Hijab Tube: a Midwestern adventure (Guest Blogger)

Posted on May 4, 2012


To give more of an insight to what happens on the road with Mixed Blood’s regional touring program, we asked Hijab Tube actress, Sarah Siadat Carlson to reflect on her experience with the tour… in the big white van:

I have never fancied myself to be a writer. With that being said, when I was asked to write a little something about the five week Hijab Tube Tour experience, I decided to take the challenge. I have learned that my initial impulse when purposed with such a challenge is fear or uncertainty, then I tell myself I should in fact take the challenge because with high risk comes a reward.  I found this to be especially true  when I was offered the role of Rubiya in Semma Suekos’ “Hijab Tube”. A story about a young Muslim woman who takes her questions about wearing the Hijab to YouTube in this fascinating look at Islam in the 21st Century America.  My hope was that it would be an exciting adventure for this Middle Eastern American from Oregon, currently residing in New York City. I have never taken a show on the road and had never spent more then a few days in Minnesota. I was excited, nervous, and knew their would be lots of new experiences to be had.

After a week of putting the show together, I was introduced to the big white 15 seat van. This would serve as our transportation to and from our performances and would become the place I spent more hours then I would like to admit. It turns out that the group of 5 (three actors, a stage manager and sound tech) would become a short term family who would quickly learn to care and trust each other, share our personal opinions, histories and experiences, as the highway miles pass us by. Our small cast of three actors is very diverse, Joshua is Persian American with a father from Iran and a “WASPY” american mother, Zainab is a Nigerian Canadian  who is now living in America, and myself being a Muslim-American who is half Persian and half Arab. We are like the united colors of Benetton. As young diverse acting professionals we all face many challenges in our line of business specifically regarding race, religion, and gender to name a few. Being on the road with a play of this nature has been a platform for all of us to dive deep into our personal experiences, and in a safe environment ( of the big white van) we can learn from each others negative and positive experiences and try and grow from them.

Taking this show on the road has it’s challenges, like the “wonderful” Super 8 hotel franchise whom we frequent so often. Eating Subway, Dairy Queen and McDonalds which can get old fast, and packing and unpacking the van for sometimes multiple shows a day. Some weeks we find ourselves sitting in the van for up to 9 hours at a time -ouch- although  I must say I have had a chance to expand my musical knowledge from our ever rotating iPods, and can now also appreciate a good book on tape. During my hours on the road I have learned a lot about Minneapolis theater, the devastation of Iowa’s recent tornado hit and admiring the acres of endless farms land as we drive through the midwesten terrain.

For me, the most rewarding aspect of the show has been the Q&A that follows each performance. It has allowed the audience a safe environment to ask any question they want. So far we have been asked questions like:

  •  Are you a true Muslim?
  • Why does the play mention Jesus? Is he mentioned in the Koran?
  • Why doesn’t the play talk more about Islam extremists?
  • Have you experienced prejudice in America post or pre 9/11 as a Muslim?
  • Why do you call Jesus a prophet?
  • How do we feel about reality TV’s depiction of Middle Eastern Americans, for example Bravos “Shaws of Sunset” and TLCs “All American Muslim”

Some feedback has been:

  •  Great message, I learned a lot.
  • I felt like you were trying to convert me.
  • This play is so important, I wish more messages like this were done through theater.
  • Thank you.
  • Great job using stereo types to teach.

The many questions and feedback the audience and the play addresses encourages me to reflect on my own life. Questions like, what it means to be Muslim in America, have I experienced prejudice post 9/11? Does my ethnic background make my acting career more difficult? What it means to not wear hijab and be Muslim? My character Rubiya has a line about the reactions Muslims can get who do wear Hijab in America, “Here, you kind of have to brace yourself for the stares, the fears and all the questions people have”.  As a Muslim American who does not wear Hijab, I am proud to show people their is more than one idea of what it looks like to be Muslim. I’m also proud to show people their is more then one idea of what it looks like to be American. I want people to ask questions, and not be afraid of the unknown. I really encourage people to ask ask ask. It’s much more effective then staring 🙂

Yes, accepting this role, moving to Minnesota for 5 weeks, leaving my husband, friends and family, eating Subway four times and week and sleeping in Super 8 motels was a risk -one I choose to take. Standing on a stage after a show and allowing myself to be an open book for the audience to ask questions is a risk. However these risks did come with a high reward which I feel immediately when a young Muslim woman sees our play and says “thank you” after the show. Instantly none of it feels like work, the big white van feels like home, Subway sandwiches are not tiresome, and highway hotels are suddenly not so bad, just to experience that brief moment when a Muslim gets the chance to see themselves on stage, and enjoys it, everything else quickly falls away.

As an actor, I don’t pretend to be an expert, this play has brought me many questions that I still do not have the answers to. However, they have sparked something within me, something that is creating conversations, questions and emotions within myself, and others I hope. It’s an exciting feeling and one I am thankful to the Mixed Blood Theater for giving me. We still have a week of shows and I can’t believe upwards of 4,000 people will have seen the show by the closing. Onward I go, into our last week of shows, back into the big white van, I hope you will get a chance to see it, and join in on the conversation.

I would love to hear from you as well, please feel free to get in touch:


Twitter: @sarahsiadat

Facebook: Sarah Siadat Carlson