Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

By Salman Rushdie
Adapted by Tim Supple and David Tushingham
Directed by Dominique Serrand
Main Season · Roda Theatre
November 15, 2002–January 7, 2003
American Premiere

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

“What are all these stories? Life is not a storybook or joke shop. All this fun will come to no good. What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?”

When Khattam-Shud, the cult master of silence from the dark side of the moon, launches his plan to destroy the world’s stories, it is up to young Haroun to stop the destruction. Haroun and the Sea of Stories is the tale of a boy’s adventure into strange new lands—a dream world of water genies and mechanical birds, where chatter and silence battle for control, where a boy must follow an elusive path toward adulthood. Based on Salman Rushdie’s fable of the same name, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is directed by Dominique Serrand whose vivid imagination and sensual aesthetic enlivened The Green Bird and Don Juan Giovanni on Berkeley Rep’s stage. Haroun is a tale sure to enchant young and old.

Creative team

Salman Rushdie · Author
Dominique Serrand · Scenic Design
Wil Leggett · Scenic Design
Sonya Berlovitz · Costume Design
Marcus Dilliard · Lighting Design
Jennifer Setlow · Lighting Design
Bill Williams · Sound Design
Kimberlee Koym · Video Composition
Luan Schooler · Dramaturg
Michael Suenkel · Production Stage Manager
Amy Potozkin · Casting Director
Ben Kernan · Assistant Director
Lynne Soffer · Vocal Coach
Marybeth Cavanaugh · Movement Coach


Russ Appleyard
Myla Balugay
Colman Domingo
Nora El Samahy
David Kelly
Katie Kreisler
Jarion Monroe
Jennifer Baldwin Peden
Jennifer Riker
Dominique Serrand

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

Welcome to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. When Salman Rushdie wrote the novel on which this production is based for his young son Zafar, he wanted to give him a story of his own, one that Zafar would enjoy as a child and then understand the full implications of when he got older. Haroun is both a coming of age story about a young boy whose sense of wonder and hope is challenged by the complexities of growing up, and a cautionary tale about what happens when imagination and curiosity are proscribed by external forces. A child’s natural state is one of wonder at the world, of curiosity pushing at the boundaries of understanding, and the retention of these vital impulses is among the most important tasks we can undertake as adults.

“What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” asks young Haroun. Though at first blush the question may appear simplistic, our increasingly complicated and hyper world threatens to run roughshod over our ability to re-imagine our world through stories. Yet stories connect us to the tap root of our humanity, they are markers for our souls, guideposts for our evolution as conscious beings. Through them, we celebrate the past and set out to describe the challenge of the future. Though stories—like hope and imagination—are resilient, they are not indestructible, and we must take care to protect and preserve this most deeply human product.

Imagination is the repository for hope. These are complicated times, and we need every available resource to refresh our sense of wonder, and revitalize our imaginations and our hope that we can reinvent the world.

We are very pleased to welcome Salman Rushdie to Berkeley Rep. His involvement in the development of this production has been insightful and generous, and we are honored to work with this man whose insistence on telling stories has outlasted those who would prevent him from doing so. We are also delighted to welcome back director Dominique Serrand (The Green Bird and Don Juan Giovanni) whose unique sensibility and vibrant imagination seem particularly attuned to bringing this Sea of Stories to life.

Thank you for coming. Enjoy the show!

Tony Taccone

“A message in a bottle”

By Mei Ann Teo

Salman Rushdie is quite possibly the most famous living writer. A great deal like the explosively charismatic characters he creates, Rushdie’s name has achieved mythological proportions. Following the death sentence issues by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1988, Rushdie said, “For many people, I’ve ceased to be a human being. I’ve become an issue, a bother, an ‘affair.’” The fatwa, issued out of fervent religious rage at The Satanic Verses, and the terrorist actions against bookstores carrying it, resulted in the novel being pulled from bookstore shelves. Such censorship showed the world how powerful a story is—and how the freedom to tell it must be protected.

Rushdie went into hiding, but he didn’t stop writing. Soon after, Rushdie completed Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Rushdie wanted to write a novel for his son that would be “a message in a bottle”—one that he would be able to enjoy as a boy and would later appreciate with the wisdom of a man. In the novel, Haroun, named after Rushdie’s son, grows to learn that his father’s stories are not a pastime, but the lifeblood of their family and community.

The Sea of Stories—the ‘pool of imagination’ in Rushdie’s tale—began as bathwater. Rushdie formed a nightly bath time tradition with his son of telling a story from The Sea of Stories. In writing the fable, he also drew on a short story he had written years earlier, an adventure of Ibn Battuta (the Arabic equivalent of Marco Polo) in which he blunders into a war between the Guppees and the Chupwalas.

Rushdie’s painful response to exile was transformed into the very human tale of self-discovery, of encountering the world that reveals ‘our selves.’ In The Moor’s Last Sigh, we also see Rushdie’s impassioned, burning response through the main character, a Moor who ages prematurely: “and I…in a far-off country with death at my heels and their story in my hand, a story I’ve been crucifying on the gate, a fence, an olive tree, spreading it across the landscape of my last journey, the story which points to me…When my pursuers have followed the trail they’ll find me waiting, uncomplaining, out of breath, ready. Here I stand. Couldn’t’ve done it differently.”

At this time, when terrorism is a present evil, and is accompanied by a clear desire to silence individual thoughts and open dialogue, Rushdie’s Haroun is a passionate defense for the basic human right of expressing and living one’s unique offering to the world. To an Islamic extremist who said that “Free speech is a non-starter,” Rushdie responds: “No, sir, it is not. Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”

Rushdie on Rushdie

The following are selected excerpts from interviews and writings


“I do not envy people who think they have a complete explanation of the world, for the simple reason that they are obviously wrong.”

“’Our lives teach us who we are.’ I have learned the hard way that when you permit anyone else’s description of reality to supplant your own—and such descriptions have been raining down on me, from security advisers, governments, journalists, Archbishops, friends, enemies, mullahs—then you might as well be dead. Obviously, a rigid, blinkered, absolutist world view is the easiest to keep hold of, whereas the fluid, uncertain, metamorphic picture I’ve always carried about is rather more vulnerable. Yet I must cling with all my might to…my own soul; must hold on to its mischievous, iconoclastic, out-of-step clown-instincts, no matter how great the storm. And if that plunges me into contradiction and paradox, so be it; I’ve lived in that messy ocean all my life. I’ve fished in it for my art. This turbulent sea was the sea outside my bedroom window in Bombay. It is the sea by which I was born, and which I carry within me wherever I go.”

Love and kisses

“I grew up kissing books and bread. In our house, whenever anyone dropped a book or let fall a chapatti or a ‘slice’ which was our word for a triangle of buttered leavened bread, the fallen object was required not only to be picked up but also kissed, by way of apology for the act of clumsy disrespect. I was as careless and butter-fingered as any child and, accordingly, during my childhood years, I kissed a large number of ‘slices’ and also my fair share of books. Devout households in India often contained, and still contain, persons in the habit of kissing holy books. But we kissed everything. We kissed dictionaries and atlases. We kissed Enid Blyton novels and Superman comics. If I’d ever dropped the telephone directory I’d probably have kissed that, too. All this happened before I had ever kissed a girl. In fact it would almost be true, true enough for a fiction writer, anyhow, to say that once I started kissing girls, my activities with regard to bread and books lost some of their special excitement. But one never forgets one’s first loves.”


“Human beings are story-telling creatures. Our identity is very bound up with the business of telling stories. Stories are part of the glue that holds families, tribes and nations together. One of the things that happens characteristically when someone comes into a family, marries into the family, or a child grows up, is that gradually they are told the family stories. It’s a process of making them belong. I’ve always had this sense that it’s something profoundly central to our nature as living creatures that we tell stories. It makes us what we are. And therefore a force that prevents the telling of stories is doing something fundamentally against nature. It’s not just that it’s censorship, it’s much more than that. It’s a cancellation of our humanity. And it’s at that level that I think of Khattam-Shud (Haroun’s “cult master of silence”).”


“I remember—not when I was a very small child, but when I was more grown up—we would needle [my grandfather] by claiming not to believe in God and so on. You’d say, in your 10- or 11-year-old self, ‘I don’t believe in God, Granddad.’ And he’d say, ‘Oh really? Come and sit down here and tell me all about it.’ And so you’d sit down next to him and he would very seriously listen and probe as you offered your 11-year-old reasons for not believing in God. And then, instead of contradicting you, he’d say, ‘Yes, well, that’s a lot to think about, I think you’ve given me a lot to think about, I’ll have to think about it.’ And then, a couple of days later, he’d come back and he’d say, ‘I just did have a couple of thoughts about what you were saying, and let me just talk to you about them.’ And he’d then offer you, in a very gentle way, his rebuttals to your childish atheism. And when you’d say, ‘No, no, Granddad, that’s just complete nonsense, it’s completely wrong,’ he’d say, ‘Yes, well, you’re probably right, but I just think we should go on talking about it.”



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