About

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Overview

The Theater Initiative was conceived by Robert Myers, Professor of English and Director of the Alwaleed Center for American Studies, and Sahar Assaf, Assistant Professor of Theater in the Department of Fine Arts and Art History (FAAH). The Initiative began in 2013 as a collaboration between the Departments of English and FAAH to stage an English-language translation of Rituals of Signs and Transformations, by Sa'dallah Wannous, which was supported by the MacArthur Foundation and Silk Road Rising Theater in Chicago.

The Theater Initiative was formalized in 2016 by President Fadlo Khuri and Nadia El Cheikh, currently Dean of FAS, as a vital interdisciplinary network at AUB dedicated to the artistic production and academic development of theater. The Initiative has becom​e a major producer of significant dramatic works at AUB, in Beirut and in the wider community, and has become a singular entity at AUB for developing courses that draw on various disciplines and attract students from all over the university and the local artistic community to engage directly with the theater and the arts.

The Theater Initiative works in conjunction with the Department of FAAH, which, along with English and other departments, offers a minor in theater and a range of courses in theater history, theory, and practice. ​

Mission

Our mission is to create and study theater and various kinds of performance from our position at AUB, in Lebanon, and in the Arab world. We strive to: 

  • Conduct research about, write, translate, adapt, and study theatrical works from the Arab world and beyond. We are particularly interested in works that combine complex artistic forms with serious and significant ideas. We promote and present lectures, events, readings and workshops, offer courses and stage works in English and Arabic in a range of genres from a variety of traditions.
  • Offer students the opportunity to gain important professional experience and receive accreditation, and thus help them to develop skills that will be useful in their lives and careers and broaden their horizons in terms of career options.
  • Build strong links with organizations, centers, and departments inside and outside of AUB and actively participating in festivals, panels, and other events. We are particularly focused on developing partnerships with significant international institutions.
  • Create a structure that enables theatrical productions, publications, and a wide variety of other performance-related activity to take place at AUB, in Lebanon, and a number of international venues.   

Co-Founders

Robert Myers                                                                                        Robert Myers is a Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the Department of English and the current Director of the Alwaleed Center for American Studies (CASAR). He boasts a long career in theater as a playwright, translator, producer, and educator. He is the author of over fifteen plays that often dramatize U.S. history. His scholarly interests travel to South America, making relevant leaps to Spain, Portugal, and the Arab World. In 1995, he received his Ph.D. from Yale in Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures, with a dissertation on “modern readers of The Lusiads." Fluent in multiple languages, he co-translated with Nada Saab notable plays from Arabic to English, including Jawad Al Assadi's Baghdadi Bath, Issam Mahfouz's The Dictator, and Sa'dallah Wannous's Rituals of Signs and Transformations. He has penned articles for publications like the New York Times and Theatre Research International, and authored a Minor in Creative Writing for the English Department. Among his many feats are a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Rio de Janeiro; a Joseph Jefferson Award for “Best New Work," won for The Lynching of Leo Frank; a radio adaptation of his play Unmanned by BBC's Radio 4; and the publication of Sentence to Hope: A Sa'dallah Wannous Reader (Yale) and Modern and Contemporary Political Theater from the Levant: A Critical Anthology (Brill), both of which he collaborated on with Saab. He is a co-founder of the Tahweel Ensemble Theatre, a Beirut-based theater group working to achieve a varied repertory of quality productions.​

Sahar Assaf
Sahar Assaf is an Assistant Professor at FAAH and the head of its Theater Program. A fervent supporter of the theater scene, she is also an actress, director, and mobilizer of groups empowering theater within the region. Her academic accomplishments include a Bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Lebanese University with a concentration in television and radio (2001), a Master's degree in Sociology from AUB (2005), and a Master of Arts in Theater Studies from Central Washington University (2011). Notably, she is a Fulbright alumnus and a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab. She has featured as an actress in plays by acclaimed directors like Lina Abyad, as well as plays organized under her own creative direction. She is adept at adapting foreign plays to a Lebanese audience and accentuating cross-cultural themes; for example, she tackled the expression of domestic dysfunction in her and Raffi Feghali's interpretation of August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, and later the theme of societal constraints over individual choices in her adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding. Her theater has been dubbed political and confrontational, voicing humanitarian concerns that are overlooked by Lebanese society: war memory and trauma, sex trafficking, workers' rights, and more. She has taken up interest in Drama Therapy as of late and is working towards her licensure in that field. Like Myers, she is a co-founder of Tahweel Ensemble Theatre and more recently, a co-founder of the Directors Lab Mediterranean for which she serves as Artistic Director. 

Affiliates

The Theater Initiative is reliant on the support of its affiliates to be productive and create sustainable outreach. Affiliates include key individuals who promote theater courses, work with us o​n projects, and share their skills and expertise with the Initiative. A number of supporters have fostered the growth of the Theater Initiative by sponsoring events, translations, and business trips. Others have collaborated with us on projects, or allowed us access to their facilities and resources. Additionally, we have been extended invitations to attend labs and workshops abroad which have permitted more growth and connection.

Supporting Organizations
American University of Beirut​
The Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR)
The Center for Arts and Humanities (CAH)
The Department of English
The Department of Fine Arts and Art History (FAAH)
City University of New York (CUNY)
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC)
Directors Lab Mediterranean
Lebanese American University (LAU)
The Arab Institute for Women
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Directors Lab
MacArthur Foundation
Tahweel Ensemble Theatre

Partners and Affiliated Faculty
Arne Dietrich, Professor of Psychology, Chair of the Department of Psychology, AUB
David Currell, Assistant Professor of English Literature, AUB
Doyle Avant, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing, AUB
Nada Saab, Associate Professor of Arabic Studies, Affiliate of the Comparative Literature Program, LAU
Raffi Feghali, Performer, Musician, Executive Director of Laban – Live Lactic Culture, and Co-Founder of Tahweel Ensemble Theatre
Sany Abdul Baki, Actor, Co-Founder of Tahweel Ensemble Theatre, Instructor of Theater at LAU
Sonja Mejcher-Atassi, Associate Professor of Comparative and Modern Arabic Literature, former Chair of Department of English, AUB
Thomas Kim, Assistant Professor of Music, Head of Music Program, former Chair of FAAH, AUB

Members of Theater Initiative's Advisory Board
Martin Puchner, Byron and Anita Wien Professor of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature, Harvard University
Marvin Carlson, Sidney E. Cohn Distinguished Professor of Theater, Comparative Literature, and Middle East Studies, CUNY
Frank Hentschker, Professor of Theater and Director of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, CUNY
Marcia Inhorn, William Lanman, Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, Yale University
Evan Yionoulis, Theater Director, Member of Yale Repertory Theater, Professor of Acting, Yale Drama School
Derek Goldman, Artistic Director of the Davis Performing Arts center and Professor of Theater and Performance Studies, Georgetown University
Kathleen Chalfant, Actor, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches (Tony Award Nomination), Wit (Obie Award Winner), Talking Heads (Obie Award Winer), Armenians (Drama Desk Nomination)
Edward Ziter, Associate Professor of Theater, Chair of the Department of Theater, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU
David Shumway, Professor of English and Director of the Humanities Center, Carnegie-Mellon University
 
Our Special Thanks To
The family of Sa'dallah Wannous for donating his personal library to AUB's Jafet Memorial Library in 2015. ​