BEIRUT: Having voyaged between theater stages in Geneva, Beirut, and New York City (NYC), Lebanese actress Aline Salloum, now based in NYC, loves portraying characters that represent her background as a human being.
“I came to NYC for the limitless possibilities that this city can offer a performer, and that is what I want for myself,” she told Annahar. “I’m aware that I have a foreign perspective, and I will not only take, but also seek opportunities to voice it.”
Salloum believes that acting is a journey of humanity exploration, a study of another human experience, which allows her to learn about herself and others.
“On stage, it’s a rush, it’s endorphins, it’s therapy, it’s a present moment. I’m not sure I can intellectualize my feelings. The experience is more raw and instinctual,” she expressed. “I believe in the art form and its ability to affect others and inspire change, considering that it’s human to human, which makes it powerful and timeless.”
From Beirut to Geneva: The shaping of an identity
Geneva was where Salloum fell in love with theater and performing arts. She had moved on her own to Geneva for high school, during a time she described as very critical in her development, because she was forming her identity, acquiring independence, and speaking up.
Befriending people from all over the world while in Geneva, exposed the young actress to a plethora of cultures. Salloum recounts joining and touring with the multilingual theater troupe “Instinct” founded by David Johnson, as “the most important event of [her] life, because [she] had essentially discovered what it is that [she] wanted to pursue: Acting.”
From Geneva to Beirut: The revelation of an identity
Back to Beirut where she was born and raised, she completed a Bachelor of Arts in theater and film at the Lebanese American University (LAU), immersed herself in Lebanon’s theater scene, and delved into the region’s socio-political state.
“To this day, I know that one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life was to show up for ‘Al Shaghila’ auditions where I first met Lina Khoury. It is thanks to her that I got to perform every year in Lebanon, with some of the greatest talents,” she said.
Salloum worked on six shows in Lebanon with Lina Khoury from 2011 till 2016: “Al Shaghila” (2011) to “Mathhab”(2012), “Majnoun Yehki”(2013), “How I Learned to Drive”(2014), and “Limatha”(2015, 2016). Salloum emphasized that she constantly tries to find ways to work with Lina Khoury again.
“Lina is very passionate about voicing important issues that are often kept in the shadows, and I aim to follow in her footsteps. She merges kindness and creative excellence brilliantly and that to me is priceless,” she continued.
From Beirut to NYC: The pursuit of a vocation
In quest of further diversity and aesthetics, Salloum moved to NYC, where she undertook an intensive actor’s training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
“NYC doesn’t wait, so you have to keep up. It’s the best place I’ve ever lived in, and I’ve toughened up a lot over the past three years here. There is so much opportunity and possibility,” Salloum noted.
She has been trying to impregnate her NYC’s theater scene experience with a foreign perspective seasoning.
“Actors trying to find their place in the industry are often advised to stick to their type, which right now for me is mostly based on ethnicity. I can speak Arabic and I'm knowledgeable about the Arab and Middle Eastern world and cultures, and I frequently audition for those not only because I fit the characteristics but because I am also passionate about portraying such characters that represent my background,” Salloum told Annahar.
Salloum explained that, based on her experience, any Lebanese individual living in NYC might get one of three different reactions when they introduce themselves: first, confusion, especially if the one asking is not familiar with the MENA region. Second, prejudice, based on what the person might have heard about the country. Third, excitement, which is the reaction Salloum gets the most as she says, happily.
“When an actor performs, they’re stripping out of any protective social masks to tell a story and incite a reaction from audiences. Actors don’t leave work in the room like in an office," she said. "We're constantly thinking about the piece, developing character, learning lines, going through exercises, so we have a full-time job.”
She also joined the Academy Company, and played “Jennah," a Muslim American teenager during the times following the 9/11 attacks, in the play “A People’s Guide to History in the Time of Here and Now,” written by Rehana Lew Mirza and directed by Lucie Tiberghien.
“I always find it interesting to play roles that are rough on the outside despite their inner gentleness. I get to dig into their experiences and find the contrasts or changes in their behavior,” she said.
Most of Salloum’s theater projects concentrated on women: she embodied a midwife in “Born in the Ruins”' by Christopher Bailey and Susan Jacoby, a piece that raised awareness on the importance of healthcare and sanitation in war zones.
She played the female role “The God," the wisest character in "Rise/Fall" by Sheila Bandyopadhyay, a play performed at the Women in Theater Festival.
The play “Only Remains Remain,” in which Salloum plays the leader of a 15-women chorus, tackles the refugee crisis of the US Southern border, and emphasizes the crucial role of women in honoring the life and the remains after inhumation.
“I’m mainly excited to book more projects and keep getting the exposure I need as a performer in this industry. A lot is happening where we are from and our stories need to be heard,” she highlighted.
The young actress also performed in the world premieres of "The Richard Project" by Owen Horsley and "Star Spangled" by Douglas Carter Beane.
“I heard actors describe the job as ‘noble’ and I agree. It’s very vulnerable and requires the use of one’s whole physical, emotional, and mental self.”
Salloum’s sources of inspiration
To Salloum, her parents are her number-one inspiration.
“My mother is very diplomatic and skilled at connecting with others. I always try to learn her ways,” she said. “My father is the most intelligent person I know, and he inspires me to never stop learning.”
She also looks up to numerous women directors she works with, citing Lina Khoury and others.
“I am reassured that there is no limit to what I can achieve, contrary to what women are usually told,” Salloum told Annahar.
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