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Pakistani-American Theater Company 'Parwaz Playhouse' Emerges

Just over a year old, Parwaz Playhouse bills itself as the first major Pakistani-American theater company in the U.S. Currently, eight first- and second-generation Pakistani–American actors, playwrights and directors make up the company.

The two Parwaz Playhouse co-founders, Imran Javaid and Imran Sheikh, met last year working on Wajahat Ali's “The Domestic Crusaders,” a play about a modern Pakistani-American Muslim family navigating the post 9-11 world.   

“The cast was entirely South Asian,” said actor and company co-founder Imran Sheikh. “This was a very unique and unprecedented thing. In rehearsals, a bond and camaraderie arose. And something sparked in me: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do this all the time, if this was not a unique incidence?’ Being an actor, I thought—theater company!”

The company’s first project, "Glass," played to sold-out audiences at last year’s Downtown Urban Theater Festival in the East Village. Next month, the theater group will stage its first full-length project—the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play "Beyond the Horizon" by Eugene ONeill—adapted to take place in Pakistan in the 1960’s. 

ONeill's original play is set on a Connecticut farm in the early 1900s. It is the story of two brothers—one who is content working on the family farm, another who reads poetry and dreams of traveling the world. 

Playwright and co-founder Imran Javaid says that "Beyond the Horizon" is a story that immigrants and the children of immigrants can easily relate to. “The story really appealed to us because it’s the story of going out into a new land and seeking your destiny in a new land—and that’s exactly what our parents’ generation did,” said Javaid. “It’s something that we could immediately relate to, and we wanted to make the play our own.”   

The name “parwaz” was borrowed from Pakistani poet and philosopher Allama Iqbal. It means “ascension,” or “flying high.” Sheikh says that those ideals match the mission of the company. “What better way to bridge gaps than through theater because you’re exposing who you are,” said Sheikh. “I always say that there is a maelstrom of negative images out there, but it's our job to shine a light through that. Through theater, we’re showing people that we’re not paragons, but human beings.”   

The production was funded on Kickstarter, an online platform for artists, where the project raised about $1,000 more than its $3,000 goal. The creators of Parwaz Playhouse say that the ultimate goal is to construct a brick and mortar home for Parwaz Playhouse.

Previews for "Beyond the Horizon" start next month at Theater for the New City.