How Beirut's theatrical community has rallied to help friends and colleagues rebuild their lives, performance spaces, and dreams.
December 6, 2020
Lebanon's theater scene was already in bad shape. Months of lockdowns due to the pandemic and the spiraling financial collapse had taken a heavy toll. Then came August 4. In the wake of the explosion that laid waste to large swaths of the city, many theater venues in neighborhoods near the port were hit hard and many people in Beirut's theater community were affected personally.
As news of the blast reached around the world, Sahar Assaf, assistant professor of theater at AUB, was approached by people abroad asking what they could do to help. Assaf reached out to her many theater contacts in Lebanon and started a Whatsapp group to help coordinate.
A few days later, Assaf and over 50 theater makers came together over Zoom in a state of emergency and founded the Theater Relief Group in Lebanon (TRGL). Their aim was to provide rapid support for theater practitioners who had been injured or lost their homes, for theater collectives unable to sustain themselves, and for theater venues that had been damaged.
In mid-August, the group launched the fundraising platform “Beirut, No Show Tonight" to call attention to the plight of theater makers in Lebanon whose livelihoods and dreams of a vibrant theater scene in Beirut were at risk of total destruction. As explained in their press release, “Beirut, No Show Tonight is a performance that will not take place. It will not happen. It cannot happen. There is no story here, only devastation." People were asked to purchase a pay-what-you-want “ticket" to help those in need.
Along with Assaf, another of the co-founders of TRGL is Nadia Hassan, AUB alumna and assistant director of development programs in the Office of Advancement. An actor and director who cares passionately about theater in Lebanon, Nadia said, “Theaters everywhere are a bastion of cultural diversity and free speech. In Lebanon they're a lifeline for healing, hope, and a healthy bit of rebellion. The August 4 explosion has threatened to disconnect that lifeline. I joined the Theater Relief Group Lebanon to make sure that doesn't happen."
The group now comprises over 100 artists. In phase one, TRGL has raised over $14,000 and over LBP 6 million from more than 200 donors. Beneficiaries total 28 individuals and four theater venues. They are not done yet. Phase two is in progress and the group is considering whether to disband after this initial crisis response period is ended, or to continue under a new structure and mission.