include Safe as Houses, The Funeral of Casey B. Collins, Left/Right, Sunday at St. Jude’s, Trash, the Knight’s Tale in Pointless Theatre Company’s production of Canterbury, Monster Match in Rorschach Theatre's Fall 2014 Klecksography: Haunting Monsters, and Unbound as part of University of Maryland's Alumni Commissioning Project at the NextNOW Festival. Her plays have been performed, workshopped and read at the University of Maryland, the Kennedy Center, and Mobtown Players in Baltimore. She founded and facilitates Bridge Club: A Writer's Collective, a writer's group that meets monthly. Upcoming: Normal/Magic, a fantastical double-feature, at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. @nataliepiegari