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Theater grad finds a second home at the Hugh Downs School

Fargo tbakhi working with a puppet at the art space

Fargo Tbakhi working on a puppet for a performance at the Empty Space.

April 16, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Although he is a theater major in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, senior Fargo Tbakhi found a home at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

Tbakhi first learned about the school and its performance studies program from friends his freshman year who encouraged him to take a class with Jennifer Linde, artistic director of the Empty Space Theater. The decision, Tbakhi said, “basically altered the course of the rest of my college career.”  

From then on he took every possible class he could in performance studies without changing to a communication major.

Tbakhi, a national merit scholar and student at Barrett, The Honors College, recently completed his honors thesis, working with Linde, who says his contributions to the critical, aesthetic and intellectual climate at ASU are “extraordinary.” 

Tbakhi’s creative thesis project, a solo performance titled "My Father, My Martyr, and Me: Postcolonial Instructions for Loving the Palestinian Body," was performed for two nights at the Empty Space Theater at ASU’s Media and Performing Arts Building on the Tempe campus.

Tbakhi, a Palestinian, says his performance examined how Palestinians are discursively and literally criminalized, and the impacts of that criminality on Palestinian lives and futures.

“The goal was to engage the audience in the work of unlearning whatever it is that is stopping them from critically, generously loving me, or other people that are like me. Not just Palestinians, but the other, many bodies that also get criminalized.” 

student and professor holding an award

Tbakhi received the Award for Sustained Innovation in Creative Activity 
from Associate Professor Amira de la Garza.

Tbakhi also served as producer and host of "The Encyclopedia Show Arizona," where he oversaw the show’s transition to a student-run performance and produced seven shows over two years.

"The Encyclopedia Show" is a multigenre, age-integrated presentation of creative performances on a central theme taken from an actual encyclopedia. Participating artists perform poems, monologues, songs, rants and more. The show brings together students from different schools and majors, community members and local and national artists to perform sequences that are tied into a larger story related to each show's particular theme. 

Tbakhi was also a member of ASU’s Forensics Team — also housed in the Hugh Downs School — where his accolades include two-time national finalist, national semifinalist and champion at numerous invitational tournaments across the country. He also serves as a middle school forensics coach at Phoenix Country Day School, helping lead the team to three consecutive team national championships.

Last year, Tbakhi was the recipient of two Hugh Downs School awards, including the Robert and Sue Karatz Endowed Forensics Scholarship and the Award for Sustained Innovation in Creative Scholarship. Two years ago, he received the Kristin Bervig Valentine Scholarship in Performance Studies, earning recognition for his excellent academic work as well as his public performances at the Empty Space. 

group of students posing for photo

Fargo Tbakhi (far left) along with fellow ASU students Jacob Valov, Jaime Faulkner and Kelly McKeever. All were recognized for their research and writing in communication studies at the Western States Communication Associations annual conference in Seattle.

Tbakhi also had the chance to present a research paper, “Torture Porn: Investigating Arab Identity through Staged Autoethnographic Performance,” that was accepted at the 2019 Western States Communication Association Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference in Seattle, Washington.

Tbakhi’s plan after graduation is to take a year off from school to work and apply to poetry and performance residencies. His ultimate goal, however, is to be accepted to graduate school for performance studies. 

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