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Golden Thread Announces New Executive Artistic Director

Sahar Assaf (she/her) is a Lebanese theatre maker and teacher who has been active in the Lebanese theatre scene since 2003.

Golden Thread has announced that Sahar Assaf is the new Artistic Director. Following a global search, Sahar has relocated from Lebanon to San Francisco to helm the now 25 year old production company beginning May 3rd, following the stepping down of founding Artistic Director Torange Yeghiazarian.

Sahar Assaf (she/her) is a Lebanese theatre maker and teacher who 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. With her long term collaborator, playwright Robert Myers, Sahar co-founded the Theater Initiative at the American University of Beirut, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and artists working to facilitate theatre creation and research locally, regionally, and internationally. Her work at the Theater Initiative inlcudes the direction of 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, and Watch Your Step: Beirut Heritage Walking Tour which was a site-specific devised work on the Lebanese civil war. A strong advocate of documentary theatre, Sahar 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 the role 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.

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."

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."

Torange has been hailed as the Mother of Middle Eastern American Theater, lauded internationally for her artistic innovation, spirit of collaboration, and community-building activism. 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.

Torange's vision to found the first American theater of, by, and for Middle Eastern artists has rooted firmly and massively impacted the American theatre in the process. Golden Thread looks forward to expanding upon her legacy as Sahar guides us into a new era of Art, Activism, and Family.

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