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Meadows Seniors Explore International Relations With Original Play "Babela Rasa"

Meadows Exploration Award recipients tell a contemporary story with use of science fiction, music

Oftentimes hectic schedules leave Meadows students no time to relax or sleep, let alone ponder the world outside the walls of SMU. For two Meadows seniors, however, researching the outside world – the underground theatre scene in Iran, to be more specific – is exactly what they did this summer and fall.

The recent recipients of a Meadows Exploration Award, senior Theatre majors Piper Werle and Alia Tavakolian co-wrote and produced Babela Rasa, a play that explores the world of international relations in the form of a science fiction drama running this week in the Margo Jones Theatre.

“In early 2011, we found a New York Times article about an Iranian theater festival in New York that featured Iranian playwrights, including one named Nassim Soleimanpour,” said Tavakolian. “This got us thinking, what is theater like in a country with a completely different type of government? What would people in Iran feel compelled to make art about?”

Via Facebook, the pair then reached out to Soleimanpour, who lives in Shiraz, Iran – the cultural capital of Iran and the home of Tavakolian’s father.

“We told him of our desire to travel and experience the theater culture in Iran and he agreed to be our guide,” said Tavakolian.

Due to a complication involving her tourist visa status, Werle was unable to travel, but Tavakolian went ahead, ultimately visiting Shiraz and Tehran.

“I traveled for a month in July and toured theaters and the underground dance scene with Soleimanpour,” says Tavakolian. “I kept journals, captured film footage and conducted interviews with as many people as possible.”

Meanwhile, Werle was in Dallas conducting her own research.

“I learned a lot on my own about Iran - I wanted to get the facts about its history, leaders, government, and how it became a theocracy,” said Werle. “ While Alia was meeting and getting to know real people and individuals in Iran, I was attempting to get a handle on the big picture.”

But she was not alone. Alexandra Werle, Piper’s sister and alumna of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, agreed to direct the play and conducted research as well.

“Our research and reading wasn’t limited to the facts, but also included Middle Eastern poetry and memoirs by Iranian authors,” said Piper. “On top of this, we interviewed people in the U.S., trying to get as wide a variety of people’s voices as possible.”

Throughout the course of the stateside research, the Werle sisters began asking questions that helped spark ideas and concepts that resulted in the final draft of the play’s script.

“We asked Iranian Americans’ impressions of both the U.S. and Iran, along with other less direct questions such as ‘If you ruled the world, what are the first few things you would do?’ We got a variety of helpful and though-provoking answers,” said Piper.

The resulting production, a collaboration of theater and music, includes upwards of 30 characters and only six actors. Werle and Tavakolian both appear in the play, alongside Meadows alumni and members of the Dallas community.

“We feel that our world is increasingly national instead of increasingly global,” says Tavakolian. “Generally, the people of America and Iran don’t hate each other, and this play is meant to spread awareness of the enigma of poor international relations. It is our hope that with the audience, we can explore this world through the lens of science fiction and the tradition of the Theatre of the Absurd.”

Performances of Babela Rasa take place December 1 at 7:30 p.m., December 2 at 9:30 p.m., and December 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Margo Jones Theatre, in the Owen Arts Center. Admission is free. For more information, click here.

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