Sahar Assaf. Photo: Raja Mouawad
Articles, Essays, Volume 3

Theatre as an Optimistic Political Act: Lebanese Theatre Artist Sahar Assaf

Theatre as an Optimistic Political Act:
Lebanese Theatre Artist Sahar Assaf
By Michael Malek Najjar
Arab StagesVolume 2, Number 1 (Fall 2015)
©2015 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Lebanese actress, director, and theatre professor Sahar Assaf has been creating important theatre and performance works for the past decade. Her productions have served a vital function in the cultural life of Lebanon, namely that of memorialization. Lebanese society has generally refused to memorialize its brutal civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. The main imperative was to move forward rather than look back at a conflict that left more than 150,000 dead and millions displaced. Theatre artists like Assaf have challenged this notion by creating introspective works that focus on the violence of the past while considering how that violence has shaped Lebanon’s present. With the onslaught of the Syrian civil war and as millions of Syrian refugees have crossed into Lebanon, a new and more urgent desire to address that war’s horrific aftermath has arisen. Assaf’s work fills a void in Lebanese life and arts by scrutinizing the past and examining the present with the hope for a better future.

Born to a Druze family in Warhanieh, a small village in the Shouf Mountains of Lebanon, Assaf grew up during the Lebanese Civil War. As a child Assaf spent most of her time witnessing village life and the “happenings” that would occur there — fish and clothing sellers as well as Druze weddings and funerals. Since the desire to study acting and directing for the stage is not always well received in Druze culture, Assaf ultimately worked toward her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism with a specialty in Television and Radio, and later a Master of Arts in Sociology from the American University of Beirut (AUB). Her first foray into directing came with various drama clubs where she directed plays by Tawfiq al-Hakim, Sophocles, Michael Frayn, and Neil Simon. She was a Fulbright recipient while studying at Central Washington University for her Master of Arts in Theatre Studies. Assaf also has a Professional Executive Masters in Psychosocial Animation in War-torn Societies and is currently working toward licensure in drama therapy. She is a member of the prestigious Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab and, currently, she works as an assistant professor of theatre at AUB.

Many Lebanese know Assaf primarily as an actress, which she maintains is still her first passion. Early in her career she acted in several plays directed by respected theatre director Lina Abyad, the most acclaimed of which was titled Come Back to Bed Love. Assaf has also acted in a play under the direction of Issam Bou Khaled, and she has performed at Lebanese American University (LAU), Haigazian University, and the Lebanese University. She has also had minor roles in the television dramas Qalam Homra and Hdoud Shaqiqa. For Assaf, acting is far more than entertainment. She says, “I think it is through acting that we get the closest possible to our humanity, to understanding a different person. When one is totally present in the shoes of another human being, a character for that matter, just present without any judgments, one becomes whole.”[1]

“The Rape”, directed by Sahar Assaf. Photo: Alexy Frangieh.

Growing up in a patriarchal culture like that found in the villages of Lebanon, Assaf faced great resistance from others to the notion of women studying theatre or voicing their political views. “In many Lebanese communities women don’t have a voice equal to that of men,” Assaf told me. “While I was growing up, it affected me deeply every time I heard ‘No, because you are a girl’ or ‘No, women have no business discussing politics’…Today, the oppression of both women and men, especially resulting from patriarchy, is a recurring theme in my theatre and my teaching.”[2] Indeed, Assaf’s theatre is inherently political on multiple levels, addressing issues of patriarchy, governmental instability, and political chaos. If public apathy toward the theatre is not enough of a barrier, Lebanon still requires artists to submit scripts to a governmental censor for approval. Also, there is no governmental funding for productions and even corporate sponsorship is not possible without personal connections to the companies themselves. She says,

Practicing theatre in a country that’s constantly in turmoil is an optimistic political act in and of itself, regardless of its genre…It’s a constant call for life, for a prosperous humanity. When we put a story on stage, any story, we are inviting the audiences to reflect on their existence and humanity and understand it beyond the social meanings they constructed or those that were constructed for them. Theatre is a political act and like any political act it has a confrontational role. When the artist chooses to create despite the sterile situation around her, it’s the artist’s way of not giving up, of not taking the status quo for granted, and her way to fight back using the most peaceful method possible.[3]

This desire for fighting back with peaceful means became a hallmark of her work which included starting a theatre company and collaborating with theatre makers that could make that desire a reality.

Assaf co-founded the Beirut-based Tahweel Ensemble Theatre with AUB professor and playwright Robert Myers, and Lebanese actors Raffi Feghali and Sany Abdul Baki. The group is dedicated to producing a repertory of productions in Lebanon, the Arab world, and beyond. Tahweel also organizes workshops for the purposes of creating new productions and developing theatrical skills. Tahweel, which is Arabic for “transformation,” describes its mission as “an ongoing process of positive personal and artistic transformation in all the ensemble’s projects…committed to using theatre as a tool for edifying and enlightening audiences in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.”[4] With AUB, she directed an English translation of The Dictator by Lebanese playwright Issam Mahfouz, two English-language premieres of Sa’dallah Wannous’s plays The Rape and Rituals and Signs of Transformations, as well as a site-specific promenade performance piece in English and Arabic titled Watch Your Step: Beirut Heritage Walking Tour.

Assaf’s production of Wannous’s play The Rape was produced at AUB with support from LAU. Premiering at the LAU Irwin Theatre in March 2015, the play included a cast of both student and professional actors. Adapted by Myers and LAU professor Nada Saab, the play is a 1989 drama based on Antonio Buero Vallegro’s 1964 play The Double Life of Doctor Valmy. The Rape chronicles the tale of both Palestinian and Israeli families living through the first Intifada. One of the hallmarks of the drama is that it is an Arab play that sought to humanize, rather than stereotype characters, including those of the Israelis. The Daily Star reviewer India Stoughton wrote, “Excellent performances from many of the actors make this an electrifying production…under Assaf’s direction the performance slowly builds in tension toward its catastrophic climax.”[5] For Assaf, the play was not only about the seeming hopelessness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also about the hope that can arise out of tragedy. She utilized the image of the Israeli separation barrier as a visual touchstone for the production because, in her view, “the wall built by Israel to isolate the Palestinians did actually imprison the Israelis as well. Despite huge differences, the prison exists on both sides.”[6] By working with her costume designer Bashar Assaf, her lighting designer Fuad Halawani, and set designer Ghida Hashisho, Assaf created a prison-like mise-en-scène that reminded audiences of torture rooms and secret prisons. Working with her actors utilizing techniques including psychological gesture, text analysis, political debates, and Theatre of the Oppressed exercises, Assaf attempted to evoke meaning in performance through communion with her audiences. Assaf writes, “My main challenge, as a director is to immerse the audiences in the world of the play and make them lose their sense of direction. To be able to do that I, first, have to lose my sense of direction.”[7] This loss of direction is one that pulls audiences from their preconceived notions, their prejudices, and their stereotypical ideas regarding political situations. In his review of the play in Outlook AUB, Edward Ghazaley wrote, “One of its strongest and surprising elements is that the play only advocates humanity.”[8] Assaf’s method is to create theatre that is decidedly political, but also one that includes a humanistic approach that overrides any political analysis or history.

Rituals of Signs and Transformations, directed by Sahar Assaf. Photo: Alexy Frangieh

Rituals of Signs and Transformations, directed by Sahar Assaf. Photo: Alexy Frangieh

Assaf’s production of Wannous’s play Rituals of Signs and Transformations (translated to the English by Myers and Saab) was produced by AUB and performed at the Babel Theatre in Beirut in December 2013. The play was also given a staged reading at Silk Road Rising in Chicago in March 2014. Myers and Saab, along with Silk Road Rising, received a MacArthur Foundation Grant to translate the play in 2012. Rituals, considered by many to be one of Wannous’s masterpieces, utilized an Ottoman myth in order to critique the society of his day. Myers describes the play as being about “how individual transformation can transform society and about how theatre is a singular medium for creating civil society.”[9] The play critiques a society that refuses to confront issues such as gay rights, child abuse, rape, religious hypocrisy, and abuse of political power. As with The Rape, Assaf took a personal, storytelling approach to the production. “For Rituals,” Assaf wrote, “my starting point was a nebulous conception of what the characters must be like that later developed into a particular social and philosophical notion that I got from the text.”[10] She later examined the public vs. private spheres of the characters and, from that exploration, came the notion that the “transformations” in the play take place when characters face a physical or social death connected with their refusal of their public selves. Likewise, when the characters gradually understand their internal selves, they face more devastation and loss of control. Assaf wrote in her directorial journal:

Change is scary. We conceal the aspects of our personality that the society rejects. This game of concealing parts of us happens over a process. We keep hiding things as we grow, days will come when we will need to grow walls to be able to hide everything we can’t show, we live before the walls, we think we forgot about what we hid behind, we think the façade is us, we become accustomed to it, change becomes impossible, change becomes death. Then in a moment, we are reminded of what is behind the wall, we want it, we bring in the hammer and we start dismantling, the noise of deconstructing deafens us, we can’t hear the world roaring behind us. We bring the wall down, we look at “us,” at the many of “us,” we smile, we turn back to show the world what we got, but the world is standing there in silence, we are dead.[11]

For the actors involved, the process required a great deal of empathy for both sides embroiled in this ongoing conflict. Myers told me,

From the beginning of the production process, Sahar focused on insuring that all of the characters—Israelis and Palestinians alike—were first and foremost recognizably complex humans and not manifestations of a simplistic Manichaean universe. In Europe or the US that sort of approach might have seemed obvious. In Beirut, what it meant was that performers, members of the production and audience would have their preconceptions subverted in all sorts of fascinating ways.[12]

One method Assaf employed in creating this empathy was a rehearsal exercise in which all of the actors, in character, engaged in a political debate about Israel and Palestine arguing about whose cause is more just. This encouraged the actors to put aside their personal political perspectives and to view the conflict from the position of “the other.” In another exercise, the actors (still in character) raised flags and stood for the national anthems of each group. By directing the play in this manner, Assaf found the complexity of motivations for all of the characters, and “the need to understand a broad spectrum of world-views on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.”[13] Despite its political nature, the production also was an attempt to create a world of equanimity that does not currently exist in her own society. Rather than ending the play with a pessimistic line that says, “Peace has evaporated, we live now in disarray, and no one knows what the future will bring,”[14] Assaf decided to end the play with a female voice singing the Muslim Adhan prayer. “I thought giving life to its characters, on its own, is winning one tiny battle towards a society where women and men can be what they really are without judgment and persecution.”[15] Jamil Khoury, Artistic Director of Silk Road Rising says of Assaf, “Not only can she bridge Arab and American theatrical landscapes, but she can honor a text and preserve a playwright’s vision, while enabling the same text to grow and rediscover itself; the published manuscript and the living, evolving story coexisting collaboratively.”[16]

            Assaf’s 2014 work titled Watch Your Step: Beirut Heritage Walking Tour was described as a “site-specific promenade performance on our memories of the civil war.”[17] The performance, conceived and directed by Assaf and written by Myers, was produced by AUB with assistance from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), and marked the 39th anniversary of the start of the Lebanese Civil War. Inspired by the Argentinian play Information for Foreigners by Griselda Gambaro, Watch Your Step was created as a desire to engage Lebanese society in a process of “recuperating memories and revealing the truth about the country’s history of violence.”[18] For the performance audience members met at AUB’s Medical Gate and rode in a bus to the Khandaq al-Ghamiq neighborhood. The neighborhood, straddling Downtown Beirut and Damascus Road, was at one time the major hub for intellectuals and publishers. During the Lebanese civil war, the neighborhood was on the green line dividing East and West Beirut, and consequently suffered tremendous damage. Its architecture is a throwback to the Ottoman era and, by the mid-20th century it was once the home to upper-class Beirut families. Over time Khandaq al-Ghamiq became an area that mixed Armenians, Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Sunni and Shia residents and it is now known for its Shia character and its many foreign migrants. With the gentrification of Beirut underway, developers are eager to develop the neighborhood for startups and medium-to-small businesses, but these plans have been thwarted due to local rental laws and difficulties in removing current tenants from their homes.[19] The tour, which occurred during one weekend in May, 2014, was led in English and Arabic by Feghali and Abdul Baki. Along the way, there were several “interventions and interruptions” that were devised by the students from Assaf’s “Workshop in Theatre Production” class. Along the way the faux-tour guides pointed out the layers of graffiti on the walls, the trash bags that contained personal histories, and a lonely bride who walked up to the altar of a decimated church. Spectators were also encouraged to enter old buildings in which they viewed several performances: in one room the audience met young snipers in combat fatigues smoking and playing cards; in another room a woman wailed about her son who was disappeared during the war; and in yet another room a man and woman performed a violent dance while a cellist played in the corner. “I wanted to make a play about our memory of the civil war,” Assaf told The Daily Star. “To just say simply that we must remember. We have to look back, we have to step back in history in order for there to be a peaceful present and a peaceful future.”[20] In Assaf’s opinion, the rebuilding of downtown Beirut erased memories of the civil war, and the Khandaq al-Ghamiq area was a last physical monument to the war because it bore the scars of that conflict. Assaf found that her younger students, who were born after the civil war ended, were not taught about the war in school. “They rehabilitated all of the buildings,” she says, “but they’ve done no rehabilitation for the human beings—all the people who disappeared, all the people who lost their houses, lost their future, lost everything.”[21] In Assaf’s vision, the guides served as accomplices, human manifestation of the Lebanese amnesia regarding the war. Likewise, audiences also became accomplices by their reluctance to intervene in the various performances they witnessed, and their silent acceptance of the lies that were told. Stoughton dwrites:

A thought-provoking performance, “Watch Your Step” is amusing, enlightening and deeply sad. Allowing audiences a rare opportunity to explore the interiors of some war-ravaged Beirut buildings, it simultaneously provides an insight into the human cost of the conflict and the passive mentality that allows atrocities to happen. Far more than a simple trip down memory lane, “Watch Your Step” was a chilling wake-up call.[22]

Assaf directed a film version of the production titled Al-Khandaq which premiered at the AUB Bathish Auditorium and the Tangier ICPS 11th International Conference. Assaf’s desire for a memorial to the war is one that stands directly in opposition to many in Lebanese government and society who oppose such monuments. In her book Memorials and Martyrs in Modern Lebanon, Lucia Volk writes:

As texts and images about the civil war proliferated in various media, most scholars agreed upon two categories of amnesiacs: urban planners and political elites. Eighty-five percent of war-torn downtown Beirut, including Martyrs Square, was simply razed in order to be “redeveloped”… this postwar urban erasure proved that the Lebanese simply wanted to forget. Lebanese politicians went on record that no civil war memorial would be built.[23]

By resisting this cultural amnesia, Assaf created an ephemeral performance memorial that must, due to political and social intransigence, serve as one of the few reminders that a horrific civil war took place. Assaf says,

I truly believe that without confronting the past, without remembering the war with all its ugliness, we can never forget it. To move on we must look back. That’s what monuments are for. That’s what a war museum is for. We have none, nothing to make us remember; that’s why the war is still going on in different forms.[24]

For Assaf, it is this sense that the war is ongoing that fuels the desire to create her art. In her opinion, it is only through remembering that bloody conflict that there is any hope that it will not be repeated in the future.

Assaf has also created works that focus on her idea of the necessary rehabilitation for human beings traumatized by the war. In 2013 she collaborated with Catharsis, the Lebanese Center for Drama Therapy, to create a documentary theatre piece titled From the Bottom of My Brain. Catharsis is the first drama therapy center in the Arab region, founded in 2007 under the direction of Lebanese drama therapist and executive director Zeina Daccache. Recently Daccache has created two pieces that received great international acclaim: a 2009/2010 performance titled 12 Angry Lebanese, which was created with inmates from Lebanon’s Roumieh prison, and Scheherazade in Baabda, another performance created with female inmates of Baabda Prison. Both of these performances were filmed and distributed on DVD. Assaf’s collaboration with Daccache on From the Bottom of My Brain, was performed by residents of the Al Fanar Psychiatric Hospital in South Lebanon, and the play later premiered at Beirut’s Masrah Al-Madina. The documentary theatre piece was derived from details shared during group sessions by patients at the hospital. Daccache described the theatre as “self-revelatory performance” that emanates from the patients’ stories. According to Daccache, because both prisoners and psychiatric patients are stigmatized by Lebanese society, patients are often treated as if their mental illnesses are crimes; and worse, some patients are considered possessed by demons. The Catharsis company works to change these misperceptions, and to provide healing to those suffering with mental disorders. Daccache says, “If you want to change something in the country, it has to be the population involved who has to say it. Here, theatre is the medium for the residents to be heard.”[25] Works like 12 Angry Lebanese, Scheherazade in Baabda, and From the Bottom of My Brain are deeply empathetic pieces that seek to provide rehabilitation for the soul of a country that has seemingly forgotten its past. Although Assaf also believes drama therapy can offer a safe space for those with trauma to confront their past, it is her opinion that it is not a replacement for judicial processes and other governmental mechanisms that should address war crimes and abuses of human rights.

Assaf also directed a short independent documentary film titled So It Will Only Be a Memory…Women Fighters, which she produced and directed in 2011. For the documentary Assaf interviewed four female Lebanese fighters from different religious/political militias who recount their war experiences. The documentary footage is interspersed with musical interludes of Jacque Brel’s anti-war song “Au Suivant.” The film premiered at T-Marbouta Café & Pub and also toured to the Muranow Cinema in Warsaw, the MidEast Cut International Festival for Alternative Film and Video in Copenhagen, and the Nahwa al-Mwatinya (Towards Citizenship NGO), and Confronting Memories film series at the UMAM Documentation and Research NGO. Assaf eventually plans to create a documentary theatre piece from the hours of footage she shot for the film.

In the documentary two women from the Phalange Party, a fighter from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, and a fighter from the Lebanese Communist Party, discuss their experiences during the war. The women tell of the resistance they faced, as female fighters, from both their families and the other male fighters with whom they served. They make it clear that women provided many services during the war from applying first aid for the wounded to cooking meals for soldiers, but the four women interviewed in the film decided that they would rather fight on the front lines. They describe comrades they lost, memories of dead and destroyed bodies, and their own physical and mental injuries. What is most striking is how they all vow to never fight another internal war against their fellow Lebanese. It seems that, given time, these women have come to a terrible reckoning about the war:

Why does this mother who has given birth and has raised a child have to receive her son in a plastic bag? The guys were put in plastic bags above each other. What is this great cause that permitted us to kill each other in this way? What is this cause? We were lost. We could not understand anything anymore.[26]

Looking to the future the women state that there can be peace in Lebanon, but only if major international powers stop intervening in the internal affairs of the country and if the former warlords (who now rule the country) stop playing political games with their rivals. “We are obliged to live with each other,” one former fighter says, “we are obliged to accept the other and vice versa, or else we will spend our life trying to eliminate each other.”[27] Despite the painful recollections seen and heard in the film, there is a hopeful message that if there are to be wars in Lebanon’s future, they will be initiated by powers outside the country but not by its citizens.

At the time of this publication Assaf is directing The Dictator by Lebanese playwright Issam Mahfouz (also translated by Myers and Saab), produced by Tahweel Theatre Ensemble and AUB Theater Initiative, which will be performed at the Between the Seas Festival in New York City in September 2015. The play, written in 1969, is an absurdist tragicomedy that dramatizes the twisted relationship between a power-mad general in a fictional Arab nation and his sycophantic servant as they plot a coup. In her desire to clarify Mahfouz’s vision, Assaf set the play in a nondescript governmental/presidential office. The touring production will also star actors Feghali and Abdul Baki. The play was written in Lebanese amiyya (colloquial dialect), as opposed to the more standard fusha (classical Arabic) found in most Arab drama. In preparation, Assaf, Abdul Baki and Feghali have spent time comparing and contrasting the original Arabic play with the English translation and are incorporating this kind of analysis as a technique for innovation in performance. Assaf says, “I personally think that today the play speaks to the political situation in Lebanon as much as it speaks to other neighboring dictatorships. The country is still ruled by the same lords who ran the civil war or at best their children. People have no affiliation to the Civil State but to those leaders, out of fear, poverty and/or ignorance.”[28] That same fear, poverty, and ignorance remains. Even as I write this article, Lebanon is having another internal crisis as trash piles up on city streets while the government remains deadlocked as to where to dump the tons of refuse.

In a time when Lebanon is working to heal its wounds from the civil war, dealing with ongoing conflicts with Israel and Hezbollah, and with the influx of millions of Syrian refugees, theatre and performance become sites of memorialization and healing. Works by companies like Catharsis, Tahweel Ensemble Theatre, and educational institutions like AUB and LAU all work to replace the absent physical monuments and truth and reconciliation commissions. Artists like Assaf, who are working in difficult conditions that range from censorship to lack of funding, create performances that provide remembrance, transformation, and healing. Assaf says,

In Lebanon, the majority lives in economically drought conditions and is so busy making a living that they forget to stop and think about what led to those bad conditions. Or they are so brainwashed and manipulated by their religious and political leaders that they fear any change they do will only lead to their destruction. I believe theatre offers an opportunity for us to reflect on our situation…The change might not be noticeable right away but the slightest transformation or realization that audience members make in the theatre as they watch a play is one step towards their liberation whether from a dictator, an oppressive system or a dogma.[29]

Her long-time collaborator Robert Myers says Assaf is “the kind of theatre artist who would be doing vital, engaging and aesthetically complex works no matter what resources were available to her. She will use whatever is at hand to make the art she needs to make, and she has as much vision, intelligence, focus and energy as anyone I know in the theatre.”[30] Her work ethic and sense of commitment has impressed those outside of Lebanon as well. Jamil Khoury says,

Perhaps more than anything, it is Assaf’s profound love for Lebanon, and her commitment to building Levantine societies that are democratic and free that drives her artistic ambitions. Her boundless courage and immense creativity leap center stage each time she plunges herself into the life of a play, dramatizing the world as she sees it alongside the world that she wishes for.[31]

At a time when Lebanon is embroiled in some of the greatest challenges in its history, theatre and performance artists have come forward at great personal and political expense to speak out against the injustice and apathy they witness in their society. Assaf’s passion for her native Lebanon and her desire to create theatre as a site of memorialization make her one of the most important theatre artists in the Arab world today.

Michael Malek Najjar is an assistant professor of theatre arts at the University of Oregon. He holds a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from UCLA, M.F.A. in Directing from York University (Toronto), B.A. in Theatre Arts from the University of New Mexico. He is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), and an alumnus of the British/American Drama Academy (BADA), Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, Director’s Lab West, and RAWI Screenwriters’ Lab (Jordan). He directed the world premiere of Jamil Khoury’s Precious Stones and a staged reading of his own play Talib, both at the Silk Road Theatre Project, Chicago.  He is the editor of Four Arab American Plays: Works by Leila Buck, Jamil Khoury, Yussef El Guindi, and Lameece Issaq & Jacob Kader and Arab American Drama, Film and Performance: A Critical Study, 1908 to the Present published by McFarland & Co., Inc. Publishers.

[1] Sahar Assaf, e-mail interview with the author, July 28, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Tahweel Ensemble Theater-Mission and Founders,” .pdf document, sent via e-mail by Sahar Assaf, July 2015, 1.

[5] India Stoughton, “Humanizing the Enemy: Wannous’ The Rape,” The Daily Star, 25 March 2015, accessed July 20, 2015,

[6] Sahar Assaf, “Speaking the Unspeakable: On Directing Wannous.” Paper presented at the “On Wannous: an International Conference,” Beirut, Lebanon, April 1, 2015.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Edward Ghazaley, “‘The Rape:’ Conflict is Mutually Destructive,” Outlook, 25 March 2015, accessed 20 July, 2015,

[9] Robert Myers, e-mail interview with the author, July 27, 2015.

[10] Assaf, “Speaking,” 3-4.

[11] Assaf, “Speaking,” 5-6.

[12] Robert Myers, e-mail interview with the author, July 27, 2015.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Sa’dallah Wannous, Rituals of Signs and Transformations: a Stage Play by Sa’d Allah Wannus, trans. Robert Myers and Nada Saab, MS Word document, 2013, 126.

[15] Sahar Assaf, e-mail interview with the author, July 29, 2015.

[16] Jamil Khoury, e-mail interview with the author, July 28, 2015.

[17] Sahar Assaf, “CV,” 1.

[18] “Watch Your Step: Beirut Heritage Walking Tour,” American University of Beirut. Press release, N.p.: n.d.

[19] Sahar Assaf, “Actor’s Packet Research,”7-9.

[20] India Stoughton, “Specters of War Thwart Efforts to Forget,” The Daily Star, 5 May 2014, accessed July 22, 2015.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Lucia Volk, Memorials and Martyrs in Modern Lebanon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010, 107-108.

[24] Sahar Assaf, e-mail interview with the author, July 29, 2015.

[25] Chirine Lahoud, “A Theater of Stigma, by the Stigmatized” The Daily Star, 7 June 2013.

[26] Assaf, Sahar. So It Will Only Be a Memory—Part 1, YouTube video, 19:50, from a documentary film posted by saharassaf, posted October 13, 2011,

[27] Ibid.

[28] Sahar Assaf, e-mail interview with the author, July 29, 2015.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Robert Myers, e-mail interview with the author, July 27, 2015.

[31] Jamil Khoury, e-mail interview with the author, July 28, 2015.



Arab Stages
Volume 2, Number 1 (Fall 2015)
©2015 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Founders: Marvin Carlson and Frank Hentschker

Editor-in-Chief: Marvin Carlson

Editorial and Advisory Board: Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Dina Amin, Khalid Amine, Hazem Azmy, Dalia Basiouny, Katherine Donovan, Masud Hamdan, Sameh Hanna, Rolf C. Hemke, Katherine Hennessey, Areeg Ibrahim, Jamil Khoury, Dominika Laster, Margaret Litvin, Rebekah Maggor, Safi Mahfouz, Robert Myers, Michael Malek Naijar, Hala Nassar, George Potter, Juan Recondo, Nada Saab, Asaad Al-Saleh, Torange Yeghiazarian, Edward Ziter.

Managing Editor: Meir A. Farjoun

Assistant Managing Editor: Nina Angela Mercer

Table of Content

  • The 2015 Egyptian National Theatre Festival by Dalia Basiouny
  • Damascus Theater Laboratory by Waseem Al Sharqy
  • The Birth of Modern Iraqi Theatre: Church Drama in Mosul in the Late Nineteenth Century by Amir Al-Azraki and James Al-Shamma
  • Theatre as an Optimistic Political Act: Lebanese Theatre Artist Sahar Assaf by Michael Malek Najjar
  • A Feminist Tuberculosis Melodrama: Melek by Painted Bird Theatre by Emre Erdem
  • Much Ado About “Theatre and Censorship Conference” by Dalia Basiouny
  • Mass Media Muslims: A Three Lens Theory of Representation by Jamil Khoury


  • Issam Mahfouz’ The Dictator presented in New York by Marvin Carlson
  • An 1868 Egyptian Helen of Troy play published by Marvin Carlson
  • Nahda: Five Visions of an Arab Awakening
  • Malumat: Resources for Research, Writing/Publishing, Teaching, & Performing Arts compiled by Kate C. Wilson

Book Reviews

  • Muslim Rap, Halal Soaps, and Revolutionary Theatre by Karin van Nieuwkerk, ed. – A book review by Marvin Carlson
  • Arab American Drama, Film and Performance: A Critical Study, 1908 to the Present – A book review by George Potter
  • Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora – A book review by Michael Malek Najjar

Short Plays

  • Out of Control by Wael Qadour
  • The Village of Tishreen by Muhammad al-Maghut

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
Rebecca Sheahan, Managing Director

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