[ a c t i n g ]
reviewS and media
" Aker is simply phenomenal as the conflicted and complex Roya. Driven, savvy, and wise, she never becomes a caricature of what some American theatre artist might expect an Afghan woman in pursuit of social justice for all might look like and gives a compelling and natural performance. " (BROADWAY WORLD)
Broadcasted on national Turkish television. November, 2013.
[Interview transcribed and translated:]
CAGRI TANYOL (VoA): Could you tell us a little bit about "Love in Afghanistan"?
MELIS AKER: Sure! The play centers around an American hip-hop star, Duke, who comes to perform for the troops at the Bagram base in Kabul, and the relationship he has with the Afghan interpreter, Roya, who works at the base. I suppose I can't really define this relationship merely as romantic. It really is a friendship. There are many factors that affect the two characters' interaction with one another. You see later on that my character, Roya, is actually a women's rights activist - a fighter, really, and was raised a boy earlier in her life. There are many factors that complicate their relationship. If you ask me, this play is really about the love one has for his or her country, and the love of family and one's roots.
CAGRI TANYOL (VoA): You played an Afghan woman as a Turkish actress, and had to speak with an Afghan accent in an English production. Can you tell us a little bit about how you prepared for this, was it difficult? Tell us about the process.
MELIS AKER: Actually, I found there were a lot more similarities between Turkish and Pashto than I had originally imagined - gestures, intonations, etymological parallels. For example, the word "wakht" in Pashto sounds a lot like "vakit" in Turkish through the Dari/Persian roots. But really what helped me familiarize myself with both Pashto and Dari the most was this; after I found out about getting the part, our playwright Charles Randolph-Wright sent me over to the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women in Rhode Island to meet five Afghan girls studying in the U.S. I had such an incredible time with them for a few weeks. I got to practice the accent, yes, but most of all, I was thoroughly educated about the Bacha Posh tradition through my dear friend Faheema, who was actually raised as a boy for part of her life, and was generous and brave enough to share so much with me. I am very grateful to her.
CAGRI TANYOL (VoA): In the play, Roya not only rebels against the patriarchy in her country, but also refuses to go and build a comfortable life with Duke in the U.S. What kind of experience was it to create this kind of character?
MELIS AKER: If you ask me, America is a little too interested in being the savior in a slightly, well, imperialist manner. And I think that what is so important about a character like Roya, is that she is a first on the American stage. We see, for the first time ever, this woman who has been raised in Afghanistan, stand up for herself, and say "hey, listen, you can't save me. This is not your job, or responsibility." And yes, Afghanistan technically is not part of "the middle east," but for the U.S., it is definitely in that category. And I say, at least as a middle eastern woman myself, that we have a lot to learn from Roya. I'm going to look straight into the camera for this one because I really believe there is a lot that women who are my age can learn from her.
CAGRI TANYOL (VoA): Will we be able to see you or your work in Turkey as well? Cinema, theatre?
MELIS AKER: Right now I am based out of New York. But of course! I would love to be able to work with artist I admire in the near future. Hopefully!
(2012 EDINBURGH FRIGNE FESTIVAL):
"Among a very strong cast Aker gives a stand-out bravura performance as Catherine. This is a character who must in the space of fifty minutes run the full gamut of emotions, being as convincing wise-cracking with her sister as she is groping in the terrifying blackness of possible insanity. It is testament to Aker’s skill that she had the audience hanging on her every word from the moment she rushed on stage concerned about her father to the final shocking revelation." (Broadway Baby *****)
[ M U S I C ]
"...as Melis Aker started her set, I slowly began to warm-up. There was certainly something pouring out of her, into the dark back-room. The lovely voice merging with poignant lyrics that obviously emanated from her passion, and some place quite private. Her compelling rendition of "A case of you" by Joni Mitchell cemented the moment, leaving all present throughly satisfied. She's certainly as talented as she is easy on the eyes." (Kerwin W., Studio-Phoenix)