A finely-woven, patterned rug hangs from the ceiling, its design typical of the region. Centre stage is a multipurpose plain old chair. The air is filled with the sound of impassioned voices singing traditional Kurdish songs to the beat of drums and bowing of stringed instruments. Diane Edgecomb enters and sings the first of several refrains she learned during her time in the mountains, valleys and villages that are home to the Kurds.
Full of passion, commitment and integrity
She throws a black shawl around her shoulders with the swish and style of a woman who learned the technique from locals. She moves to a special area, sits comfortably on an ornately-covered stool and carefully places a traditional, tasseled hat on her head that sparkles in the lights. Suitably robed and in her best Kurdish she becomes the matriarchal storyteller, alternating the original lines with English translation. The Eggs of the Ancient Tree is interrupted by diversions, but is taken up in stanzas throughout, forming the framework for the performance. There are too many things to tell for it to run continuously: descriptions of the people she met; her brushes with the authorities and the great journey itself into lands where few people travel.
A Thousand Doorways is the true story of one woman’s perilous quest to preserve the threatened culture of the Kurds. She met a Kurdish refugee through a friend in Italy. From him she learned that Turkish law prohibits the speaking and writing of the Kurdish language. She knew that if the language was banned and children were not hearing their about heritage then a people’s culture was under threat, and in particular for her, that their stories would be lost. Already a professional actor and especially a committed storyteller, she returned to the USA, raised $5000, made contacts and began her undercover crusade to record and preserve what she could by living among the people.
There were two visible outcomes from what she did: this show and the first collection of Kurdish folktales in English, Fire in My Heart: Kurdish Tales. Her uplifting impact on Kurdish communities is less tangible but equally real. During her performance she brings to life the events and people she encountered, playing over 16 characters as she hides in rooms, rides in trucks and converses with families and foes. Her aim is “to let the voices of the Kurds, a people who have been silenced for so long, shine through with all of their wisdom, humor and heart”. She accurately describes her performance. “I try to hold in balance both darkness and light, a fairytale journey through a mysterious world full of synchronicity, wonder, and beauty juxtaposed with the brutal reality of daily life under an oppressive regime. Through it all is the incredible resilience, courage and humor of the people I encountered.”
By virtue of her research and content, A Thousand Doorways makes a unique contribution to storytelling. Diane Edgecomb’s personal travelogue is brave and remarkable; the material she has preserved for posterity is priceless. To see her on stage it is hard to imagine that she undertook such a journey, but her tale is so full of passion, commitment and integrity that it can be nothing less than truthful. In her own words, “It is an uplifting story of how the human spirit triumphs in the face of all odds”.