Hamid Dehghani, currently appearing in Andy Warhol in Iran, is also the Artistic Fellow at Northlight for the 2022-23 Season.
Hamid has been a valuable contributor to Northlight’s work, first as an artist weighing in on scripts and aesthetics, as well as contributing to our EDI efforts, and then as a wonderful and authentic actor in Andy Warhol in Iran. Artistic Director BJ Jones sat down with Hamid to learn more about his journey and his Northlight experience:
BJ: Hamid, you mastered the English language prior to coming to America in order to get your MFA at Northwestern. I saw your inspired production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo last year and now you are acting in a second language for us here at Northlight. Tell me about your journey from Iran to Evanston and what it’s like to perform here in this play at this moment.
HD: I was born and raised in Iran. My parents are from a small village, called Bouraki, in the south of Iran and I see there as my hometown as well. I stayed all of the summers and holidays with my grandparents in that village, exploring the mountains, playing in the orchards and fields, and shepherding my grandfather’s few sheep during the day. And at night, I would listen to the poems and stories that my grandmother told me. They had around 90 grandchildren, but I was the only one who liked to stay with them and live differently. They thought me to be a dreamer, an observer. I think that was the seed of my art and theatre. Years after, I went to the most prestigious art school in Iran to study theatre and was awarded as the best actor, best director, and best playwright among all of the students in the country.
But after graduation, I faced the harshness of living in a country with a very corrupt government and dictators in power. My theatre work was based on sociopolitical issues and that was a sensitive subject in Iran. So, after a few years of working professionally, my wife and I decided to leave Iran and start a life anew. She is a medical doctor and has graduated from the best university in the country, but we could not see a future for ourselves in Iran. So, I started to learn English in order to apply to universities in the US and she worked very hard in a remote and deprived area in order to save some money for our journey ahead. The story of any immigrant is unique, long, and with lots of difficulties, and ours is not an exception. But the good thing is that we made it. We are here, at least for now, and I graduated with MFA in directing and she is a postdoc research fellow at Northwestern.
Coming here was a major step, but staying here is another difficult one. In order to do that, I needed to start working in the theatre field right away after graduation, and Northlight Theatre has helped me a lot by choosing me as the Artistic Fellow and also playing in Andy Warhol in Iran. I am so happy that I am doing something with my art that can raise awareness about my home country. Especially now that a new revolution is happening and the cruel dictatorship is oppressing my people violently. I am in America now, but I feel connected to Iran with this show.
BJ: How has the experience been for you as our Fellow, have you gained any insight to institutional theatre in America?
HD: It’s been great. I have learned so much about artistic leadership from you and other colleagues at Northlight. I feel so proud when I see my thoughts and ideas matter. I feel free to share my perspective and opinion about shows and plays because you and the people at Northlight respect and welcome them. It doesn’t mean that I am always right, but it’s about the atmosphere and the relationships that you have established. I learn a lot during those artistic conversations. I did not know much about how a theatre company works, but I feel that I have learned a lot now.
BJ: What has the Northlight experience provided you with relative to your future goals?
HD: Now, as a director, I know what happens behind the scenes in the theatre industry. I would love to be a professional theatre director and that requires working with many different companies. This fellowship has helped me know how to approach them and understand their goals and perspectives too.
BJ: Tell us about those goals.
HD: Well, I am seeking opportunities to show my theatrical style. It’s hard for people to trust you when you are new in a country. Even if someone is the best director in the world, artistically and technically, but nobody knows them, there is not much they can do in the theatre. I want to create that trust toward myself and my work so I can become fearless in my directing. There are two ways to direct a play, one that the script suggests and is the general assumption about that play, and the other one rejects all of those assumptions. My theatre goal is to get to a place where I can freely explore the latter one and the audience loves the show more than the normal way. It takes time and needs trust to get there for me. But I am glad that I am taking steps toward my goals by being part of the Northlight family and learning more about the theatre industry in America.