NYC theater company engages students with cutting-edge method

Silvana Bartlett, ​​​​​​​​Office of Communications, media@aub.edu.lb

The Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) brought Philipe AbiYouness, an actor and teaching artist at the Moment Work Institute of New York City’s Tectonic Theater Project to AUB to give a public lecture on “Making Theater and Changing Society” and to conduct an intensive two-day workshop for students and professionals as part of AUB’s Theater Initiative. Tectonic Theater Project is an award-winning company that challenges traditional theater methods and promotes art for social justice.

Sahar Assaf, assistant professor of theater and co-founder and co-director of AUB’s Theater Initiative, organized and collaborated with Philipe AbiYouness in the workshop, which focused on her play No Demand, No Supply. The play is based on interviews with young Syrian refugee women who survived being kidnapped and forced into a sex trafficking ring in Lebanon. It gives voice to the women’s stories while shedding light on an aspect usually totally disregarded: the sex buyer. The play received substantial media attention when it was presented as a work-in-progress in 2017 and is still very relevant in 2019.  Now in workshop, the AUB Theater Initiative will premiere No Demand No Supply in Beirut in April and perform it at the Between the Seas Festival in New York City in May.

During the intensive 12-hour workshop held on Saturday and Sunday afternoon in Bathish Auditorium, AbiYouness led the group of about 24 students and professionals from the Theater Initiative through the unique Moment Work process. Tectonic Theater Project’s Moment Work is a process of collectively devising performance that redefines how narrative is crafted in theater. Starting with the elements of the stage (lights, sound, props, set, costume) and the architecture of the theater itself, the actors explore their initial hunch about the play by making theatrical “moments” either individually or in small groups to craft theatrical forms that resonate on a visceral level before they engage fully with the written text of the play. This open-ended and democratic approach to writing performance creates new perspectives that expand the limits of theater.

All the participants were very positive in their reactions at the end of the workshop. AbiYouness thanked the group for being so open and creative throughout the theater making process.

Leen Harazallah, media studies and theater student, appreciated the “open environment to really try things outside the conventional mold.”  Nour Annan, English literature graduate, enjoyed the “deconstructed theater” experience and said: “I loved that it was a communal rather than hierarchical process.”  Karl Sacca, business major/ theater minor, liked the opportunity to “get out of our comfort zone and express ourselves freely.” Dareen Shams Aldin, professional actress and executive producer, found that the workshop “opened many new windows in my head which I’m so excited to explore more in future plays.”

Said Rafik Lahmari, media studies and theater student, concluded: “This experience has taught me that theater can be more than entertainment. Total opposite. It is a generator of social change. And as cast or crew in the world of theater, we are the generators of change.”

The AUB Theater Initiative is directed by both Sahar Assaf and Robert Myers, professor of English ​and director of CASAR. It brings together faculty, students, and artists to promote theatrical performance and study at AUB. Past projects in 2018 include an Arabic language production of Garcia-Lorca’s Blood Wedding, directed by Sahar Assaf, and an international conference on “Latin America, al-Andalus and the Arab World,” organized by Robert Myers.

The Center for American Studies and Research played an important role in bringing Philipe AbiYouness to AUB. CASAR is expanding its support of projects involving culture, literature, theater, medicine, urban planning, etc. “Arts in the Americas,” CASAR’s theme for next year, will include projects in a range of fields from all over the Americas.