Hakawati, a non-profit storytelling project focusing on elevating the voices of frontline and marginalized communities, has announced five Los Angeles performances of “Azad” (“Free” in Armenian), one woman’s magical, multi-generational, healing journey from the Armenian Genocide to the Syrian war. The production weaves Karagöz puppetry, Hakawati storytelling, projections, and the sounds and smells of Aleppo to create a truly unique multimedia theatrical experience.
Performances are set for the Pico Playhouse on Thursday, April 21, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., Friday, April 22, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., and Saturday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m. The Saturday show will serve as a special 107th Armenian Genocide Commemoration and will include a post-performance Q&A with the artists moderated by actor Bill Pullman, and a reception.
For performances on Thursday, April 21 and Friday, April 22, tickets are $50 for general seating and $75 for VIP seating. All seats on Saturday, April 23, are $107. Tickets may be purchased online.
“Azad” is a kaleidoscopic story within a story within a story, centered on a storyteller’s discovery of her great-great grandfather’s shadow puppets in Aleppo during the Syrian war. A century after he salvaged his family and his art from the Armenian Genocide, she unearths a trunk in the attic of the family home, filled with his handmade puppets and ancient magic tricks. This journey leads the storyteller to discover “1001 Nights” and Scherazad (the bold, brilliant weaver of tales who counters destruction with creation) and catalyzes an epiphany — the frame story of “1001 Nights” is about how trauma transpires and how it is healed.
An immersive, magical, theatrical experience, “Azad” weaves together the classical art of oral Middle Eastern storytelling with centuries-old Anatolian Karagöz shadow puppets and the sounds and smells of Aleppo. The show transports the audience to a Middle Eastern coffee shop with its sounds and smells, where for centuries storytellers (Hakawatis) and Karagöz (a form of pre-cinema playing with shadow and light) shadow puppeteers performed the tales from “1001 Nights.” Transcendent, classical Middle Eastern music seamlessly blends with modern surround electronic soundscapes. The result is a multi-sensorial, time traveling exploration of healing — connecting us all to the legacy of a family of storytellers transmuting trauma into art.
“’Azad’ is a quantum collaboration between my great great grandfather and me — an understanding that in the deepest shadows, we find the brightest light,” said writer, performer, and co-director Sona Tatoyan. “We’re living in an upside-down world. It’s time for storytellers to show the way to a new narrative — one that heals trauma instead of perpetuating it.”
Tatoyan is a first generation Syrian-Armenian-American with bases in Aleppo, Syria; Berlin, Germany; Yerevan, Armenia; and Los Angeles. As an actress, her stage credits include world premieres at Yale Repertory Theatre, The Goodman Theatre, The American Conservatory Theatre, and others. She starred in “The Journey,” the first American independent film shot in Armenia. As a writer, her first feature film script, “The First Full Moon,” was a 2011 Sundance/ RAWI Screenwriters Lab participant and a 2012 Dubai Film Connection/Festival Project. She served on the World Cinema Jury of the Duhok IFF in Iraqi Kurdistan (2016) and as Rudolf Arnheim Guest Artist Professor at Humboldt University in Berlin, (2017).
“From the start, we knew we had something special. We knew that we could push the limitations of traditional theatre to a blend of a play and an immersive experience,” said co-director Jeremy Boxer. “Using specialized sound, light, and smell to transport audiences, we’ve created a magical experience of storytelling at its finest.”
Boxer is a French-Tunisian-American award-winning creative director and filmmaker based in LA, New York, and London, working for the past two decades at the leading edge where film, performance, technology, and art intersect. He has worked in film, experience design, immersive theater, virtual reality, and augmented reality for some of the world’s leading brands including Sundance, British Film Institute, TED, Planet Home, Tribeca Enterprises, Palm Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Playstation, to name a few.
Along with Tatoyan and Boxer, collaborators on the project include Ahmed Sayeed(Karagöz puppeteer), KÁRYYN (music and soundscape composer), Dimitris Mahlis (Oud performer), Antoine Makdis (Aleppo producer; Aleppan sounds and footage), Gabrieal Griego (producer), and Garo Kharadjian (associate producer).
For more information on “Azad” and Hakawati, visit the website. The Pico Playhouse is located at 10508 W. Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, 90064.