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UI, Iraqi school collaborate

BY MEGAN DEPPE | MARCH 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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As U.S. and Iraq relations remain complicated, University of Iowa officials are hoping to encourage better relations with one university within the region.

“Iraq is something we see on the news, and it’s almost always in relation to violence,” said Ashley Davidson, the Book Wings coordinator. “We don’t always think of people having their own daily lives.”

The UI International Writing Program and University of Baghdad collaborated over the past year to create six short plays, five of which were screened on Tuesday.

This project was part of the initiative called Book Wings, which was started in 2012.

IWP Director Christopher Merrill said the program was originally created to reset relationships between Russia and the United States.

“Out of that friendship and a desire to improve relationships, Book Wings was born,” Merrill said. “We had such great success in the first year, we were encouraged to reach out to another country.”

After working with Russia for one year, Book Wings officials reached out to China, and this year worked on the project with Iraq.

Merril said with Baghdad on the forefront of violence in Iraq, individuals don’t usually consider other aspects of Iraqi life.

“Of course there are enormous challenges in working in a place like Baghdad,” Merrill said. “But we found that our Iraqi partners have been extremely enthusiastic and excited.”

In order to communicate and share their performances, the participants began using a pilot project, Zoom, which Davison described as a fancy version of Skype.

Davidson said the idea behind the project was that if two people could talk over Skype, then there must be a way for actors to connect over the Internet.

Davidson said Zoom allowed for 25 viewers at any one time, which allowed for an audience at the UI and the University of Baghdad, as well as live-stream audiences from all over the world.

“The program was so successful that [the directors] decided to expand it,” Davidson said. “My role is to make sure that the lines of communication stay open.”

The Book Wings project was funded by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Merrill said he hoped it would lead to more collaboration between the two countries.

“The best seat in the house is probably the live-stream viewing,” Davidson said. “It’s like being in both places at once.”

Mohammad Aziz, the director of Arts and Sports Education at the University of Baghdad and the director of the Iraqi performances, described the experience as “wonderful.”

“He thanks the University of Iowa for presenting this wonderful exchange and to give us the change to produce such wonderful plays and actors,” said Maysam Bahaa Saleh, who translated for Aziz. “He is proud of his students and of all the cast who made this dream true.”


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