Meet Sahar Assaf, Our New Executive Artistic Director!

Sahar Assaf (she/her) is a Lebanese theatremaker and professor. She 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. At the American University of Beirut where she headed the minor program in Theater Arts and was an Assistant Professor, she co-founded with her long term collaborator playwright Robert Myers, the Theater Initiative, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and artists working to facilitate theatre creation and research locally, regionally, and internationally. Her directing credits for the Theater Initiative include 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, Watch Your Step: Beirut Heritage Walking Tour which was a site-specific devised work on the Lebanese civil war. Sahar is a strong advocate of documentary theatre and 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.

As an actor, Sahar 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 role of Karen in the Lebanese adaptation of Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies directed by Carlos Chahine, the title role in Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s An Arab Woman Speaks produced by The Faction at New Diorama Theatre in London, and of Barbara in 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.

Sahar is a recipient of the Fulbright scholarship (2009) and holds an MA in Theatre Studies from Central Washington University (2011) and an MA in Sociology from the American University of Beirut (2005). She is an ensemble member of The Faction, a London-based award-winning theatre company, an alumna of Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab in NYC (2014) and of Directors Lab North in Toronto (2017), and she is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Directors Lab Mediterranean.

As much as she’s passionate about her role as a theatre maker, Sahar is equally passionate about her new role as a mother to Zad.

When asked what drew Golden Thread to Sahar, Board President Nora El Samahy said “Sahar’s commitment to collaboration, community and theater is invigorating and inspiring. Her desire to center the artists and work to push the boundaries of how theater can shift perspective and move souls falls in line with Golden Thread’s essence. 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’s experience with international collaboration, theater performance as activism, and her deep personal and cultural connection to the Middle Eastern diaspora reflect the mission and vision of Golden Thread as an organization. Sahar said of her coming tenure, “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. 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.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to join GTP at a very critical period for our field. 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."

We asked Sahar what about Golden Thread’s inspired her to apply; she said, “What sparked my interest in the position of EAD at Golden Thread is the mission of the theater, which I find extremely necessary given the current global political climate. When so-called leaders of the world are only fueling divisions and encouraging cultures of exclusion, it becomes eminently important that we, activist artists, work on promoting our common human experiences. For the last 25 years, Golden Thread has been challenging reality rather than reproducing it, fighting against prejudgments about the cultures and peoples of the Middle East, and fighting for more inclusive and tolerant communities by implanting possibilities in the imaginations of its audiences. It’s a fight I want to join. I have always been passionate about the kind of theatre that continues to build up in the imaginations of its viewers long after the curtain call."

Relocating from Lebanon to San Francisco with her family is no small feat, but after months of planning and expectation, Sahar is excited to explore Golden Thread’s home city, sharing that “I can’t wait to discover the city and to tread its streets that carry so much history of social and political change. Some of my favorite plays and theatre happenings were conceived in San Francisco, such as Angels in America and the Guerilla Theatre of the 1960s. I am ready and excited to take on all the inspiration and creative power the city will offer me."

Torange Yeghiazarian has guided Golden Thread as its artistic director since founding the company over two decades ago. In 25 years, under her tenure, Golden Thread has produced 122 plays, 102 of which were world premieres including 6 unique commissions; and employed over 1,200 artists, 70% of whom were women, 60% of whom come from Middle Eastern heritage, and 72% who are people of color. When asked what she was proudest of in her over two decades of leadership, Torange shared, “I’m deeply proud of the community we have built over the past twenty-five years. It is one that is artistically thriving and fully committed to centering Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern American narratives."

Audiences of Golden Thread, the Bay Area, and beyond have not seen the last of Torange’s ambitious artistic journey. “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," she shared when asked what her future holds.

Lovingly referred to as “the mother of Middle Eastern American theatre,” Torange was instrumental in building a national theatre movement and a thriving artistic community. Yeghiazarian is stepping down from leading Golden Thread after twenty-five years and welcoming a new generation of theatre leaders at a time when American theatre is going through significant change that is long overdue. We look forward to expanding upon Torange’s legacy as Sahar guides us into a new era of Art, Activism, and Family.

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