Upcoming Play in Dearborn to Feature Arab-American Voices in Their Own Words

The production “Undesirable Elements/Dearborn” seeks stories and performers.

Ping Chong + Company, a production company from New York, has partnered with the Arab American National Museum to tell the story of Dearborn through some of its residents. The company is seeking Arab-American men and women to talk about their identity and their city. Their words will be adapted into a stage performance.

“A big portion of this project is to help dispel some of those stereotypes about the Arab-American community in Dearborn,” said Kathryn Grabowski, humanities programming coordinator for the museum.

Potential participants, who need not be actors, are invited to apply online by Feb. 15. Some applicants will move on to in-person, two-hour-long interviews where their stories will be further fleshed out. Finally, four or five participants will be selected from that pool and Ping Chong + Company will develop a script of sorts from their words. These participants will then “play themselves” while seated on stage at the Arab American National Museum May 11 and 12.

WDET’s Laura Herberg recently interviewed Grabowski about the production. Click on the player above to listen.

Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation:

Herberg: This is going to be a little different than a normal play. Can you walk me through the production process for this?

Grabowski: A big part of the project is really empowering the community, empowering voices of our community to be heard. The production process starts with an application process. Applicants are asked a series of questions about their life, their experiences and about their relationship with Dearborn, also about their identity. Then Ping Chong + Company will be running interviews of the applications. Those interviews will be lengthy, they’ll be two-hour-long interviews.

Herberg: What kind of questions will be asked?

Grabowski: Some of the questions will be about what is home to you, and why and what do you think of when you think of Dearborn, what do other people think of when they think of Dearborn? A big portion of this project is to really help dispel a lot of those stereotypes about the Arab-American community in Dearborn, which receives quite a lot of improper framing in certain portions of our media. After those interviews take place, a narrative will start to be formulated by Ping Chong + Company that will tell the Dearborn story through these personal accounts and the ultimate casting will be done.

Herberg: Just to clarify, the people who are interviewed, if their narrative is selected, they will end up being on stage reading their own words. Is that correct?

Grabowski: That is absolutely correct. Those words will be kind of re-worked and edited into a theatrical storytelling format with the help of Ping Chong + Company.  They’ll actually be writing the scripts based on the real words of the participants.

Herberg: The play was originally billed as being for women and non-binary individuals. Now it will include men and non-Muslim participants from Dearborn as well. Tel me about that change, how it came about and why.

Grabowski: That change came about because we realized that we were missing an important part of the narrative when we were making the calls to participants. Since this is our first time doing a theater piece about Dearborn, we made the change to open up the calls for participants to include an even more diverse scope of what the Arab-American, Dearborn story is.

Herberg: How many applicants are you expecting? Have people begun applying?

Grabowski: People have begun applying. We’re hoping to get at least 15 applicants. At this point, we’re actively examining them and scheduling those interviews.




  • Laura Herberg
    Laura Herberg is a Reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling the stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here.