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Mimi's Suitcase Premieres in NYC



Photo: Lisa Keating

Design: Roshi Nouri              


Nader Bayat: An actor remembered

"Stranger in the World" (circa 1962)

Not only because he was my father, but because he was a true lover of film and theatre. He didn’t need to be actively acting to be involved. He didn’t watch films, he devoured them and was able to even recognize the actors involved in the shortest of scenes. He loved his chosen craft in the real sense of the word.

Nader Bayat studied acting in Germany and appeared as Napoleon Bonaparte in a Kurt Fleischer feature film alongside Vera Chekova before returning to his native Tehran and join the Anahita School of Acting established by the pioneers of “method acting” in the early 1960s. The Oskui couple had studied under the guidance of Yuri Zavadsky, a direct student of Yevgeny Vakhtangov, himself a favorite of Stanislavsky at the prestigious Moscow state Institute of Performing Arts.

What Anahita Theatre offered students who underwent the two-year training was the opportunity to become repertory actors. They toured, to great acclaim, such classics as Shakespeare’s Othello, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.  

At the age of 25, Nader Bayat made his directorial debut with his own screenplay about a young deaf artist living by the Caspian sea who falls in love with the unattainable girl due to their social class divide. I was a Stranger in the World was considered an art film at a time when "film Farsi" (superficially-themed films that often included cabaret scenes of song and dance as well as honor fights) was the way to safisfy box offices.

In addition to the screenplay, which he wrote in his early 20s, Nader essentially undertood any and all tasks involved in a feature film production including dubbing 9 different voices in post-production, editing and producing (supported by his family).

Nader Bayat was fluent in German, English, Spanish, Azeri Turkish and Persian.

Nader Bayat in: "dar donya biganeh budam" (1962) with Azar Hekmat Shoar, Ali Azad, Nadereh, Vala Magham, Moghbeli and Akbar Hashemi. 



Show must go on

If theatre is the mirror to society, relationships and the human condition, nothing could be more relevant than Arnaud d’Usseau & James Gow’s 1946 play Deep Are the Roots in light of recent racial tensions in North American society.

Deep Are the Roots, in three acts, was performed in the same year it was written on Broadway and directed by Elia Kazan. It was received with controversial reviews for its subject matter, still relevant today in the U.S.A.

Forty three years later and ten years after the Iranian revolution, the same play “Risheha Amighand” opened in Theatre Sangladj, Tehran, in Persian. I played the part of Nevi Langdon, the white teenage daughter of senator Langdon, who falls in love with the black house servant's son upon his return from Europe in military uniform. Their love, within the story, symbolizes the need for serious change in North America and everything that is wrong with racism.

While in 1946 Deep Are the Roots was controversial for its inherent subject matter, in 1989 Tehran it was for the actors’ costumes and attire. Since headscarves had become compulsory after the revolution, how could we possibly present a believable piece of theatre if we could not stay truthful to the period we were to represent and reproduce? How could we possibly achieve this without reproducing the appearance of American women in the 1940s? How could we possibly by-pass wearing headscarves? Could we achieve this at all?

The cast involved seven actors and four actresses. If we could use tailor-made costumes and authentic-looking wigs, the restrictions placed on us would not interfere with the recreation of a senator’s mansion in America’s Deep South.

After months of rehearsals and consultation with professional designers (such as the veteran makeup artist Maheen Meehan), the decision was taken to seek the approval of the authorities in order to be the first theatrical group to use wigs on stage after the 1979 revolution and therefore fulfill both purposes: keep the authorities happy and stay faithful to the original feel and look of the play.

To our surprise, this authorization was indeed granted shortly before opening night which was an exciting and a well-attended evening of theatre critics and industry professionals.  

How far are you willing to go in the name of art? 

The usual pre-show announcements were made (there were no cell phones at that time) including asking audience members not to take photographs.

During the scene pictured (the only photograph left of that production), a sensitive exchange between two sisters who might represent change and tolerance in society, I noticed a flash aimed at us. During intermission, I mentioned this backstage. We had noticed that a rather big and bright flash was going off during the show. We thought it was a theatre critic taking photos of opening night.

When acting becomes a risky affair

Day two was accompanied by the same excitement that is typical of a full production (actors getting ready in the green room, more fittings and adjustments post opening, flowers delivered backstage, etc.).  I noticed a group had gathered in one of the green rooms, whispering. They didn’t want me to see. The flash I had noticed the night before was that of the photo that appeared the next morning in the conservative paper “resalat”. In it, along with the big black cross across our faces, the writer was warning people to “wake up and see what in the name of theatre was being served” to the people who had been “sacrificing martyrs for our sake and safety”. In “return”, we were parading on the sage looking like “whores” much like the ones from the Shah’s time.

Going on stage after this article was completely up to us. It was becoming a risky affair. We gathered, discussed, and decided to continue with the show.  

Show must go on

To run or not to run? That is the question with which we were faced. Like a cliffhanger at the end of a bad soap opera. 

Day twenty three had some more unexpected excitement in store for us. This time, a group of five thugs had shown up with cold weapons in the lobby with the intention to intimidate us and stop the show. The long-time theatre caretaker was the liaison between us, backstage, front-of-house, the box office and audience members. He warned us. We gathered again and, this time, female our director (Massi Taghipour) asked everyone to vote. The question was: Should we or should we not continue with the run? I was touched by some of the responses: that, though everyone was alright continuing the run at all costs, what if someone attacked one of us during the show? Would the rest of the cast keep quiet? Not interfere? React?

Curiously, all of our male cast members remarked that they could not picture themselves being indifferent should any one of us be under attack of any kind. Therefore, it was decided that, despite all the hard work and good intentions, faced with intimidation and threat, we should not go ahead with the production knowing that those who were threatening us were indeed in the lobby and had announced their presence and intentions.  

Since I was routinely the youngest member of any cast in those days, in this production too, everyone seemed to be very protective of me and wanted to see me safe. Therefore, they had my guests -who had already arrived in the lobby- pick me up from the back alley connected to our stage door and take me away in their jeep before any announcements were made to a full house of eager audience members.

Sadly, the show was cancelled and tickets refunded.

Questions that still remain are:

What happens when authoritarian regimes have conflicted views on art?

What should an artist do under such circumstances? Stay and “fight” or leave the country?

How much should artists risk for their craft?

Does art truly flourish under oppression?

And, the biggest question that remains when you think of becoming an actor is: Are you an actor for a season or for a lifetime?  

Photo: Resalat newspaper 



Image copyright: Is your image yours at all times?

What happens when your image is used without your permission?

This portrait was spotted in a "cheesy" art gallery at a mall in Dubai. We don't know who the artist is or how they obtained an image of my face. What we do know is that this image is most likely from the western style film "tighe aftab" shot in 1990 in Isfahan, Iran, in which I played the part of a Kurdish girl. 



Here is a shot from the actual feature shot in 1990 with the late Jahangir Forouhar:



Is it legal to use someone else's face in a painting without their knowledge or permission?



So you think you want to be a freelance VO director?

Voice acting is not unlike other forms of acting: It arises from a place of truth and conviction. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, voice can be the sound of the heart’s feelings and emotions. In commercial voice over, if the talent is excited about announcing a new product, their voice will carry that enthusiasm. If you are enthusiastic, your audience will experience that too. If the voice over project calls for a serene and calm voice to promote a yoga or meditation retreat, the voice announcing the retreat will reflect that tranquility. There are many ways to guide the talent to obtain the result your project needs. One path is to give the talent a hint of the type of feeling you ultimately want their voice to carry such as winning the lottery for excitement, reaching a seemingly unlikely goal for perseverance, finding cure for a terminal illness for progress, science and hope. The list goes on. Directing talent is about communicating with them and not dictating to them. Provide them with a clear situational framework to get closer to the text and the result might even be better than you had envisioned.                 Directing a voice over project implies you are familiar with basic acting principles. It signals you are on the same page as the talent you are about to direct and that presumably you speak the same language. Directing with some familiarity of the artistic intricacies involved in the creative process of acting can make all the difference in the outcome of the project. Conversely, taking the text apart, not allowing talent to give a few uninterrupted read-throughs with natural flow and micro-managing to the point of taking a word apart too often can make the talent lose sight of the entirety and purpose of the text at hand and become a mechanical tool that is being used in a non-creative way.        

It is magic when the dance happens because no one is stepping on the other person’s toes. The voice talent becomes nothing but an instrument when direction is approached from a mechanical standpoint and creative freedom is stifled. A successful voice over project will no doubt opt to dance.