Student Spotlight: Fouad Dakwar
What’s it like to study at Berklee? Our Student Spotlight series asks current students all about their Berklee experience—what they’re learning in class, what kinds of projects they’re involved in onstage or behind the scenes, how they recharge, and of course, what they’re listening to. This week, get to know Fouad Dakwar, a second-semester Berklee NYC master’s student from Nazareth and New York City who’s specializing in writing and design for musical theater.
Tell us about your path to Berklee. What made you decide to come here?
Not many people know this, but during my sophomore year as an undergrad I actually started filling out a transfer application to Berklee. After all, I knew I wanted to pursue pop music writing professionally—specifically for musical theater—and there is perhaps no music program more renowned than Berklee. I ultimately didn't follow through on submitting my transfer application but was grateful to instead build community around musical storytelling and to receive a great deal of support in creating my own specialized major in musical theater writing. Fittingly, two years later, during tech week for my honors thesis production of an original Palestine-based rock musical called R3TURN, I saw an ad for Berklee NYC's one-year master's program in writing and design for musical theater and fell in love. Luckily, I decided to complete the application this time, and it's been one of the best decisions I've ever made.
What's been your favorite class so far, and what has it taught you?
My favorite class so far at Berklee NYC has been Developing Story and Narrative, taught by esteemed playwright, book writer, and lyricist Dan Marshall. In this series of courses, we not only learn best practices for the ancient art of storytelling but also techniques for strong character and world-building, the smooth interweaving of dialogue and music, and the political implications of musical theater works both old and new. On top of all of that, we get a great deal of practical experience through in-class writing assignments, read throughs of works in the canon, and workshops of our original scene work; Dan is really able to cover it all while also being an absolute joy to be taught by.
What's a project you've worked on since coming to Berklee that you've been especially excited about?
I am incredibly excited about my upcoming culminating experience at Berklee NYC, which is a full-length autobiographical dramedy musical titled Fouad of Nazareth. The piece is based on my real-life experience at 14 years old attending a summer camp in my birthplace of Nazareth (not the one in Pennsylvania, but the Jesus one that you may have heard of) despite having lived in New York for most of my life. Although the show is specifically about a kid in the Palestinian diaspora coming of age, it's also a more universal story of questioning one's identity, belonging, and privilege. Perhaps most importantly, this is a story I haven't seen told on stage that I would have loved to have been able to see as my younger "Fouad of Nazareth" self.
How do you typically recharge or find new ideas outside of class?
It's a weird catch-22 because my writing process is very much that stereotypical "composer in solitude" vibe, and yet I think that I've been most reenergized and artistically inspired by spending time with others. Given that I explicitly want to tell stories through music, the best creative burst I can get is by meeting friends both old and new and having new experiences together. Not that I think it's always helpful to consciously go out into the world with this mindset (I don't want my friends to think I hang out with them as a means to a written end), but those real-life stories will inevitably creep into the heightened musical worlds on the page. It's been both terrifying and freeing to have those stories be explicitly my own in my upcoming autobiographical piece.
When you think towards your own future, who inspires you most?
As a performer, composer, and writer for both stage and screen, I would love to follow in the footsteps of a "multi-hyphenate" artist like Donald Glover who has effortlessly performed a comedic role in Community; wrote, directed, and starred in Atlanta; recorded genre-bending hit after hit under his stage name, Childish Gambino; and has also been politically vocal and active along the way. I'm still waiting on the Donald Glover musical, though.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to your high school self?
My little brother, Nadey, is actually now a junior at the same high school I went to, and living with him has been a reminder of just how intense that time of life is. My biggest advice for him and any other high schooler has been to find something you really love doing along the way. For me, that was writing music and stories for the stage, which I didn't start until my junior year of high school. Despite that taking up a ton more of my time, my confidence, grades, and general contentment all improved as a result. So find what you really love doing, and remember that whatever that is can also evolve and change!
Fouad's Five Favorite Songs Right Now
1. “Herzan,” Soapkills
I learned about this band while looking for alternative Arabic artists to inspire the score for Fouad of Nazareth. For better or worse, I’ve probably spent more time listening to this mellow lo-fi electro-pop bop on repeat recently than I have actually writing any of my own stuff.
2. “Hot Tea,” Half Alive
Half Alive is by far one of my favorite bands and their latest album, Conditions of a Punk, has signaled a super exciting shift into more electronic dance music. However, I can’t help but keep listening to this single of theirs from a year ago, probably because I’m a total sucker for predominantly acoustic songs that feature a contrasting trap beat (think Lorde’s Melodrama).
3. “Questions on My Mind," Faraj Suleiman
This is a track off of Faraj Suleiman’s iconic Arabic jazz album, Better Than Berlin, in which he brilliantly connects the gentrification of Berlin to the ongoing colonization of Palestine. I've returned to this song recently after learning that there are several references to my dad's family's neighborhood in Haifa.
4. “Fantasy,” Sofi Tukker
Sofi Tukker consistently proves that not only can dance music have a fire beat but also deep lyrical content. In the case of "Fantasy," that content being the tendency to create fantasy versions of a romantic partner, which are bound to be dissolved by reality.
5. “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs (ft. Perfume Genius)
A lot of music gets described as “cinematic,” but the first word that comes to mind for this song is actually "theatrical." Featuring multiple voices, this song has a story with a satisfying arc, and I’m obsessed. I think the live performance of this song will make for some great musical theater.