SAN FRANCISCO: Golden Thread Productions has named Sahar Assaf to be its new executive artistic director, effective May 3. Assaf, who has relocated from Lebanon to join the 25-year-old company in San Francisco, succeeds founding artistic director Torange Yeghiazarian.
“I am proud to be joining the family of Golden Thread Productions as executive artistic director and humbled to be following in the footsteps of Torange Yeghiazarian,” said Assaf in a statement. “I look forward to honoring Torange’s and Golden Thread’s legacy of building opportunities for artistic connections that allow alternative narratives to emerge and making the voices of artists of Middle Eastern descent heard and acknowledged.”
Under Yeghiazarian’s leadership, the company has produced over 100 world premieres and employed over 1,200 artists, 70 percent of whom were women, 60 percent of whom were from Middle Eastern heritage, and 72 percent of whom were people of color. Yeghiazarian founded the company with the vision of creating a theatre of, by, and for Middle Eastern artists, a legacy upon which the company hopes to expand under Assaf’s leadership.
“I’m deeply proud of the community we have built over the past 25 years,” said Yeghiazarian in a statement. “It is one that is artistically thriving and fully committed to centering Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern American narratives.” Looking ahead, Yeghiazarian added, in a statement, “After a bit of R&R, I hope to focus on my own writing projects and maybe do some freelance directing. I’ve also been approved as a Fulbright Specialist, which I hope will lead to a few international projects.”
Assaf, who received a Fulbright scholarship in 2009, was chosen based on her commitment to collaboration, community, and theatre, which board president Nora El Samahy called “invigorating and inspiring” in a statement. “Her desire to center the artists and work to push the boundaries of how theatre can shift perspective and move souls falls in line with Golden Thread’s essence,” continued El Samahy’s statement. “In addition to her dedication and professionalism, Sahar embodies the warmth and generosity that Golden Thread cherishes as a company that values art, activism, and family!”
Sahar Assaf (she/her) is a Lebanese theatremaker and teacher who has been active in the Lebanese theatre scene since 2003 as an actor, director, translator, and producer. She’s presented works in Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Belgium, London, Sweden, Poland, Greece, Chicago, and NYC. With her long-term collaborator, playwright Robert Myers, Assaf co-founded the Theater Initiative at the American University of Beirut, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and artists working to facilitate theatre creation and research locally, regionally, and internationally. Her work at the Theater Initiative includes the direction of Garcia-Lorca’s Blood Wedding as a site-specific promenade performance in the village of Hammana in Mount Lebanon; Shakespeare’s King Lear (co-directed with Rachel Valentine Smith of the Faction ensemble of London), which was the first production of a Shakespearean play in Lebanese colloquial Arabic; The Rape and Rituals of Signs and Transformations by Sa’dallah Wannous; and Watch Your Step: Beirut Heritage Walking Tour, which was a site-specific devised work on the Lebanese civil war. A strong advocate of documentary theatre, Assaf recently conceived and directed Meen El Felten, an immersive documentary play on sexual assault in Lebanon as part of the Abaad MENA campaign of 2018 and No Demand No Supply, a documentary play about sex trafficking and prostitution in collaboration with the Kafa organization.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to join GTP at a very critical period for our field,” said Assaf in a statement. “The challenges facing theatre today are myriad, especially for theatres of color. We are not only fighting a pandemic that has challenged the essence of what defines theatre—i.e., the physical encounter between artists and audiences— but we are also fighting another kind of life-threatening pandemic, one that has been going on for decades: racism. It’s our job to amend the narratives and bring forth the plurality of voices of the different communities we serve. Through building on and expanding the rich programs that GTP has been offering, I am determined to continue exploring innovative ways of connecting with audiences and offering safe spaces for artists to convene, create and advocate. I look forward to joining forces with the exceptional staff, board, and artists at GTP to help grow the organization through its next chapter.”
As an actor, Assaf is trained in the Meisner technique and recently started training in Alba Emoting, a somatic approach to acting based in neuroscience. Her acting credits include the Lebanese adaptation of Dinner With Friends by Donald Margulies, directed by Carlos Chahine; Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s An Arab Woman Speaks, produced by the Faction at New Diorama Theatre in London; and the Lebanese adaptation of August: Osage County by Tracy Letts. She contributes to academic research on theatre through publications of reflections on her work. She has been published in Arab Stages, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, and authored chapters in books including Theatre in the Middle East: Between Performance and Politics edited by Babak Rahimi, Anthem press, 2020 and The Theatre of Sa’dallah Wannous: A Critical Study of the Syrian Playwright and Public Intellectual edited by Sonja Mejcher-Atassi and Robert Myers, Cambridge University Press 2021.
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