Every week, The Mac Weekly interviews one senior majoring in an artistic field at Macalester. This week, we spoke with Mohamed Samatar, a Theatre & Performance Studies major.
Where are you originally from?
I grew up in the Twin Cities, but my parents are originally from Somalia—so I have roots there.
Do you have any other majors besides Theater?
No, just Theater. It’s not only a Theater major, it’s Theater and Performance Studies. So that’s helpful.
What brought you to Macalester?
It was more the availability of Theater as a major, and not just in the sense of it being musical theater, like how high school was, but more like a broad range of focus. And I’m on a Performance Studies track. I’ve done acting here, but my focus is on studying different ways of how performance works in a daily life, in different ideas, political, social, economic—how performance comes into that. This is all coming from my capstone presentation.
In what other ways are you involved on campus?
Sophomore year I was involved in MSA a little bit. Last year I did some stuff with the Visceral Break Dancing Group. But aside from that, the amount of time in the theater building is so much that a production is probably like many clubs put together. That takes a lot of the chunk of my time, and I also work.
What shows have you been in here at Macalester?
I’ve been in “The Laramie Project,” which was my spring of sophomore year. In the winter [of 2012] I was in “Hip Hop Hopes,” which was a devised piece. And then I’ve worked backstage for numerous shows, and I was in the dance concert last spring.
In what ways were/are you involved with Bedlam Theater [a radical Twin Cities-based theater company]?
My first, I would say, community acting thing, outside of high school was their “Ten Minute Play Festival.” A year and a half later I managed a project called the “Native Somali Friendship Play,” which was a duration from August of last year till this past May. Over the summer I worked with a couple Mac students, Martha Rigby [’13] and Maya Vilapana [’14], on booking shows on top of this parking lot. We spent six weeks putting on free shows for the community in Saint Paul. It happened all over the town space. This semester I haven’t done anything with them; just working on my capstone and stuff. But I see myself hopefully working with them when I’m out of here.
So you spoke a bit about community in theater. Has theater helped you create a community both here at Macalester and in the Twin Cities themselves?
Yeah, definitely! Most of my friends come from the theater building, and it’s because we spend so much time together that we grow with each other. Either we hate each other or we like each other, but we still can be in the same building together. So that community is really nice. The professors, all of them, [have made] such a small department [a] big community.
Also, doing stuff with Bedlam has opened up to me the artistic community in the Twin Cities. That has been nice because now I know some people around the Twin Cities that do different works around performance and community work.
What has being in the field of theater taught you? Besides the obvious talent and skills.
It’s taught me many things, and one of them I would say is the value in my background, and my heritage, and unraveling what that means for me—and understanding what performance means from the places I come from. How storytelling is this different form that I took for granted being home, and listening to my mom tell stories. But now I have this keen desire of to unravel those stories.
What’s the character that you’ve played that’s changed you the most?
There’s two! I did “[The] Laramie Project,” and that was the first main stage collegiate piece. That was a piece on this incident that happened in Laramie, Wyoming. In the piece I had a smaller role, yet it was a really communal piece, and everyone was on stage the whole time. I was a narrator with another actor. But that piece in general showed me the side of the taboo of homosexuality that has been unaddressed around my family. It just opened me up to the possibilities of thinking in a different way, that’s different from what I’ve grown up with and I’ve heard around myself. So that was one piece that has changed my mindset on a subject.
The other one was “Hip-Hop Hopes.” The whole show was these stories of these cast members wrote. My friend wrote one of these stories, a story on walking into an African American barber shop, and the experience he had with being a six-foot-two white male. And so I was playing the barber in the skit. I had to play this really old man, and I took most of the physical movements in the storytelling aspect from my own barber. So I played this old man, in this big suit, and it was fun. That was like a really fun piece and opened up the value in just being open with performance for me.
Why should society in general value art?
I think it shouldn’t. I don’t think there should be a binary of accepting and not accepting, but rather, art being too aware, it opens up different idiosyncrasies around your life in a way that’s different from what you’ve grown up with. And having a different perspective is a tool of multiplicity, rather than “I have to accept art for what it is” or “I’m not going to accept liberals for who they are.” But rather, seeing art as a tool for understanding your own life, I’d say.
If you could describe your overall Macalester experience in a phrase, what would it be?
It’s been a valuable journey in many ways.
You mentioned continuing to work with Bedlam Theater, but how else do you plan to you use what you’ve learned here after graduation?
Knowing the arts…there aren’t a lot of jobs out there for that. What I would like to do is use this opportunity to change that narrative a little bit and be able to feel like I can pursue this form and also be comfortable financially and stably. And also just be able to tell my own stories in a way that would be new to myself. And using the opportunity of different ideas I’ve gained from learning about theater and performance, and applying it to thinking about career [in] a multiplicity sense, rather than “I have to go apply for a job or resumé,” or go the route of obtaining a job through pre-established structures. Rather, saying, “I’m gonna make my own career out of it.”
Any last words, mantras, or catch phrases?
I’m looking for a Winter Ball ticket. So if anyone out there is selling a ticket, let me know.