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Dr. Ed. Simone, professor of theater and director of the theater program at St. Bonaventure University, spent a week in Kuwait as an envoy for the U.S. State Department’s Arts Envoy Program.
Simone was invited to Kuwait City by Zennia Paganini, Ph.D., cultural attaché for the United States Embassy in Kuwait. Simone spent the week teaching master classes and workshops in acting and voice production, broadcasting and film, as well as presenting readings of classic American verse.
Simone was in Kuwait from Feb. 4-11, and was accompanied by his wife, Leigh, assistant professor of modern languages at SBU.
“The schedule was very full, and I moved from one style of teaching to another, often within the same day,” Simone said. “I’d been invited to several arts institutions and schools, so each class or event was different.”
Simone taught two master classes at LOYAC-LAPA, the Academy of Performing Arts in Kuwait that opened in 2010. LAPA is the first academy in Kuwait that teaches and offers space to all aspects of the performing arts through classes, intensive workshops, and performances. Simone led a workshop in character voice production, as well as a two-day master class in mask acting.
“The masks free the actor to find detailed physical character. I’ve used them with my SBU students for years,” Simone said. “Some of the LAPA students were experienced actors and some were just beginning; but they really responded enthusiastically to the mask work.”
The 20 students in the workshop weren’t hampered by any language barriers, he said.
“Most of the students knew English; but for those that didn’t, it really didn’t matter. The mask work transcends spoken language and allows for a purely physical communication,” said Simone. “It was wonderful to watch the work unfold with the LAPA students.”
Simone also taught an abbreviated version of the mask workshop to theater students at The American University of Kuwait.
In addition to his theater workshops and classes, Simone conducted a roundtable discussion involving radio and TV broadcasters at the Kuwait Ministry of Information. Simone has worked as a broadcaster and voice talent for decades.
“It really was a most convivial exchange among pros,” Simone said. “A wonderful cross-cultural discussion of ideas and experiences about the way broadcasting has changed and how it affects us all. I really enjoyed it.”
Simone’s visit to the Ministry included an appearance on the “Breakfast Show with Tee and Aki” on Super Station 99.7, and a visit with Undersecretary of the Ministry of Information Tareq Eid Al-Mezrem.
Later in the week, Simone met with several Kuwaiti filmmakers and held a workshop and roundtable in directing dialogue in film. The gathering of beginning and experienced directors included Ahmad Abdullah Alkhudari, whose 2016 short film, “The Unmissing Part,” won 10 international film awards. Simone coached dialogue scenes and monologues and exchanged ideas about writing and lensing dialogue scenes.
“It was a great experience to work with such gifted filmmakers and share ideas and techniques,” Simone said.
While in Kuwait, Simone also performed readings of verse by American poets including Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, John Crowe Ransom, William Carlos Williams, and Kahlil Gibran. Audiences included students at two secondary schools and at the Divan at Surdab Lab, an arts collective in the city. The Surdab Lab reading was sponsored by the Kuwait Poets Society.
“The audiences at the high schools were full of youthful enthusiasm and appreciation. The Surdab Lab audience was made up of poets, scholars and professionals who know and love poetry. It was a different experience reading for them,” said Simone.
KPS member Nada Faris, whose most recent collection of poems, “Fountain of Youth,” was published by Vine Leaves Press, called Simone’s reading of American poetry “inspirational.”
Simone was also asked to respond to poetry written by Society members. One of the KPS poets wrote that Simone’s feedback and comments on his poetry “made me believe in my art once more.”
“I was in awe of the talent of these poets,” Simone said. “They write and proclaim their poetry with such intensity and passion. They’re amazing witnesses and cultural muses.”
During their visit, the Simones visited Kuwait’s Grand Mosque, and were given a tour of the Tareq Rajab Museum of Islamic Calligraphy by curator and noted calligrapher Abbas Aldashti. They were also guests at the U.S. Embassy National Day celebrations and at the Shukran Festival, an annual “thank you” to the global allies who liberated Kuwait after the 1990 Iraq War.
Paganini, the cultural attaché, said Simone’s work was highly successful.
“Dr. Simone’s visit to Kuwait as a State Department Arts Envoy was well-received and applauded by all. Our audience in Kuwait responded with Instagram feedback, which described his workshops at LOYAC-LAPA as ‘a life-changing evening truly,’ and many in-person requests for ‘another, longer visit,’” Paganini said.
“Professional filmmakers and broadcasters, students and professors, and writers and amateur actors were delighted to have the chance to chat with Dr. Simone and attend his workshops and performances,” she said.
“Everywhere we went in Kuwait,” Simone said, “we were welcomed with tremendous hospitality, kindness and enthusiasm. The energy of the students and their teachers, broadcasters and filmmakers was amazing. And the embassy staff were incredibly generous and supportive. It was just a marvelous experience and a great sharing of theater and the performing arts.”
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