Kayhan Irani: Theater and Social Change


Kayhan Irani
Theater and Social Change
B.A., June 2008
Sumasil Foundation Scholarship
Diego Hidalgo Scholarship for the Arts
FEZANA Arts Scholarship
ZAGNY Scholarship
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship
Kaye Arts and Humanities Fellowship
Fali Chothia Charitable Trust Scholarship
Weston Fellowship
NY Emmy Award
Fulbright Fellowship
Dean’s List

Kayhan Irani considers herself an “artivist,” fusing theater with activism and social change to activate audiences and transform society.

[Find out what makes CUNY BA a great degree route for performing artists at this link: http://info.cunyba.gc.cuny.edu/cunyba-for-performers/]

After graduating from the High School of Performing Arts, Irani longed for a way to combine her passion for the theater with her desire to make the world a better place. She dropped out of college after her first year to try to find a field that would satisfy her. In 2003 she created a one-woman show, We’ve Come Undone, which highlights the lives of immigrant women post 9/11, combining contemporary performance with participatory theater to engage audiences in political and social change. She has performed the show nationally and internationally for universities, non-profit organizations and at theater festivals. She then became a practitioner and trainer of the techniques of Theater of the Oppressed, a participatory form of social change theater developed by the Brazilian director and activist Augusto Boal. In 2004 Irani led theater workshops in occupied Iraq with Childhood’s Voices and Happy Families, two organizations teaching and healing children through the arts. After this immersion in using the arts for social change, Irani decided to return to the university to integrate her experiences with scholarship and research.

While in CUNY BA she was awarded an Asia Pacific Performance Exchange Fellowship at UCLA where she worked with artists from Asia and the U.S. She was awarded a grant from the International Center for Tolerance Education to train ESL teachers in how to use interactive theater to support ESL learning. Working with The Point, a community organization and cultural center in the South Bronx, she wrote and developed a children’s play about asthma and civic pride called Jackie n’ the Beanstalk which combines theater with circus and aerial acrobatics. She was part of a team of educators and artists working on a three-year project with the Barnard College Education Program that created a curriculum to teach about race and racism through storytelling and the arts.

In 2007 Irani was awarded a certificate of recognition by Mayor Bloomberg as part of Immigrant History Week for her work in immigrant communities. She has led theater programs at public schools, for community groups, at juvenile detention facilities, for government agencies and with the general public and is often invited to present her work at major conferences.

She is the co-editor of  a volume of essays entitled Telling Stories to Change the World: Global Voices on the Power of Stories to Build Community and make Social Justice Claims (Routledge 2008), about projects around the world that use storytelling as a way of creating social justice. After graduation she became a writer and the Director of Outreach for an ESL TV show called “We Are New York” produced by the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education and CUNY; this is a project she originally volunteered for through her Weston Fellowship. She won a NY Emmy for her writing on this TV show. She has since left “We Are New York” and now travels regularly to Kabul, Afghanistan where she continues to teach.

Irani’s degree was constructed with courses in Theater, Political Science, Media Studies, Anthropology and Urban Studies at Brooklyn, Hunter and City Colleges and CUNY’s School of Professional Studies, working with Profs. John Krinsky, Political Science, City and Dale Byam, Theater, Brooklyn.

Irani won a Fulbright grant in 2012 to travel to India to conduct reach on her next project.  Read about her Fulbright here: http://www.usief.org.in/2012-2013-USFellows/Senior%20Research/Irani-Kayhan.html

For most recent updates on Irani’s work, please see her blog at: http://kayhanirani.wordpress.com/

Finally, CUNY BA is indebted to Kayhan Irani and her family, who have established an annual $1000 CUNY BA award in memory of Kayhan’s grandmother: the Dina Arjani Scholarship.