Mark Perry, a multiskilled theatre practitioner, educator and Baha’i has woven together his training, and Baha’i identity and values to express stories which potentially enrich, move and motivate audiences in plays like “A Dress for Mona” and “On the Rooftop.” However, as he explains:
I’m certainly interested in stories that are not explicitly Baha’i. No, I’m not interested in taking kitchen sink drama to its natural conclusion, but I am interested in probing how different cultures view each other, how people negotiate this material world we’re in, how and why people have conflicted spiritual understandings or purposes, this kind of thing.
Mark Perry (Interview with Paul Newell, North Carolina Playwrighting group)
At thirty-five he has already had a wealth of training and experience in the arts of theatre, acting, writing and producing. Like many Baha’i youth, Mark Perry did a year of service and counts this a period of enlightenment and confirmation
. . . . when I went to Africa for six months on a youth service project. It really opened my eyes to the idea that where I’d come from, America, was not the end all and be all of thought. My time in the Kalari desert, encountering African Baha’is in the villages there-it was amazing. (Interview with Paul Newell, North Carolina Playwrighting group)
It is not surprising that in the last five years he has taken an interest in encouraging other Baha’is, especially young people, to express themselves in drama through the founding of Drama Circles.
June: First of all, thanks for agreeing to this interview Mark. I have worked a bit in youth drama, I also was involved in some radio drama and wrote a play several years ago which was workshopped at a conference but did not get it fully produced. Your site reinspired me to revisit and consider working back in the performing arts but especially to express stories with spiritual values and from the Bahai community and Bahai history and contemporary stories.
Mark: I’m so glad that you felt inspired by the website to venture back into drama and especially Bahá’í inspired drama. Someday, I hope the website will be even more helpful and more inspiring, as we continue to work towards realizing the mission statement. But one foot in front of the other…
June: What is your background in drama/theatre? How long have you been involved with it? What makes you passionate about it compared to other art/creative forms?
Mark: I’m serving a life sentence in drama as far as I can tell. As I recall, I first got bit by the theater bug at twelve when I saw my Junior High school’s production of “My Fair Lady. ” I was in awe of the phenomenon of theater, the magic that was going on in the room. The next year I tried out for the musical, and that was that. My mother claims that when I was six, we went to see a play and I told her “that’s what I’m going to do with my life.” I don’t remember that far back. I’m now 35, have a B.A. in theater arts, and an MFA in playwriting. I live in a university town in North Carolina (in the south of the United States.) I teach playwriting part time for the university and elsewhere. The rest of the time, I’m either writing or doing something with the Faith. (Or goofing off, flitting from one distraction to the other, but I’m really trying to stop that.:-) So I write and teach mostly, but I also act and direct, and by necessity produce.
June: What led to the creation of the Drama Circle concept? Can you tell me the story of it?
Mark: I started the Drama Circle officially in 2002 with the immediate goal of producing “A Dress for Mona” here in North Carolina. It had been my thesis play from graduate school and had just been published, and I felt if no one else was going to produce it, I should, and so I did… with lots of help.Since then, we’ve also produced the Bill Sears play and sponsored a couple of playwriting contests. The other big thing is the “Drama Circle”—a course that combines theater training with spiritual principles as enunciated in the Bahá’í writings. We’re working now with junior youth, and the results so far are very promising. The name “Drama Circle” most simply comes from the idea of a study circle teaching drama. The principle of the circle though is inherent in my view of this kind of work.
June: Where is the drama circle group based? Where else have you toured to other than US and UK(?)
Mark: The Drama Circle is based here in North Carolina, and also in cyberspace. It’s not so much a consistent company as a mission statement with me as its chief protagonist and probably its biggest obstacle as well. My wife Azadeh is my biggest supporter in this work, and I have many friends and colleagues near and far who at one time or another have been a part of the “Drama Circle.” For Mona, we had 60 people involved. For the Bill Sears play, probably 20 or 25. Now with the junior youth, they feel a certain ownership as well, so you see how it works. The Bill Sears show has been performed a total of 30 times I believe in 23 different cities in the U.S.,Canada and also Dubai. Maybe one of these days, we’ll make it Australia. My wife and I were married there five years ago and it’s getting about time we returned to visit her family. “A Dress for Mona” has been produced by a handful of other companies, all Bahá’í, including Kingfisher Theatre who toured the show to about fifteen cities in the U.S. and Canada.
June: What other art forms have you worked in?
Mark: As for other art forms, I have experience with music, especially in composition for theater productions. I play guitar and at one point wanted to be Eric Clapton, but eventually I gave up on that, and have been trying to concentrate my energies to entirely on Drama, and more specifically on playwriting.
June: How do the youth involved in the Youth Drama circle enjoy the concept? How do they hear about it and get involved? What are some of their backgrounds, cultural etc.?
Mark: As I said, the youth seem to really enjoy the drama circle. We live in an A cluster, and so all the kids that participate are either Baha’is or they’re kids who are invited by Baha’is. As we go into the future and become more involved with integrating the Drama Circle concept into the junior youth programs called for by the House of Justice, my hope is that many more non-Baha’i children will be able to participate.
June: Can you tell me a bit more about where the idea to write the Bill Sears play came from? How long did it take to write and what kind of preliminary work did you do for it? (I love God Loves Laughter and did my honours English Thesis on the Writing of Bill Sears and Spiritual Questing)
After the production of “A Dress for Mona” in March 2003, I picked up “God Loves Laughter” and started reading and started laughing. I thought I might be able to do a short five to ten minute piece for a Baha’i meeting in June, and I did, but it continued to grow throughout the summer. By August, I had a draft ready and I read it at Green Acre Baha’i school in Eliot, Maine. I continued to work on the play throughout the Fall, at the same time arranging for production in spring 2004. The script was ready by, say, December, and so the next three or four months were dedicated to learning the part and the infinite details of a theater production. As for my process in writing it, the first thing I did was just to go through the book and pick out sections that I liked. Then I started looking for connections in my own life and a central story and themes to tie it together. I’d say up to 40 percent of the play is the words of Mr. Sears. The rest is my language tying his story together. I’m very fond of the play, which is good as I hope to continue performing it in the years to come.
I’m working on writing two plays currently: one on the subject of Bahá’í marriage, and the other is not a specifically Bahá’í play.
June: Can you tell me a bit more about the playwriting competition/request for submission (saw this on the site?)- how long in duration the plays should be, for how many actors (to be economical) and what kind of stories interest the group?
Mark: That playwriting competition has been suspended for now. The thing that became apparent was that there is not a wealth of well-developed full-length scripts out there in the Bahá’í community, or if there are, we weren’t receiving them. And so, the mission is to build up the capacity and inspire people to start writing. Perhaps we will be able to have more play contests in the future.
MARK PERRY PLAYS & PRODUCTIONS (SELECTIVE LIST)
* On the Rooftop with Bill Sears. (2003;1M) Based on the life of 1950s TV personality, William Sears.2004–Present TOURING (22 cities), arranged by Kingfisher Theatre (Nazareth, PA)2004, AprPRODUCTION, produced by The Drama Circle (Durham, NC)
* A Dress for Mona. (2001;4F,4M) A dream leads 16 year old Mona to dedicate her life to serving humanity, but how could she know how far her resolve would be tested? (Based on a true story.) 2003, Dec PRODUCTION, produced by One World Bahá’í Youth Workshop (Washington, DC)2003, Sep-Nov TOUR (East Coast), produced by Kingfisher Theatre (Nazareth, PA)2003, Aug PRODUCTION, produced by the Banani School for Girls (Zambia &Malawi)2003, Mar PRODUCTION, produced by the Drama Circle (Durham, NC)2001, Mar PRODUCTION, produced as part of University Gallery Series (Iowa City, IA)
* The Donkey Play. (2001;1F,1M) A clown show based on the Biblical story of Balaam and the Ass. 2001, May PRODUCTION, produced as part of Iowa New Play Festival (Iowa City, IA)
* House Divided. (1999;6F,6M) A brutal racial incident shakes a small New England town. 1999,May STAGED READING, as part of Iowa New Play Festival (Iowa City)