On the Front Lines (OTFL) is a project which explores Afghan experiences through theatre using authentic sources. Ohio State hosted six events in the fall of 2019, including the performance of two plays commissioned especially for On the Front Lines.  As a part of Ohio State University’s Discovery Theme Global Arts and Humanities, it serves as a learning access point for students and the public, educating local community and people online about lived experience in Afghanistan and Afghan communities around the world, the global issues of war and displacement, and the roles of theatre, poetry and the arts in Afghan culture.  OTFL also maintains connections with Im/mobility research and the exploration of Migration, Mobility and Immobility being conducted by faculty at Ohio State.

Dr. Lesley Ferris, Distinguished Arts and Humanities Professor of Theatre, directs On the Front Lines. The project entails performing plays based on stories by Afghans, especially women authors, but also research on Afghan history and culture within the fields of theatre, history, journalism, and others. Faculty at Ohio State in those fields integrate voices of Afghan scholars and authors, journalists who have extensive fieldwork experience in Afghanistan, and the study of Afghan history in their classes to provide our students with authentic learning opportunities about a place which is difficult to access through study abroad or other traditional means for global education at the university level. Read more about Dr. Ferris’s vision for the project in this interview.

This project is based on a long history of global and multicultural theatre projects at Ohio State. The Department of Theatre at the Ohio State University has sustained collaborations with international theatre companies and professionals from around the world for many years and offers a curriculum which integrates global and multicultural perspectives across all of its courses. One of the strongest international foci, other than the more well-known partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company, has been theatre projects based in countries and communities of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Authors and playwrights from Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, have contributed to the development of play performances and academic conferences focusing on the role of theatre in society in the Middle East ant Globally.


Afghanistan stands at a critical juncture. For the first time in the 18-year American-led war, real prospects exist for a peace deal. The U.S. and (separately) Russia are openly negotiating with the Taliban, trying to chart a possible end to the war. We offer an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, and the Columbus community to engage with one of the most critical issues of our time– women’s voices and the refugee crisis– through witnessing a range of performance events grounded in Afghan experience. This will create a unique learning opportunity that will be maximized by faculty in a number of departments. Other featured artistic practices –photography and film — provide a sense of the layered, nuanced ways one can view and come to understand other cultures. While wars do not define Afghanistan, they are critical for understanding the country today, and for connecting to Afghan history. The art events that inform this proposal explore these experiences through theatre making: scripted plays and immersive theatre. The Middle East Studies Center will interpret plays for students and the public by hosting discussions on politics, culture, and global issues related to war.  Artistic practices offer powerful ways to understand culture authentically and in context.  Theatre, especially, has the ability to transport audiences, or to immerse them in a cultural experience. This project is a response to the costs of war, the need to take gender into account critically when representing world cultures, and the need to learn from cultures rather than the usually ways of learning about them.

The Department of Theatre, the Middle East Studies Center, the Department of History, the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (NELC) Department, the Wexner Center for the Arts, and the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Collection and the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Institute at the University Library, and the Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme collaborate on the “On the Front Lines: Performing Afghanistan” project in response to this geopolitical situation.  This theatre project features stories written by Afghan women and adapted for the stage in addition to top scholars  who discuss topics relevant to Afghan history and culture, including the history of Afghan theatre, theatrical practices that the military uses for simulating field operations in Afghanistan, and “the Great Game.” Complete information on the guest artists and scholars can be found on this page.

These events are part of a larger project to bring Afghan women’s voices to the public more prominently through storytelling and theatre. The play performances will consist of two premiere performances of one-act plays based on stories reported by Afghan women journalists on the ground. Playwrights Nushin Arbabzadah and Alia Bano adapted these works for the stage, giving a rare and revealing look into Afghan women’s lives. Following the performances, the playwrights, with invited guests, join the post-performance discussion with Lesley Ferris, Art and Humanities Distinguished Professor of Theatre at Ohio State University and other invited guests. Since 2016 Dr. Ferris, as Artistic Director of Palindrome Productions (London), has been commissioning and producing the plays.

The plays we are commissioning are part of a larger project to bring Afghan women’s voices to the public more prominently through storytelling and theatre, Sahar Speaks.  The first three plays, were based on stories written  for the Huffington Post by by Afghan women journalists who completed training through Sahar Speaks. Palindrome Productions produced several of plays in London prior to this project.

On the Front Lines: Performing Afghanistan will continue engaging authentic voices of Afghanistan and beyond through theatre and will build an intellectual community around the issues brought up in the stories and plays.  We hope you will join us.

This project is made possible by the Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme at the Ohio State University.  It is led by the Department of Theatre and the Middle East Studies Center with support from Department of History, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (NELC), and the Wexner Center for the Arts, and the Middle East and Islamic Studies Service and Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute at the University Library.