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The Arabian Nights’ to bring ‘power of storytelling’ to Ohio State

Courtesy of Matt Hazard

While mothers might tell stories to put their kids to sleep, in other instances, such as in “The Arabian Nights,” a woman uses storytelling to stay alive.

Ohio State’s Department of Theatre is scheduled to perform “The Arabian Nights” Thursday through Oct. 21 in the Ray Bowen Theatre at the Drake Performance and Event Center.

The performance, which has a cast comprised of students in the Department of Theatre’s Master of Fine Arts program, is an adaptation of director Mary Zimmerman’s production of “The Arabian Nights.” The play centers on King Shahryar, who marries a different girl every night just to kill them later. The cycle comes to a halt when Shahryar marries Scheherezade. In order to prolong her life, each night Scheherezade tells stories. She stops telling the king the story at its climax, so he remains interested and will have to let her live until the next day to hear the end.

“What’s a better way to entertain a king than telling funny and sexy stories?” said Jane Elliott, who plays Scheherezade in the show.

On a more serious note, she said “The Arabian Nights” is more than a form of entertainment.

“It is about the fundamental power of storytelling and the link between storytelling and humanity,” Elliott said. “(It’s) the idea that you can bring someone who is inhuman back from that brink through the power of storytelling.

“Overall, we are trying to convey to the audience not just, ‘Oh, look at these cool stories,’ but think about what these stories are doing and how they have the power to change us.”

Adam Zarowski, who plays the role of Shahryar, said the storytelling process on stage won’t be like a book-reading session.

“It is like a cartoon. In the cartoon someone opens up a book and says, ‘I’m gonna tell you a story,’ and as he starts to tell the story, the story came alive,” Zarowski said. “Our play is very similar to that.”

Despite Zarowski comparing “The Arabian Nights” to a cartoon, Elliott said people shouldn’t expect to get a children’s cartoons feel from the performance because it’s more erotic than that.

“One of Scheherezade’s biggest lines in the first act is, ‘There’s nothing shameful in speaking of those things which live below our waist,'” Elliot said. “Yes, we have some sexual stories and we don’t shy away from that. At the same time, it’s very funny.”

This year, 10 new actors are enrolled in the MFA program, which is a three-year program, and seven of them work together in “The Arabian Nights,” which is the class’ first performance together.

Zarowski said working on the project is exciting and challenging.

“I feel like all of the new people here feel a certain amount of pressure to prove to people that they are worth it to bring in,” Zarowski said.

Elliott said she was thrilled to work with her fellow actors and it was a special time for them. She added that the audience would also have a great time seeing the new class’ performance.

“We haven’t completed three years of training, but we also bring a lot of different things to the table, so I think it’s going to be really exciting for the audience,” Elliott said.

Hilary Horsman, a second-year in international studies and Korean, said the show sounds interesting because she believes in the power of storytelling.

“Storytelling is a great way to teach children and adults,” Horsman said. “People can learn different ways of thinking and understand their lives by stories.”

Isabella Vinicur, a first-year in exercise science education, said she thinks “The Arabian Nights” will be very different compared to other plays.

“I saw how the stage was set up, because my theater class took a tour,” Vinicur said. “I think it’s really interesting, and based on the set that I (saw), I think the play will be unusual.”

Tickets for “The Arabian Nights” are $20 for general public, $18 for OSU faculty, staff, alumni association members and senior citizens, and $15 for students and children.

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