“While I Was Waiting” receives its North American premiere at Lincoln Center Festival this week though it almost didn’t happen. Playwright Mohammad Al Attar and director Omar Abusaada both hail from war-ravaged Syria, and along with their nine member Syrian cast and crew, had difficulty obtaining U.S. visas due to the Travel Ban. “It was quite a drama, with a big crew working behind the scenes to secure the artists’ presence here,” said Lesley Rosenthal, general counsel for Lincoln Center.
According to the New York Times: “Under most circumstances, obtaining a United States visa is arduous. In the case of these visiting artists, the ordeal involved proving that they had a good reason to enter the United States, that they were not a security threat and that they had no intention of staying in the country. The Trump administration’s travel ban — and the legal turmoil around it — has made the whole process all the more bewildering.”
“While I Was Waiting” follows a young man from Damascus, Syria, who is beaten unconscious at a Syrian security checkpoint. Hospitalized and in a coma, he watches his family working out their own grievances. The play is based on a true account of a 2011 rebellion in Damascus which led to the ongoing civil war.
Mohamad Al Rashi, an actor who lives in France as a refugee with his wife and two daughters, explains why he put himself through the visa ordeal. “To let people know who are Syrians… They are normal people like everyone else on Earth.”
“While I Was Waiting” runs July 19-22nd at Lincoln Center in New York City.