Several partners have come together around the five-day interactive performance, including the “City of Asylum” arts community in Pittsburgh and Rusted Radishes, a literary and arts magazine in Beirut. The show thus promises both an entertaining performance and solidarity with Beirut’s arts community, which has struggled in the wake of the August 4, 2020, port explosion and the spiraling rates of inflation and currency devaluations across Lebanon. (See two related articles, “Beirut Blast Cripples an Educational and Cultural Capital” and “Explosion Took a Heavy Toll on Beirut’s Arts and Culture Scene.”)
Why Pittsburgh and Beirut?
When the theater company first thought about bridging the distance between Pittsburgh and Beirut, Rice said, “we thought about our friend Milia Ayache,” a Beirut-based actor and writer who has spent time in Pittsburgh. Ayache will be the star and emcee of the show.
For this new staging of “The Birth of Paper,” Rice said, around forty volunteers have been recruited to write letters, assemble care packages, and get packages shipped from Pittsburgh to Beirut. These letters and packages will be opened in real time, as part of the show.
Throughout the performances, Ayache will also weave in research Rice has done about elements of history and horticulture shared by Pittsburgh and Beirut.
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In an interview published on HVY, Rice said the work “dances that line between distance and intimacy, between the real and the imagined.”
“We believe if you look hard enough, you’ll find connections,” Rice said at the launch event. “So we’ll see what kind of linkages we’re going to find.”
Indeed, Pittsburgh and Beirut both share a history of vibrant art and economic struggle. Although Pittsburgh has largely recovered from the collapse of the U.S. steel industry in the early 1980s, that era remains etched in the city’s memory.
Both cities also share a love of music, art, and partying, Ayache said at the launch event. Perhaps for this reason, both have been saddled with a comparison to Paris. While Beirut has been called “Paris of the Middle East,” Pittsburgh has been dubbed the “Paris of Appalachia.”
Both cities certainly know what it means to experience a rapid change of fortunes. “And in times of crisis,” Rice said at the launch event, “people need to express and to be connected.”
Solidarity That Spans Borders