Grassroots theater production presenting experiences of 6 Arab-American women comes to Dearborn

Show will present the experiences of six Arab American Muslim women

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The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn will present the experiences of six Arab American Muslim women from Dearborn, told by the women themselves in a scripted “seated opera for the spoken word.” 

The show is scheduled for May 11-12, 2018.

The pioneering community theater project Undesirable Elements/Dearborn is part of an ongoing series of interview-based works by the acclaimed New York-based Ping Chong + Company.

The project examines issues of culture, identity and belonging among individuals who are seen as outsiders within their communities. Widespread national and international praise have accompanied over 50 previous Undesirable Elements productions.

Rather than a traditional play or documentary-theater project performed by actors, Undesirable Elements is a live theatrical production presented as a chamber piece of storytelling designed to let participants reclaim their stories and dispel stereotypes and misconceptions. 

The Dearborn cast are lawyers, educators, artists, advocates and academics whose families came to the U.S. from countries including Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine. None are professional or amateur actors. They were selected through an extensive interview process conducted by Sara Zatz, associate director at Ping Chong + Company, and Sherrine Azab of Detroit-based theater company A Host of People. Zatz and Azab are writing the script in collaboration with the performers and directing the production. Adapting and occasionally theatricalizing stories from the interviews, the script weaves participants’ individual experiences together in a chronological narrative that connects the personal to the political. 

The Undesirable Elements/Dearborn cast is comprised of: 

  • Salam Aboulhassan, 37, a PhD candidate in sociology at Wayne State University
  • Rasha Ahmed Almulaiki, 26, program director for the nonprofit Global Ties Detroit
  • Shahad Atiya, 30, an immigration and criminal defense attorney
  • Mary Kamal Gagnon, 32, a visual artist and educator
  • Layla Elabed, 28, a program coordinator for ACCESS’ Sexual Assault Prevention Program
  • Nuzmeya Bader Elder, PhD, 64, an educator and mental health counselor

“Being part of this project means embracing and sharing ownership of my lived experience without being filtered through other people's instinctual categorization of who I am, where I've been, and where I want to go,” says cast member Rasha Ahmed Almulaiki. 

“I too was really captivated by the idea of giving a first-hand narrative of life in Dearborn that maybe a lot of people are not familiar with or can’t conceive because of the misrepresentation that occurs in the media,” cast member Mary Kamal Gagnon says. “I also felt this project aligned with my own healing and could be cathartic.”

“People are being very brave and vulnerable, baring their souls on stage for strangers, and perhaps even more challenging, for their families and friends,” says writer/director Sara Zatz, who has worked on Undesired Elements productions since 2002. “They want their voices to be heard, and this is a platform that is a different and unique way of putting your story out in the world,” she says.

Tickets for Undesirable Elements/Dearborn – $10 Museum Members and $15 general public – are available online now at

Advance ticket purchase is strongly recommended, as tickets may not be available at the door.  

Undesirable Elements/Dearborn is the closing presentation of the Winter/Spring 2018 season of Global Fridays performances at AANM. The Global Fridays series is made possible in part by Comerica, DTE Energy Foundation, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, CJAM-FM and The Monitor. Undesirable Elements/Dearborn is specifically made possible in part by Knight Foundation Fund and Metabolic Studio.

Undesirable Elements/Dearborn is presented in conjunction with the opening of Mihrab: Portraits of Arab Muslim Women by Hend Al-Mansour. This temporary exhibition features installation portraits of three Arab Muslim women from Minnesota. Each work explores the women’s relationship with Islam – as interpreted by Saudi American artist Hend Al-Mansour. The Mihrab series uses the architectural prayer niche found in mosques as a framework for the portraits. Visitors are encouraged to enter the installations to fully experience the work and the women’s stories.

Global Fridays patrons attending the performance on Friday, May 11 may also enjoy an exhibition preview and reception beginning at 6:30 p.m. The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday, May 12, and runs through Sept. 30, 2018, in AANM’s Main Floor Gallery.

Global Fridays: Undesirable Elements/Dearborn
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 11-12, 2018
Aliya Hassan Auditorium at AANM
13624 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, MI 48126
Tickets $10 Museum Members, $15 general public
Online at and at the door

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.