To get into character for a play she was doing in Los Angeles, actress May Al Hassan wrapped a black pashmina around her thick, dark hair and tied the loose ends into a bun at the back of her head. Then she stepped out on to the street.
She stopped for coffee at Starbucks. She purchased a binder at Office Depot. Everywhere she went, Al Hassan felt self-conscious and a little on edge.
“I think the thing that surprised me the most was how angry and paranoid it made me: Are they looking at me ‘because'? Are they not looking at me ‘because'?'' said Al Hassen, 27, who does not normally wear the hijab. “It gave me a chip on my shoulder.''
Later that night, Al Hassan drew on the wide range of emotions she experienced to help her slip into three characters in Hijabi Monologues, a little-known play by three University of Chicago graduates about women who wear the headscarf.
There is no central theme; rather, the play focuses on individual women and their stories. One monologue addresses the types of men who hit on hijabis, another tells the story of a mother who loses her son in a car accident.
The one that draws the most reaction is about a teenager who gets pregnant.
“Hijab is not the centrepiece,'' Al Hassan said of the play, “it's the background.''
The intent is to challenge notions about the women who wear the hijab but not in a direct, “I-am-hijabi, hear-me-roar'' kind of way.
Instead it is a subtler presentation of simple stories about ordinary lives that are juxtaposed against more stereotypical narratives about such women — as objects of mystery or oppression.
It is the unexpected but universal elements of these stories that persuaded Dan Morrison in 2006 that they needed to be shared with a broader audience.
His friends and fellow classmates in the University of Chicago Middle Eastern master's programme, Sahar Ullah and Zeenat Rahman, would tell him about going to a college football game dressed in school colours and full niqab or having high-school friends designate themselves as Ullah's hijab protectors.
“I think that's why it's so powerful, because it's taking something that is seen as very Muslim and going, well, wait, these aren't really Muslim stories,'' Morrison said.
“They're human stories that everybody has experienced or will experience in their lives.''
Morrison, Ullah and Rahman have written about ten monologues — some of them Ullah's personal stories and others borrowed from people they know or stories they have heard — and are hoping that as they have more performances, they can collect more.
The grassroots production has been staged at small venues fewer than a dozen times in the United States — the first was in 2007 at an interfaith event at DePaul University in Chicago — and once in Egypt.
Its following is mostly word-of-mouth and through their Facebook site.
Performances are organised according to where a couple of the performers happen to be and the group is still centred on the three creators and a handful of people — organisers and performers — allowed into the fold.
The creators admit the project's growth has been slow, in part because of hectic schedules and also because of a fear of growing too quickly and losing sight of the original message.
But in recent months, a handful of amateur performers, including Al Hassen, have started chapters in Los Angeles and Washington.
A workshop was held at Georgetown University to recruit more performers, organisers and writers.
There are plans for a national tour this summer or autumn that would target community or religious venues where the group could recruit more members.
The most recent performance was held in late January in Los Angeles at a Lebanese restaurant. It drew an audience of about 45, mostly women.
In one of the monologues Al Hassan performed, she told the story of Leena Al Aryani, who threw on her hijab early one morning in 2003 when law enforcement agents came to arrest her father, Sami Al Aryani, a former University of South Florida professor and a longtime Palestinian rights activist, and search their Tampa home.
“They took humanitarian awards and plaques my parents hung up on the wall,'' she said as Al Aryani.
“They took cheesy Egyptian film operas my mother followed with a passion; they took virtually every shred of paper that contained Arabic writing; they took my father.''
Standing before her audience, Al Hassen's oversize earrings swung back and forth as her anger rose.
She spoke of Leena's father but, in a separate interview, said she was thinking about what it would be like if this happened to her own parent.
That, the creators and performers believe, is the play's strength: The familiar storylines and problems that allow audiences to connect with the characters as people and not religious figures.
Soon the group hopes to increase the number of performances. On its Facebook page, several people ask when the show will come to their cities: Pittsburgh, Miami, Houston, New York.
“A couple of contacts in Europe e-mailed us and asked us, ‘Are you coming here?''' Rahman said.
There is talk of a possible spring performance in Abu Dhabi. It's that type of reach the group aspires to.
“In five years you go to a university and there's the Hijabi Monologues club, and it is a movement and it's growing,'' Morrison said.