PLAY/ground Interview: James Christy, Jr.

We asked each of our PLAY/ground playwrights to answer one question pertaining to their play. Here’s what they had to say…

James Christy, Jr. author of Egyptian Song:

Q. “Egyptian Song” encompasses a tightly constructed story about relationships within a much larger suggestion of cultural pressures. Which came first, and how did that lead to the other?

A. Interesting question. I’m not sure I have a satisfying answer. You like to think that characters grow sort of organically rather than coming out of a cultural issue you’re trying to address. But there’s no question the cultural landscape informed who they are and how the story took shape.

Before I started writing I tried to soak in as much knowledge and understanding as I could. I know enough to know that I don’t know that much about the various cultural influences and pressures in rural Egypt in the early 20th century. It is a time and place filled with contradictions. There were strong matriarchs yet girls and unmarried women had little autonomy. In particular, the singer Umm Kulthum was one of the most respected artists throughout the entire Middle East (Cairo essentially shut down during her monthly radio shows). Her life, especially her upbringing in rural Egypt, provided a helpful guidepost to me. In the end while the understanding and appreciation of the culture was critical to the piece, my goal as I wrote was to stay true to the characters and let them have their own voices.

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