Technology creates global performances

Writers and performers in Iraq, Russia and Iowa City collaborated for digital project

Moscow Art Theater emcee Adam Mushkin (onscreen) interacts from Russia with the Iowa audience during Book Wings 2013. (U
Moscow Art Theater emcee Adam Mushkin (onscreen) interacts from Russia with the Iowa audience during Book Wings 2013. (University of Iowa International Writing Program)

Though they are more than 6,500 miles apart, performers in Iowa City and Baghdad will collaborate in an interactive live theater performance Tuesday.

Book Wings, a collaboration of the University of Iowa's International Writing Program and Department of Theatre Arts and the University of Baghdad, will present a program of short plays written by American and Iraqi playwrights.

Three of the plays will be performed in Iowa City; three in Baghdad. The performances will be live-streamed and subtitled so audiences can watch the performances happening half a world away. A similar collaboration with performers at the Moscow Art Theatre will happen Thursday.

Moscow Art Theatre School Director Anatoly Smeliansky and UI International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill came up with the idea for Book Wings in 2010 during a working group meeting as part of the Bilateral Presidential Commission to reset relations between Russia and the United States in Moscow. After the first 2012 performance, Book Wings expanded to a partnership with China in 2013. A collaboration with South Africa is being planned for 2015.

The playwrights, poets and performers from different countries collaborate in preparation for the performances, which feature specially commissioned plays. UI International Writing Program Outreach and Special Programs Coordinator Ashley Davidson said that offers a chance for conversations across cultural boundaries and for audiences to be exposed to artistic traditions they might not otherwise encounter.

"With the daily violence in Iraq, sometimes it's easy to forget the rich literary tradition and history of Iraq in general and Baghdad in particular," Davidson said. "Book Wings is a way to leverage new media technology to share the newest developments in that tradition."

The bilingual performances, which are free and open to the public, will take place in the UI Theatre Building and will be streamed live online, where anyone can watch the performances. Live watch parties will be happening around the world, from Kirkwood Community College to New York City to Oman and Qatar. There will be a question-and-answer session following the performances, and audience members are invited to tweet comments and questions using the hashtag #bookw.

Read the plays and watch the peformances at

The Book Wings initiative is underwritten by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.Comments: (319) 398-8434;

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