Join our visiting artist, Toto Kisaku, for a casual, lunch-hour roundtable with local artists as they discuss the process of writing and performing personal work, rooted in activism and community engagement.
Reza Jalali, Moderator – Jalali is a noted writer and educator. He has taught at the University Southern Maine. Jalali’s latest book Dear Maine: The Trials and Triumphs of Maine’s 21st Century Immigrants, co-authored with Morgan Rielly, was published in 2021. His children’s book, Moon Watchers, has received the Stepping Stone Multicultural Award. His five-act play, The Poets and the Assassin, which is about women in Iran and Islam, has been staged to rave reviews. Jalali has published a collection of short stories, Homesick Mosque and Other Stories. Jalali’s storytelling was also featured on National Public Radio’s popular program, The Moth Radio Hour. He’s the executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center.
Toto Kisaku – An award-winning Congolese playwright, actor, director and theater producer. Born in Kinshasa, he studied Education in High School and Drama at the National Institute of Arts in Kinshasa, and after university he began collaborations with many internationally known artists including Mwambay Kalengay, Jacques Livchine, Dieudonné Niangouna, Sophie Lecarpentier and Philip Boulay.
In late 2015, Kisaku arrived in the United States to seek political asylum, which he was granted in March 2018. Since his arrival in the United States, the ongoing tensions that his country of origin (and the country that has welcomed him) have greatly informed Kisaku’s art, with his work focusing on transcendence from the constraints of daily life, the examination of community social conditions and the exploration of how those living in poverty and/or under oppressive regimes can expand and enrich their lives through art. Kisaku invites both the audience and actor to travel beyond the walls of the performance space.
Moon Machar – For the past ten years Nyamuon Nguany Machar has worked to advocate for disproportionate and minority youth in the mental health field. In 2019, she was honored to be the recipient of the rising Advocate award from the Bazelon Center in Washington DC and the Diaspora Award from the Luol Deng foundation for her advocacy work around the South Sudanese diaspora.
Today, she works as a Multicultural Victims Advocate for the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine.
As a spoken word poet, she works to motivate others to find strength in their voices through creative means, often using her own struggle represented in her artistry in order to help break down the stigmas that stunt voices. Spoken word poetry and theater performance gave her a voice in the darkest days of her childhood when metaphors and complex descriptions became easier ways to tell her story and the stories of her family and people.
Kerem Durdag -Mr. Durdag is currently the President and Chief Operating Officer of GWI, a leading broadband carrier in Maine. He is also the founder and Managing Partner of Indus Fund, a micro-lending facility for New Mainer business owners. He has deep roots in theater and poetry, having translated Urdu and Turkish poetry while having his original poems published and having the good fortune of reading and performing in public.