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Appreciating Afghan Culture Through An Immersive Experience

In a vibrant celebration of culture, Shady Side Academy, in collaboration with RealTime Arts, presented Khūrākī: A Celebration of Afghanistan in Pittsburgh in the Peter J. Kountz Black Box Theater on the Senior School campus from April 12-14. 


As Director Rusty Thelin describes it, “Khūrākī, meaning “eat” or “meal” in the Afghan language Dari, disrupts American notions of Afghanistan as a place that represents only violence and war. It emphasizes the beauty of Afghan culture through theatrical portraits of five strong women who will forever be Afghan, but have recently become Pittsburghers as well.” The immersive cultural experience included live Afghan and classical music and stories illuminating Afghan traditions of Ramadan, birth, and death.

Two Shady Side Senior School students were offered the unique opportunity to take part in the performances, working alongside professional theatre artists and Afghan community members to put on an unforgettable show. Senior Jay Z., who was recently awarded Best Actor in Prime Stage’s High School Drama Awards, performed one of the performance’s monologues while Junior Tommy K. served as Production Stage Manager. 


Uniquely, throughout the theatrical performance, the Afghan women actively prepare a tasting meal of their native dishes that is shared with audience members at the end. 

While RealTime projects often include professional theater artists and community members working together, the Shady Side shows were the first time a Khūrākī “company” was comprised of professionals, high school students, and the Afghan women. 

The performances featured a post-show discussion and a “Where are they now?” of the women whose stories the show tells. 


For Jay and Tommy, this unique project allowed them to experience what it’s like to be part of a professional theatre company. For everyone in attendance, it helped foster cross-cultural understanding and created a deeply meaningful moment of learning. 

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