In a small coffee shop in Brooklyn, I met with Nadine Malouf the actor for our fall production of Oh My Sweet Land. We began later than planned, joking about how the MTA never fails to let us down. As we laughed over some coffee, I, an eager theatre student graduate began a conversation with Nadine about the nature of acting in NYC. It was simple and fun, two gals having a chat in a coffee shop.
As the conversation continued and we grew more comfortable speaking we began to draw on larger questions about the importance of risk taking, and the excitement this can often bring. It eventually became clear our topic was shifting into something much larger than ourselves; understanding the importance of theatre in our crazy world today. And answering a much harder question, why should we and do we continue creating in this often chaotic world?
How did you initially hear about Oh My Sweet Land?
Actually I first heard about it when it was being done in London at the Old Vic because I had friends who went to go see it and they told me how incredible it was. Years had gone by and I was in Calgary doing a play up there in Canada and my agent sent me a thing that said Oh My Sweet Land and I was like oh what? I know this, what is this?
What was the audition process like?
Unlike any other process because I was in Canada. I taped an audition. First off usually in the self-tapes you just have the blank wall, the standard actor tape. But this one was all about food and cooking so I decided to tape in my kitchen and I was cooking during the entire tape. I just let the camera run and I was doing the excerpts I chose and then they said they wanted to see me again and we did a skype audition which was so weird. I had never done it before. I was so nervous. It was so weird digitally. And the first day when we got here everyone was like it’s nice to see you again and I’m like I haven’t truly met you because I wasn’t actually in the room.
Have you ever done a site-specific piece? What scared you the most about this process?
I’ve never done a site-specific piece. I’ve always wanted to. I don’t know if I am scared of the site-specific stuff but it will be a challenge to be in a different kitchen every night. I will really have to be focused and really precise with my journey so that you can just plop me anywhere and I can just adapt. That’s hopefully the goal of rehearsal. It doesn’t matter where I am, I’ll just be able to do the show.
What has it been like working with PlayCo?
It’s exciting, I really love Playco. Everyone is so warm and open and passionate about what they do, there is a wonderful energy here. Everyone is here because they love to be here. It was a lovely and emotional first day to sort of be in the circle of everyone in the company. I was sort of nervous to do a one person show, I had never done it before. I love to feel like part of a community and I got that on the first day. And it was just “oh I can breathe”, this is my company moment.
What excites you most about this process?
That it terrifies me.
It keeps you on your toes!
It keeps me on my toes but there are also so many things that are frightening. Especially in the last few years I’ve really loved understanding what I am afraid of and going to the center of it and looking it dead in the eye. This, the fact that it is just me up there is incredibly daunting. To do a one-person show like this, I really need the audience. Also, the cooking. I love to cook, but never have I ever cooked during a show, the closest I’ve come is making a salad on stage.
Also the subject matter. It is so personal to me and personal to so many people you do feel a kind of responsibility and the weight of that. And you try to do it justice; it’s a delicate thing to not tip too far on either side with it.
How has the rehearsal process helped you in building the connection to the text?
Amir is really just extraordinary, and brings a whole new perspective and I truly trust him to steer this ship. Because right now in rehearsal I’ve kind of been plopped in the depths of it. And I’m focused on so many things, the technicality of the recipe, or the words themselves, and the beautiful text he’s written, and the kitchen… there are so many levels that I am sort of traveling through in rehearsal.
It’s also been really fun to cook, and Amir is a great cook, and to explore culturally what that is. It doesn’t feel like rehearsal, at break time it’s like take a ten-minute break and I’m like I thought we were on a break. It doesn’t feel like any kind of work, I mean it is intense but it really is so rich and has so many layers. It is never boring.
Why should we be producing “Oh My Sweet Land” now?
I think we are in a time where we get so much information so quickly. You just get so much so quickly that I think sometimes I feel that it can be hard to see the depth of things, and the complexity of things and the humanity of things. In a time where so much of our lives are lived online, you don’t actually get to see the human being on the other side, who they are, what they think… or what they eat.
Food -it sounds like a cliché, but I think it sounds like a cliché because it is true – food is what really connects people. So, I think this show now is incredibly important to shed some light on a culture, on a people I think that are sometimes thought of as a number, or a statistic, or a headline. But these are real people with real lives. And I think this show also brings up a lot of questions; which is exciting. Because I never want to be part of something that tells people what to think, I am interested in exploring a conversation. And you can’t have a conversation when answers are being given to you. You can only have a conversation with questions.
It’s interesting, I think that today what we are missing is that “intimacy” needed to connect.
Yeah it is so funny, this world is smaller and far more connected, because we can know what’s happening in Syria right now, you can read a tweet, you can see a picture. So in that sense we are incredibly connected. But there is still this digital kind of wall; you’re not there, you can’t touch the person, smell them, hear their voice, feel their energy. There’s a very strange duality in our society today. But this show really goes into the heart of the home, the kitchen and that’s very intimate.
There is power in creating food and connecting it to your own culture. Do you feel it helps connect you or do you think you need to know more?
Well, both. I already had a connection to the culture, I grew up with the dish, a slightly different version of the dish but the same ingredients, the same concept. It is already deeply meaningful to me and my family and where I come from and at the same time specifically, Syria is something I need to explore far more deeply.
Like she says in the play it is all about the hands and the memory. You only learn it by doing it over and over again. So that’s really powerful.