The Bard in 3 languages

Kavdo Kamil says he didn't believe director Pete Friedrich when he announced to students in the Shakespeare Iraq acting troupe last year they might be performing in the United States this summer.

"Now, I believe anything is possible," says the 25-year-old Iraqi university student, taking a break from trying on company costumes in Carpenter Hall at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Kamil and the troupe's nine other students are performing their ear-tickling rendition of the Bard that blends English, Arabic and Kurdish languages before audiences at the OSF's Green Show this weekend.

The group was forged from the drama club at American University of Iraq in Sulaimani. Green Show producer Claudia Alick caught wind of the group after it publicly performed snippets of Shakespeare's plays for an audience of about 600 in Iraq in May 2011. The performance, in English, may have been the first of its kind in Iraq, Friedrich says.

Arrangements were made to bring the group to the U.S. At the end of last March, the group was about $15,000 shy of the $30,000 it needed for the trip.

It's campaign had leveled off, recalls Friedrich, who alerted Alick. Word started to spread through OSF that the troupe may not make it, Alick says, and donations shot up overnight, eventually reaching about $33,000.

"We couldn't have done it without the power and passion of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival patrons," Friedrich says.

Kamil says he was sitting at his computer studying in his dorm room when donations from Ashland started pouring in.

"I remember I saw a $1,000 increase, and I thought, 'This must be a mistake,' so I clicked refresh and it was now a $2,000 increase," Kamil says. "It just kept going up and up ... it was so exciting, just sitting there and refreshing the page and watching it reach our mark."

Shakespeare Iraq will perform at 7:15 p.m. today and Sunday on the courtyard bricks at OSF. Its first two performances were Tuesday and Thursday.

"Ever since I walked on stage and looked at the audience, I was so happy," says Kamil, who majors in engineering at AUIS. "I could see their smiles. I could see all of their expectations and anticipation. And I could tell they liked it."

Kamil says he didn't feel at home roaming through Istanbul, Turkey or Paris, killing time while the group was hopping flights on their way to the U.S., where he'd never visited.

"Here, I feel, honestly, like I am at home," he says. "I think it might be because of the people."

One woman in Ashland, he says, walked up to him and began crying and apologizing for the Iraq War.

"Everyone has been just so, so nice, it's unbelievable," he says. "I love to see all of your smiles. Everyone is smiling all the time."

The students arrived in San Francisco on June 27, traveling around the Bay Area and visiting the American Conservatory Theater before rehearsing for the Green Show at Santa Clara University. They arrived in Ashland on July 1.

Basking in the buzz of a standing ovation after the group's first Green Show performance, 21-year-old Mewan Nahro says she could only think one thing: "This audience might be better than the ones in Iraq."

The group made the decision to mix Arabic and Kurdish into Shakespeare's prose a few days before flying out of Iraq for the U.S., Friedrich says.

Friedrich is a professor of drama and English composition at AUIS, where he will return for his fifth year at the end of September, he says.

"It would be really nice if more stuff like this spread around," he says. "It's not just about the show, it's the face-to-face contact. ... That is where theater has the edge on movies and TV — you can't cheat anything during that personal interaction."

Nahro says the U.S. has been surprising.

"I thought that maybe people just live for themselves and only look after themselves," she says. "I feel a real connection with the people here. ... What the government does, it doesn't mean that it's a reflection of the people."

Monday, the group is leaving Ashland for Portland, where it is scheduled to visit the set of the TV show "Leverage" on Tuesday and catch a flight to Iraq on Thursday. The group also will collaborate with Portland Shakespeare Project and the Artists Repertory Theatre during its stay in the Rose City.

"We've got to make this happen again," Friedrich says. "There is no question about it."

He says theaters up and down the West Coast and across the country have been calling him since the group arrived in the U.S., questioning why he didn't alert them of Shakespeare Iraq's arrival.

"I just told them, 'We didn't call anyone, Ashland called us,' " he says.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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