self reflection

March 26, 2010

whew! the project report is done, the grants are in, the bills are paid, and Mo`olelo’s production of self (the remix) is all wrapped up.  Here are some of the production highlights:

– We had 1,791 advance reservations and walk-ins… that’s 84% overall capacity!

– While 84% is lower than our last three productions, more than any show, self (the remix) engaged younger and ethnically diverse audiences — lots of folks who were new to Mo`olelo and many who were first-time theatergoers!

– Some of the groups that attended included:
Persian Cultural Center
Calaca Press
Alliant University
USD Ethnic Studies and Theater Arts Departments
AIGA Sustainability Committee
San Diego City College UMOJA, ENG 101 and Communications Classes
Crunchy Sandwich
Filipino American Lawyers of San Diego
Blue Summit Financial Group
Young Audiences of San Diego
Grossmont Community College Communication class

– We reached out to our patrons to “sponsor a new generation of audiences.” Thanks to their support, youth from the following organizations attended the show:
International Rescue Committee
Tariq Khamisa Foundation
Serra High School Say San Diego Program
transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project
Hoover High AVID and Bridges Programs
The Village of Promise Collective
The Jenna Druck Foundation
Montgomery High School Drama Class

– The show ended in the black!

Congrats all!


performing Iran

March 11, 2010

Please join Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company and Movies that Matter for a performance and post show discussion this Saturday, March 13, at 7:30 PM at The 10th Avenue Theatre in Downtown San Diego.

 What: A performance of the play self (the remix), followed by a discussion on “Performing Iran.”

About the play, self (the remix): What is Robertito to do? He is half-Iranian and half-Guatemalan growing up in California at a time when the shadow of the Iranian Hostage Crises looms large. In self (the remix), acclaimed playwright and performer Robert Farid Karimi, accompanied by a soundscape created by DJ D Double, tells a “remixed” autobiographical tale of a boy struggling to learn about manhood, nationhood, and neighborhood. A spoken word, hip hop play with one man, one DJ and 26 characters.

 About the post-show discussion: Facilitated by Rebecca Romani, the discussion on “Performing Iran” will feature Mahbod Seraji, author of Rooftops of Tehran, musician Farhad Bahrami, and the artists of self (the remix).

 When: Saturday, March 13, 2010; Performance begins promptly at 7:30 PM, discussion to follow at 9:00 PM

 Where: The 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101

 How much: Tickets are regular $27, but if you order online in advance at, select a ‘student/senior’ rate and input this coupon code: SELF6172. It will turn your $27 ticket to a $17 ticket.

 Info/Questions:, 619-342-7395

Theater Review

Music, humor highlight complexities of identity in ‘self (the remix)’


Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 12:03 a.m.


“self (the remix)”

Mo’olelo Performing Arts Co.

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m., through March 21

Where: Tenth Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave., downtown

Tickets: $15-$35

Phone: (619) 342-7395


Photo by Nick Abadilla

Robert Farid Karimi moves to the music of DJ D Double in “self (the remix).”

Count the ways “self (the remix)” is not like your average play: It’s got a DJ, it’s got a dance floor, it’s got … homework?

The last part is nothing too taxing: Robert Farid Karimi, the spoken-word performer at the center of this inventive show at Mo’olelo Performing Arts Co., simply asks those who aren’t familiar with the Iran hostage crisis to go ahead and Google it.

No need for Karimi himself to brush up on that 1979-80 national trauma. The half-Iranian, half-Guatemalan artist was 8 when it started, and his lessons came largely at the taunts and fists of schoolmates.

The trials of that time form the core of “self,” an absorbing show whose fluid, sometimes hypnotic narrative moves to the beats and needle-drops and trippy soundscapes of DJ D Double, manning the turntables at stage left. It all makes for an 80-minute ride with moments of exhilaration and a nonlinear storytelling style that’s right in tune with the show’s message about the beautiful complexities of identity.

Karimi, a former national slam-poetry champ, doesn’t shy from the heavier subjects, but it’s his humor that really lifts the show, coupled with his sharp eye for pop-culture iconography. (When the hostage crisis started, he says, everyone’s favorite game became “Tie the yellow ribbon around the Iranian boy.”)

His theme of a misfit who pinballs around endlessly, trying to find his place in the world, has a little in common with “Passing Strange,” the 2008 rock musical about a young African-American on a quest for “the real.”

What becomes most real for the young version of Karimi is music and dancing. But first he has to navigate the demands and disapproval of his parents, not to mention the Catholic Church (there’s a funny moment where Karimi keeps standing and kneeling frenetically to DJ D Double’s ever-accelerating beat, trying to keep up with the “Catholic Morse Code to God”).

Karimi’s Guatemalan mother and Iranian father met in English class in the Bay Area town of Union City, and both make appearances in the show, as portrayed by their son. True to the family’s apparently contentious relationships (Karimi’s parents divorced when he was 4), neither is very happy with the way they’re depicted.

“You don’t know how to do an Iranian accent,” the dad protests. “You make me sound French.”

There’s a recurring character of an “old Chicano hipster,” portrayed entertainingly as a kind of street shaman who offers wise words to Karimi between hits off an imaginary spliff. The context doesn’t become totally clear until late in the show, when we circle back to the setting at the beginning, around the time of the 1992 L.A. riots.

It’s there that Karimi finally finds a spiritual home, in a nightclub peopled by characters whose ethnicities and obsessions don’t fit into the mainstream. And it’s where he heeds the counsel of the “Disco Jesus” who came to him in a vision and advised: “Get down with your Catholic Muslim self.”

But you can’t get down without some sounds, and the tracks that DJ D Double deftly spins go from snippets of the They Might Be Giants’ snarky “Minimum Wage” to Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That” to New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” and Spandau Ballet’s “True,” with plenty of Michael Jackson sprinkled in (the late singer and Karimi share a birthday).

“The soundtrack of our lives is captured, mixed, remixed, like strands of energy,” as Karimi puts it.

And if you’ve got energy to spare, the set includes a dance floor, where you can get down with your funky playgoing self before the show. Homework can wait.

self (the remix) at Tenth Avenue Theatre

Mo’olelo production examines fluidity of identity
By Jennifer Chung Klam
Posted on Sun, Mar 7th, 2010
Last updated Sun, Mar 7th, 2010

These days it might seem like the Tenth Avenue Theatre downtown has been taken over by a new nightclub. It hasn’t – but the heavy beat thumping from the space might entice a stray clubber or two during the run of Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s production of self (the remix).

Dave Dimaano, also known as DJ D Double, even lures audience members down to the stage floor to get their groove on before the show begins. As it turns out, the dance floor is a pretty good metaphor for the mixed-up, collision of cultures at the heart of self and its writer-performer Robert Farid Karimi.

A spoken word artist that’s been on a winning team of the National Poetry Slam and featured on Def Poetry Jam, Karimi comes from a mix of cultural backgrounds – half Guatemalan, half Iranian; raised both Catholic and Muslim; brought up on disco, ‘80s new wave, hip hop and punk. All of these influences mingle in Karimi’s autobiographical performance, which is part play, part spoken word and part hip hop, sometimes political and habitually hilarious.

You’re probably getting the idea for the “remix” part of the title. When a DJ does a remix, she takes a familiar song and rearranges it into something completely new.

“We are the DJ,” Karimi says at the beginning of the show, constantly mixing and remixing our lives. The metaphor is an apt one, not only for mixed-race people, but cultural hyphenates who struggle for acceptance and extended to just about anyone who’s felt pulled in different cultural directions (the salsa-dancing football-playing cross dresser, the sci-fi addict rapper grandma, etc.).

Growing up against the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis and Reaganomics, Karimi tells stories of his adolescence, where it wasn’t easy growing up half Iranian, the son of immigrants. He describes the discrimination he endured, from being excluded from his elementary class picture to uniting his schoolmates through the collective experience of kicking his “turban-wearing burrito eater” ass.

Along the way, Karimi introduces us to myriad characters, including an old Chicano hipster, Disco Jesus and his own parents – who even tell Karimi he’s doing a terrible job with their accents. The story of how his parents met and fell in love is especially tender and irreverent, all at once.

But that’s how Karimi rolls. His rebellious attitude toward religion finds humor in the ritualistic and dogmatic, culminating in his vision of Jesus as a discotheque diva that tells him to “get down with your Muslim-Catholic self.”

DJ D Double – spinning ‘80s tunes (a booty shake down memory lane for those of us of a certain era) along with disco, hip hop, heavy metal and an eclectic mix of stuff you’ve never heard – delights the audience again and again with his musical choices. Karimi and his DJ are in near perfect synch.

Karimi has been performing self across the country since 2001, updating and tweaking the text for each locale. Expect local references. The performance seems to have been pieced together from various spoken word poems, and there are moments, especially toward the end, that feel disjointed. Taking a peek into Karimi’s surreal, whirlpool mind is a wild ride, but you can get lost in the mayhem.

Karimi’s storytelling style involves plenty of dancing and movement, and his high-energy performance never wanes throughout the 90-minute show. His poetry is mostly accessible, witty and thought provoking. I say mostly because there may be a head scratching moment here or there, perhaps followed by home Googling. However, spoken word tends to be far less esoteric than any poetry you’ll find in The New Yorker.

That’s right, I said it. I’m not into that cryptic New Yorker crap. But I’m still going to get down with my spoken word-loving, Chinese-American, theater-going, closeted ‘80s music fan self.

Dates 7:30pm Thurs-Sat, 2pm Sun through March 21
Organization Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company
Phone 619-342-7395
Production Type Play
Region Downtown
Ticket Prices $22-$27
Venue Tenth Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave, San Diego


Jennifer Chung Klam

About the author: Jennifer Chung Klam is an editor at The Daily Transcript and a freelance arts and culture writer.

BLOG TICKET SPECIAL for Sat. Mar. 6 7:30 show. Order online at, select a ‘student/senior’ rate and input this coupon code: SELF6172. It will turn your $27 ticket to a $17 ticket. spread the word.

Just completed week #1 of self (the remix) – over 500 folks caught the show, and here’s some of their feedback:

Karimi and the DJ allowed for a very entertaining, accessible production of tales from 70s & 80s that connected to anyone in the audience, no matter their nationality. I especially enjoyed the intertwining of the music which makes the show even more universal. Karimi maintained his energy throughout (hopefully he’s ingesting lots of protein powder) the production in a no-stop tour de force that connected to this audience of younger individuals, but will find a connection with the “older” crowd just as easily. Karimi’s boyish charm assists the time line and his energy level exhausted us all. Bravo! … This one smells like a hit.

Brilliant!  I enjoyed the theme and the way such a heavy topic was presented. …I’d love to attend more and have already spread the word.

Great Show last night… Robert had it “goin’-on!” It really made me think about identity and self in ways I had not imagined.

We LOVED it…the story was compelling, the music was fun and Robert’s energy was amazing.  It’s always nice to get a sitter and have an “adult” night out, but it was especially a treat to get to experience Mo`olelo.

And finally, we’d like to share the story of “B.”
B is an 80-something year old woman who was brought to the show with a friend. I was with her in the art gallery before the performance and she said “It sounds like there’s a lot of music in this show.”
I said “Yes! Do you like music?”
She frowned and said “Not loud music.”
So I explained that this show might be a little different for her.
Fast forward to the curtain call.
She came up to me gushing “I LOVED IT!”
“What about the music?” I asked her.
“That was the best part!”

So yes, fear not the hip hop. The music runs from the 1970s to the present, and what makes the show ‘hip hop’ is the sampling technique used by the DJ. If you’re over 35 – give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised as was “B” at how reflected she felt in the piece.

theater on the green

February 28, 2010

Check out this great article by James Hebert of The San Diego Union Tribune about our greening work:

Theater on the green

Mo’olelo ‘tool kit’ emerges as model for ecology-minded Broadway


Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 12:03 a.m.

Seema Sueko (shown at Miramar Recycling Center) and her theater company Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company have been at the forefront of developing strategies to reduce waste and other environmental impacts from the construction and disposal of used theater scenery.


Seema Sueko (shown at Miramar Recycling Center) and her theater company Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company have been at the forefront of developing strategies to reduce waste and other environmental impacts from the construction and disposal of used theater scenery.


“self (the remix)”

Mo’olelo Performing Arts Co.

When: Now in previews. Opens Friday.

Schedule: Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m., through March 21

Where: Tenth Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave., downtown

Tickets: $15-$35

Phone: (619) 342-7395


Seema Sueko (shown at Miramar Recycling Center) and her theater company Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company have been at the forefront of developing strategies to reduce waste and other environmental impacts from the construction and disposal of used theater scenery.


Mo’olelo’s 2008 production of “Permanent Collection.”

Green is the shade of the heroine’s skin in the massive Broadway hit “Wicked.” Green is also the color of the currency “Wicked” continues to haul in — some $1.3 million a week, more than six years after the show’s New York premiere.

But green also has come to mean something more than cold cash to the people behind that showbiz phenom and other hot-ticket Broadway shows. And at least a bit of the credit can go to a San Diego theater whose $168,000 yearly budget doesn’t match what “Wicked” makes in a day.

Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company puts on just two productions a year, each focusing on a specific social issue, from gun violence to racism to brain injury. Besides rolling out a wide array of educational efforts with every show, the community-minded company also has embraced the idea of reducing live theater’s environmental impact in general, devoting special attention to how sets are designed and discarded.

“We create these elaborate worlds,” as Mo’olelo co-founder and artistic director Seema Sueko puts it. “But what do we do with it all at the end?”

Mo’olelo won a grant from the national Theatre Communications Group in 2008 to develop a comprehensive green-theater “tool kit.” But while Sueko and Co. were working on that, a newly launched New York consortium called the Broadway Green Alliance, which was developing its own green-theater initiatives, happened to run across a set of working guidelines on the Mo’olelo Web site.

Now, Mo’olelo’s work (the company posted its finished tool kit in December) is being used as a model by the Broadway producers, administrators and technical people who have signed on to the Alliance.

“Part of the goal of the Broadway Green Alliance was not to reinvent the wheel, but to get out there and link up people to resources,” says Susan Sampliner, company manager of “Wicked” on Broadway and a co-chair of the BGA. “And we thought Mo’olelo had a fantastic set of resources, so we just leaned on them. And they were very gracious about it.”

Live theater likely doesn’t register in most minds as being particularly harmful to the planet. It’s not coal mining; at its most threatening it seems more likely to imperil delicate sensibilities than fragile ecosystems.

But a show can have a surprising variety of non-green components: potentially toxic paints, energy-intensive electronics, non-recyclable foams and fabrics, even Spandex can be a no-no, because of the way it’s manufactured. And then there are such aspects as how the audience (and equipment) gets to the theater in the first place.

Community, Sueko says, is “the starting point for all we do” at Mo’olelo, so she felt a sense of hypocrisy about being part of a theater world that prides itself on being socially conscious and yet knows that “the methods of theater are damaging.”

Mo’olelo’s latest show, Robert Farid Karimi’s hip-hop piece “self (the remix),” now in previews at the Tenth Avenue Theatre downtown, is physically about as green as can be. It has no set to speak of — mainly just Karimi and DJ D Double.

While Sueko says that wasn’t the prime reason for picking the show, she adds that “knowing we didn’t have to truck in a bunch of scenery and damage the environment that way was appealing.”

To Sueko, if theater isn’t as green as it could be, the reason has more to do with a lack of information than of will. That’s been the point of publicizing the tool kit, which offers detailed environmental “score cards” on everything from wood products to textiles to “audience interface materials” (playbills, food containers, shade-grown organic coffees).

“I think everybody wants to do the right thing when it comes to the environment,” she says. “But it’s hard to know what the right thing is.”

It turns out that going green can also save some of that other green. Sampliner of “Wicked” says the first step the Broadway company took was to start using rechargeable batteries instead of disposables to power the show’s abundance of wireless microphones and backstage flashlights.

“We had used huge amounts of batteries,” Sampliner says. “We’d put them in buckets and tell people to take them home — they were only partly used, because you didn’t want them to cut out in the middle of a show.”

No one wants Elphaba’s voice to go silent at the climax of “Defying Gravity,” which was part of the reason there was a reluctance to use rechargeables in the first place; the fear was they wouldn’t have enough staying power. Not only did that concern prove unfounded, but the switch is now saving the company $26,000 a year.

Many shades of green

Locally, Mo’olelo isn’t alone in its green thinking. J*Company Youth Theatre, based in University City, rolled out an Earth-minded season last year that included reusing paints and sets, tracking all materials in and out to reduce waste, and educating cast and crew on good environmental practices.

And although Bruce Cartier of the Technomania Circus was following a kind of religion of reuse long before green became chic, the thinking behind his company’s inventive sets fits into the new, low-impact consciousness.

Cartier likes to invoke the word “obtanium” to describe the mishmash of found objects he uses to create the worlds of Technomania’s whimsical, unpredictable productions. They take place at the Center for the Amusing Arts, an outdoor performance space constructed on Cartier’s property in Barrio Logan.

Cartier developed his sensibility growing up in the desert town of Ocotillo Wells, watching his father “put together things in weird ways to help them run.”

Technomania, he notes, is “a no-budget circus, trying to make something out of nothing. So stuff that people throw away can still be used. To me, a lot of that stuff is still valuable.

“(Assembling things) in the wrong way, in a different way — I love that kind of spirit,” he says.

Cartier finds his materials discarded in alleyways or advertised as freebies on Craigslist. He has managed to round up enough metal to construct an 8-foot-tall UFO for Technomania’s next production, a spoofy alien romp that opens March 20.

Cartier also notes that Technomania is located right next to a stop on the trolley’s Orange Line.

Transportation is likewise an aspect of Mo’olelo’s green mission; the company offers $5 discount coupons via e-mail to theatergoers who get to the show by carpooling, driving a hybrid, bicycling or using public transportation.

That’s not such an issue on Broadway, where most theaters are located within a few blocks of a subway stop. But the theaters there are finding other ways to chip away at their environmental impact.

Sampliner says that within the space of a single year, nearly all the bulbs on Broadway marquees were switched from incandescent to LED lights or other more energy-efficient types.

On the question, though, of whether better choices for the environment might lead to artistic compromises, Sampliner says it’s too early to say. With the long lead times of the typical Broadway show, there hasn’t been much opportunity for productions to incorporate green thinking from the earliest conceptual stages.

“At this point, we realize a lot of our designers don’t know what the greener choices are,” Sampliner says. One good sign, she says, is that she now gets frequent calls from other theaters asking what steps they should take.

Sueko likewise doesn’t expect instant results, especially when theaters lately have had to focus so much energy on simple survival. The rich tradition of theater, the way so much of it is still handmade, also means old ways can be slow to evolve.

“As progressive as we think of theater as being, it’s hard to change the way things have always been done,” Sueko says. “We’re very green at being green.”

self (the remix) on FOX 5

February 26, 2010

This morning Robert Farid Karimi and DJ D Double were interviewed by Raoul Martinez on FOX 5 San Diego.  Check it out here:

AIGA (the professional association for graphic designers) has a Sustainability Committee in San Diego, and they are organizing a green day at SELF (THE REMIX) on March 12. Following the performance they will be holding a reception and we’ll chat about Mo`olelo’s Green Theater Choices Toolkit. You can read about the event here:

It’s open to non-AIGA members, so if you’re interested in chatting green, order your tickets through them for March 12.