Muslim theatre company challenges perceptions with 'Spun' in Centaur debut

The Silk Road Institute joined forces with Centaur Theatre to put on Spun, a play about being Muslim in a media storm. It makes its Montreal debut this week.

One of Montreal's newest theatre companies takes centre stage with thought-provoking play

Actors Sundance Nagrial, left, and Amena Ahmad play two friends in 'Spun.' In the play, mainstream hostility toward them causes one to reject her Muslim roots, and the other to embrace them. (Svetla Atanasova/Silk Road Institute)

Should a British play about two Pakistani friends dealing with malicious whispers and microaggressions be rewritten to take place in Quebec?

That's one of the questions the artists at the Silk Road Institute asked themselves when they decided to perform Spun by Rabiah Hussain — a play about two friends living in London after the 2005 terror attacks.

The characters struggle to process how people's attitudes toward them changed after the bombing. One decides to distance herself from her roots, while the other embraces them.

The play — still firmly set in London — opens at the Centaur Theatre this week. 

"We thought this is perfect for bringing to Quebec audiences because when they first come into the world of the play, they're able to have some distance," said director Mercedeh Baroque.

She thinks that approaching it this way means Montreal audiences won't feel as self-conscious while watching the play.

By the end of the show, people will, ideally, walk away asking questions about what can be done in terms of Muslim representation in the media and politics, she said.

"People need to know what kind of impact these discussions in the public sphere are having on young Muslims," Baroque said.

Spun director Mercedeh Baroque, left, and founder of the Silk Road Institute Mohamed Shaheen. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Enter Centaur Theatre

This is the second play by the Silk Road Institute, which initially billed itself as "Canada's first professional theatre company dedicated to celebrating Muslim stories."

Its first production, The Domestic Crusaders, was staged last year at a small space in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood.

Centaur Theatre's artistic director Eda Holmes attended the show and was impressed by the company. She hoped to bring a future show to the Centaur stage.

"Because they're the first self-identified Muslim theatre company in Montreal, I wanted to see their work," Holmes said.

She met Silk Road's founder, Mohamed Shaheen, who spoke about Spun and how relevant it would be for Canadian audiences.

They decided that staging it at Centaur, Montreal's oldest English-language theatre company, would be a way to get as many people invested in the conversation as possible.

Baroque, the director, hopes children and teenagers from minority groups in particular will attend the show.

"Young people who are a part of a minority group have to deal with this coming-of-age struggle much sooner than the majority groups," she said.

Silk Road Institute's first play, The Domestic Crusaders, was performed in a small, NDG venue last year. (Silk Road Institute/Facebook)

She thinks the play will help them process how they are portrayed in the media, so that they can develop a healthier, more nuanced understanding of themselves and their culture.

For Holmes, it's another step toward cementing Centaur as a space that nurtures young artists in the city.

"We're trying to expand everyone's notion of what English theatre can be in Montreal," Holmes said.

Spun is on at the Centaur Theatre (453 St-Francois Xavier Street) from September 19 to 28.


Elysha Enos


Elysha Enos is a journalist with CBC Montreal.


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