Playwriting Alumna Kate Mulley '16 Writes Multi-Part Instagram Play 'Damascus. It's in Syria.'

BY Amanda Breen, November 10, 2020

Damascus. It’s in Syria, written by Playwriting alumna Kate Mulley ’16, directed by Sharone Halevy, performed and filmed by Marlowe Holden, with lighting design by Marika Kent and sound design by Alek Deva, is a multi-part, month-long durational performance airing on Instagram. 


A press release for the play’s Instagram adaptation describes it as “blurring fantasy and reality.” Damascus is told via “the video diary of a woman traveling back in time and imagining what her life would have been if she had moved to Damascus for a guy who didn’t love her in the year before the Syrian Civil War.” 


Damascus has roots in Mulley’s own life experience. In 2010, Mulley considered moving to Damascus after a man she’d been seeing relocated there. Syria was on the cusp of civil war at the time, and a year later, would become entrenched in the widespread, multi-factioned unrest that continues to this day. 

Mulley was working as a Program Assistant for the Columbia Theatre Program in 2017 when she wrote a short poem about her past experience during a lunch break in St. Paul’s Chapel. From there, Mulley developed the project with the help of two writing groups, which included Playwriting alumna Nora Casey ’18 and Adjunct Associate Professor Leslie Ayvazian among their members. 


Damascus was originally performed as a solo show at Dixon Place in 2018, and at the beginning of 2020, Mulley planned to stage the play in New York City apartments as “intimate immersive performances.” When COVID-19 made indoor performances impossible, Mulley and the rest of the team brainstormed potential digital adaptations, ultimately deciding to utilize the popular social media network. “For such a personal, confessional text, the intimacy of Instagram felt like the right medium to retain the theatrical quality of liveness,” Mulley said. 


Staging the play on Instagram in the remote pandemic era was challenging at times. Much of the work fell to Holden, who would set up each shot and perform the scene, which Mulley and Halevy would watch on Zoom. Then, Holden would text Mulley and Halevy takes of the shots for final selection. 


But bringing Damascus to social media also came with unexpected benefits. Mulley notes that it was easier to differentiate between sections of fantasy and reality, which had been a challenge during live performances. Additionally, Mulley and the team were surprised by how immersive the Instragram performance becomes. 


Mulley is an internationally acclaimed playwright, librettist/lyricist, producer, and dramaturg whose work uses a feminist, and often historical, lens to examine gender, power, place, and desire. Her work has been developed at Hayes Theatre Company, Luna Stage, Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, Dixon Place, the Flea, Theatre503, and the Soho Theatre.


Damascus is free to view here. In lieu of purchasing tickets, the artists ask viewers to consider making a donation to one of the charities highlighted on the Instagram account.