ORGANIZATION | Inducted 2014
Through live theater and online videos, Silk Road Rising showcases playwrights primarily of Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds whose works address themes relevant to the peoples of the Silk Road and their diaspora communities—more than 1.5 million of whom live in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Founded in 2002 by two openly gay men and life partners, Malik Gillani and Jamil Khoury, Silk Road Rising (then known as Silk Road Theatre Project) is committed to expanding diversity and representation on Chicago’s stages, including LGBT representation. Khoury and Gillani believe it imperative to integrate the polycultural stories of LGBT people into the fabric of American storytelling. Silk Road Rising has been acclaimed for creating a safe and supportive environment for LGBT artists of all backgrounds.
In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Gillani and Khoury felt galvanized to respond to anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments that swept the United States and to challenge arguments surmising a “clash of civilizations.” Their initial aim was to counter negative representation of Middle Eastern and Muslim people with representation that was authentic, multifaceted, and grounded in human experience. Their idea soon expanded beyond the Middle East to encompass the vast historical Silk Road, stretching from Japan to Italy.
From the company’s inception, beginning with its inaugural production of Khoury’s “Precious Stones”, about a lesbian relationship between a Palestinian woman and a Jewish woman (which went on to be performed in 16 cities in 10 states), to the launch of the company’s celebrated staged-readings series with Chay Yew’s “A Language of Their Own”, about Chinese American gay men and interracial relationships, Silk Road Rising has consistently given voice to Asian and Middle Eastern sexual-minority experiences that are often ignored within both Silk Road community and mainstream LGBT community.
From the world première of Yussef El Guindi’s controversial “Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith”, the first play ever to include a Muslim character who was both religious and gay, to the Midwest première of Julia Cho’s “Durango”, a play that daringly shed light on closeted homosexuality within a Korean American family, to important gay story lines in Richard Vetere’s “Caravaggio”, Shishir Kurup’s “Merchant on Venice”, and Naomi Iizuka’s “36 Views”, Silk Road Rising has compiled a track record of advancing LGBT visibility and empowerment. (Note: information listed has not been updated since the organization’s induction).