Heather Raffo: Inside Politically Motivated Theatre


“Having something to say and being able to say it is what keeps you going.” This is how political activism actor/playwright Heather Raffo responded to an audience member of her discussion on her play: Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire. Performed by Heather Raffo herself, this one woman show has run off Broadway nine months with the possibility of a revival in the near future.

Very much interested in both the creative and political process behind her series of nonfiction speech patterns, the group of Hofstra students with various intended majors (including creative writing, political science, drama, and journalism) eagerly participated.

The play itself is a collection of monologues written in the voices of Iraqi women of all generations. There are nine women in total, hence the title of the play (in addition to a quote in another well-known book entitled Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks).

 The chronicling of Ms. Raffo’s endeavors ever since she graduated from a New York masters acting program was quite inspiring. She began her career shortly thereafter in 1998 mainly because there was no such thing as Arab-American theatre at the time; no Arab-American female characters where anywhere to be found in American theatre.

Growing up half Iraqi on her father’s side and not knowing how to speak the language, Raffo admits she struggled finding her place in society with respect to her ethnicity. However during the 1980’s while in college with CNN incessantly streaming footage of the war in Iraq, she knew what she needed to do.

  She participates the world of theatre imply because she enjoys tackling dangerous and controversial conversations in the completely safe environment that the art of theatre creates. For example, after just recently returning from a similar discussion in Malta, Raffo exclaimed her dissolution for the blatantly racist nation.

They openly admitted the people’s denial of their Arab roots, as well as the terrible way they treated Africans- and for a European country! However, it was easy to get to the heart of these issues thanks in part to the openness of her direct presentations.

While she claims to engage in politically motivated theatre because of its relevance, it was by no stretches of the imagination an easy feat. 1999 and 2000, she started off gathering real life sources and drafting clear ideas.

However, while she was finished in 200l and persistently looking for a place to get it up and running, most producers shied away, much too afraid after the terrorist attacks.  Eventually she found the break she was seeking, and it was a hit. Fast-forward the present where the University of Baghdad hired a big name Iraqi actress to fill the role and New York theatres are scrambling to get the show running again.

Somewhat irked and disappointed  in the cowardice of the American theatre, Raffo exclaimed “So now they want to bring in a bunch of Iraqis to come and see the show after we’ve decimated their  f****ing country?! New York wants to do this years later after they had the opportunity to do something about it?”

On the whole, aside from the phenomenal acting (when she switched from her character and spoke as herself, you were suddenly reminded you had been watching a performance), one could take away from the presentation the importance of making one’s voice heard.

Heather Raffo and I meet for the first time at Hofstra University.

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