Columbia students will soon have the chance to see one of the most ubiquitous actresses on stage in person at Miller Theatre—and for just $7.
Vanessa Redgrave, the only British actor to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Cannes, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild award, is headed to Miller to perform in
“A World I Loved: The Story of an Arab Woman” on Nov. 28 and 29.
“Any theatre person would leap at the opportunity, travel far to see [Redgrave] perform. Her commitment to her political beliefs increases my admiration tenfold … Now she is coming to the Miller Theatre. She is on Columbia’s doorstep,” said Kristin Linklater, head of acting in the theater arts division of the School of the Arts, in an email.
“And for the Columbia community, it is doubly exciting that she will be performing with Mariam Said, the widow of Columbia’s great Edward Said—an incontrovertibly significant figure in our understanding of the Middle East. This will be a great evening of essential theatre.”
The performance is co-coordinated with The Public Theater, a 50-year-old theater company that stages “Shakespeare in the Park” among other plays and musicals.
“Over the summer, Oskar [Eustis, Public Theater artistic director] called me and asked if I’d be interested to be a partner with Public. It took less than five seconds to say yes,” Miller Theatre Director Melissa Smey said. “They’re not just one of the best theaters in the country, but the idea of bringing such a major, internationally renowned artist to Columbia … fits perfectly into Miller’s vision.”
Co-written by Redgrave and Said, the production is based on the life of Said’s mother, Wadad Makdisi Cortas, a principal at a girls’ school in Beirut, Lebanon. The story follows Cortas’ growth from pupil to teacher to principal and is set amid the tumult of the Lebanese Civil War and its aftermath.
“The work tells an important story about one of the most complex issues of our time from a very personal perspective,” Eustis said in a statement. “This beautiful piece brings to life a world we all can love, one where art, education, and music are essential bridges between communities and where the desire for peace is given vibrant, human shape.”
Eustis approached Miller Theatre in July with the project because the Public Theater’s spaces were completely booked and he needed a partner with a venue, Smey said.
“There were so many ups and downs of knowing whether the scheduling would work,” Smey said. “The biggest hurdle has been finding consecutive days that would work … and coordinating with so many people from different places to make this happen.”
The performance itself is not just a play: It combines music, storytelling, video projection, and even a cameo from the middle school chorus at the Spence School, a private Upper East Side all-girls school.
Accommodating all of these elements was initially a challenge for Miller, which doesn’t typically put on theater pieces. Originally designed as a lecture hall, it has had problems coordinating performances with projections in the past, Smey explained.
But Smey said that she anticipates that everything will be resolved when Said and Redgrave arrive the week of the performance.
“We won’t know really until everyone gets into the space,” she said. “But they know the big picture of how this is coming together.”
Members of the Columbia arts community say that they are excited for the production for both its political and artistic merits.
“Vanessa Redgrave’s presence at the Miller Theatre on the campus of Columbia University is tremendous and exciting,” said SoA professor Anne Bogart. “Her longtime relationship with both Mariam and Edward Said has laid the groundwork for the project, and we are fortunate to reap the fruits of this unique collaboration.”
For Said, though, it isn’t just about the production.
“I am very happy that, 30 years after my mother’s death, I was able to bring back her voice to life,” she said.
“A World I Loved: The Story of an Arab Woman” will run for two nights on Nov. 28 and 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets for Public Theater members and Miller Theatre subscribers are on sale now. Tickets for the general public will go on sale Tuesday, Oct. 30. Columbia students with a CUID will pay $7 for the performance, while faculty and University affiliates will be eligible for discounted tickets.
Lesley Thulin contributed reporting.