Northwestern State University Assistant Professor of Theatre Dr. Richard St. Peter delivered a lecture on Shakespeare to group of 100 faculty and students in Baghdad, Iraq, through distance learning this week.
St. Peter arranged his Iraqi lecture through Dr. Mohammed Nasser Hassoon who he met when while participating in the Fulbright Program in Romania. Hassoon was a Ph.D. student at the University of Craiova where St. Peter was teaching and they became acquainted. Hassoon reached out to St. Peter recently to ask if would talk to the group.
“I leapt at the opportunity. I am a big believer in cultural and pedagogical dialogue across cultures, especially with a country like Iraq where there has been rampant misunderstanding and antagonism for years,” said St. Peter. “This kind of ‘soft diplomacy’ is one of the cornerstones of the Fulbright program and I think it is something the theatre is very well equipped to undertake.”
St. Peter thinks the opportunity to interact with people in Iraq shows how theatre can bring people of different cultures together.
“At its heart, the theatre operates on the human scale and reminds us that nothing human is truly foreign and that despite our outward surface differences, we do share a common humanity that is illuminated when we gather to tell stories to each other.”
St. Peter also used technology during the spring semester to connect his students with playwright Stephen Adly Guirgus, who won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “Between Riverside and Crazy.” When classes at NSU shifted to online delivery, two of St. Peter’s students, Myjoycia Cezar and Summer Jones, organized an online play reading series for the plays the class were going to read.
“Once they did that, I started reaching out to actors I knew to see if they might want to join us so the students could get to read with professional actors to make the reading a bit more experiential,” said St. Peter. “I had been Facebook friends with Guirgus for a while and we had chatted a couple of times but I didn’t really know him. So, I decided to just reach out and ask if he’d like to join us. I was not surprised when he said yes because that just is kind of in keeping with what I do know about him as a person. He was kind and funny and generous and I think the students and I think (I hope) they got a lot out of it.”
Theatre and English major Shari Wilson of Florien said interacting with Guirgus was “a bright and uplifting moment.”
“Hearing from the man himself about the play we were reading was magnificent,” said Wilson. Our classes in the theatre department studied his plays so everyone involved was very familiar with who he was which made it even more special. It was surreal not only putting a face to the playwright of many plays that I love, but also being able to sit down and have a conversation with him from my laptop.”