No matter what his position, Ben-Abdallah has always kept writing plays. "Even while I was doing political work, I continued to write. I might have had serious problems during the day, but I could compensate for that by writing.
"My work with teachers throughout the country was critical," says Ben-Abdallah. "There could be no educational reform program without their support. All of this made me respect the need to maintain my links with the classroom and the grassroots. We need to always keep some of our very best people in the classroom."
During his time with the National Commission of Culture, Ben-Abdallah wrote Land of a Million Magicians, inspired by Brecht's The Good Woman of Szechuan, which was performed during a conference of the non aligned countries. Those countries define themselves as non aligned with any major power bloc.
"The play was a critique of socialism in Ghana. There was a joke at the time, the Nigerians would say to Ghanaians—how can all of these poor people feed themselves and do what they have to do?" says Ben-Abdallah. "In Africa, we do not have the luxury where writers can say, I'm not interested in politics."
Kahley MacLeod '12
Ben-Abdallah encourages his students to write a personal manifesto that they can revise as needed, but something for them to have now and take seriously.
"I tell them you have to be part of a tradition. Writers and artists since the beginning of time create work to shake society out of its slumber when it drifts into escapism," says Ben-Abdallah. "Here these students write on the foundation built by so many who dealt with the realities of their times—John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O'Neill."
And he emphasizes how critical it is to be flexible and ready to write for stage, television, cinema, or video.
These young UNH playwrights have got the message, especially the seniors. Dan Pelletier, a senior, wants to work in film and eventually to go to film school. Lauren Barton, a junior, plans to earn her master's degree and teaching certification in order to become a high school drama teacher. By fall of 2013, senior Khaley MacLeod will be in New York City to begin the professional auditioning process.
Lary, who also plans to earn her master's degree and teaching certification in both English and drama, speaks for many when she talks about her experience in the class: "Mohammed is like the cool playwright uncle I never had; that perfect combination of wisdom, humor, and genuine interest in what we are working on. These cross-cultural experiences are truly important and appreciated by students. I think bringing international professors and artists to Durham is a great way to support a more culturally aware student body."
Song of the Pharaoh
— Carrie Sherman
Mohammed Ben-Abdallah's teaching residency and play, Song of the Pharaoh, which was written for the UNH Department of Theatre and Dance, was made possible by Cultural Stages: The Woodward International Drama and Dance Initiative.
The world premiere of Song of the Pharaoh opens on April 18 and runs through April 22 at Johnson Theater. For tickets, call (603) 862-2290 or visit unhmub.com/ticket.
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