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Golden Thread Celebrates Middle-Eastern Women Artists who Build Community Through Art

Golden Thread Productions returns with its annual celebration of International Women's Day, What Do the Women Say? on Saturday, March 12, at 8pm at La Peña Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley). This year's program is a celebration of pioneering Bay Area women artists who have built community through their art. Golden Thread founding artistic director Torange Yeghiazarian will be in conversation with visual artist and curator Taraneh Hemami, founder of Zawaya executive director Nabila Mango, playwright Betty Shamieh, and founding artistic director of Ballet Asfaneh Sharlyn Sawyer. Each artist will present a showcase of their work, including a musical performance of the Aswat Women's Ensemble that will conclude the program. What Do the Women Say? is a SWAN Day event and is sponsored by WomenArts. For more information and tickets ($12-$15), please visit goldenthread.org or call 510.849.2568 x20.

"As a woman-founded and woman-led company for the last 20 years, Golden Thread has always attracted and celebrated women artists," said Torange Yeghiazarian, founding artistic director of Golden Thread Productions. "Our annual celebration of International Women's Day allows us to showcase artists working in other mediums and highlight the trends and impact of works by women of Middle Eastern heritage. I'm a personal fan of the work of all of the amazing women featured this year, and cannot wait to share their impressive contributions with Golden Thread audiences."

Each year, Golden Thread Productions celebrates International Women's Day by showcasing the work of leading Middle Eastern women artists. Previous programs have focused on activism by women artists, artists who explore sex and sexuality, and female solo performers. Previous featured artists include Elmaz Abinader (This House, My Bones), Majeda Al Saqqa (Culture and Free Thought Association, Gaza Strip), Anita Amirrezvani (The Blood of Flowers, Equal to the Sun), Nawal el Saadawi (Memoirs from the Women's Prison), Denmo Ibrahim (Baba, ECSTASY | a waterfable), Rohiha Malek (Unveiled), Maryam Keshavarz (Circumstance), Ayesha Mattau (Love Inshallah), Zahra Noorbakhsh (All Atheists are Muslim, #GoodMuslimBadMuslim), Shahrnush Parsipur (The Prison Memoirs, Women Without Men), Deema Shehabi (Thirteen Departures From the Moon), Rosemary Toohey (The Body Washer), Seema Sueko (Remains). Visit goldenthread.org/programs/women for more information.

ARTIST BIOGRAPHIES:

The Aswat Women's Ensemble (AWE) is the Bay Area's only exclusively-female Arab music ensemble designed to empower women. AWE is a multi-racial and multi-ethnic female ensemble that reaches out to the diverse Bay Area community with folkloric, classical, contemporary, and sacred Arab music. AWE's doors remain open to all who want to participate in the exciting, enriching exchange between Arab Americans and other communities through the universal language of music. For more information about AWE, please visit zawaya.org. For inquiries, email zawaya.admin@gmail.com.

Raised in Tehran, Iran, and living and working in San Francisco, Taraneh Hemami continues to explore themes of displacement, preservation and representation in her collective and curatorial projects, creating connections through experimental projects between artists, writers and scholars. She has been awarded a Creative Work Fund (2000), a Visions for the New California (2004), Kala Fellowship (2007), a Eureka Fellowship Award (2012), a Creative Capital (2012), an Artistic Innovation grant from Center for Cultural Innovation (2012), and a Community Stories award from California Council of the Humanities (2013). She has guest-curated Theory of Survival at BAN 5, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (2008), One Day: a Collective Narrative of Tehran at Intersection for the Arts (2009), In the Currents, at Kearny Street Workshops (2012), Time after Time, at Southern Exposure (2010), and Fabrications at Southern Exposure (2014). Bulletin, a Theory of Survival publication was recently published by Arts at CIIS (2015). Taraneh teaches at California College of the Arts.

Nabila Mango co-founded Zawaya with Haya Shawa Ben-Halim in 2003 to preserve and promote the Arab arts in the San Francisco Bay Area. Aswat, which predates Zawaya by three years, is Zawaya's 16-year old flagship Arabic music and performance program and the Bay Area's premiere Arabic music ensemble. A member of school choirs in high school and college, Nabila never lost her passion for the performing arts. Nabila reads prolifically in politics, women's affairs, languages, music history, and cultural issues and owns the largest library of Arabic music in the U.S.

A prolific dance artist, choreographer/director/arts activist Sharlyn Sawyer's career in the performing arts spans more than 45 years. As the Artistic and Executive Director of Afsaneh Art & Culture Society - Ballet Afsaneh, a company she founded in 1986, she has choreographed and produced dozens of original works, as well as expanding traditional Central Asian dance forms for contemporary theater presentations. Her company has had a major impact on the development of Persian/Afghan/Central Asian dance and its preservation in the diaspora at a critical time in history. Describing herself as a "perpetual student of art and life" and an "Executive Director by default", Sawyer has garnered the support of many prestigious grants and awards for the Afsaneh Art & Culture Society - Ballet Afsaneh. Working internationally, Sawyer created performances for the British Museum, and was sought out by the San Francisco philanthropic foundation, The Christensen Fund, to establish an ongoing performing arts exchange in Tajikistan. Productions in the Bay Area include world dance/music events and concerts such as the Festival of the Silk Road, and the NeekOn Festival in Golden Gate Park.

Betty Shamieh is the author of 15 plays. She was selected as the winner of The Playwrights' Center's 2012-2013 McKnight National Residency and Commission. Her off-Broadway premieres are The Black Eyed (New York Theatre Workshop) and Roar (The New Group), which was selected as a New York Times Critic's Pick and is currently being taught at universities throughout the United States. Shamieh was named a UNESCO Young Artist for Intercultural Dialogue in 2011. Her recent European productions in translation include Again and Against (Playhouse Theater, Stockholm), The Black Eyed (Fournos Theatre, Athens), and Territories (co-production of the Landes-Theatre and the European Union Capital of Culture Festival). In 2012, Princeton University's Institute for Advanced Studies presented the world premiere of a suite of arias from Territories, an opera that Shamieh is writing the lyrics and libretto for based on her play. She performed in her play of monologues, Chocolate in Heat, in three sold-out off-off-Broadway runs and over 20 university theatres. A graduate of Harvard College and the Yale School of Drama, Shamieh was selected as a Clifton Visiting Artist at Harvard in 2004 and named as a Playwriting Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies in 2006. Her works have been translated into seven languages.

Torange Yeghiazarian is the Founding Artistic Director of Golden Thread Productions where she launched such visionary programs as ReOrient Festival, New Threads, the Fairytale Players, and Middle East America (with Lark and Silkroad Rising). Torange's plays include Isfahan Blues, 444 Days, The Fifth String, Abaga, Waves, and Call Me Mehdi published in "Salaam. Peace: An Anthology of Middle Eastern-American Drama," TCG 2009. Torange adapted the poem, I Sell Souls by Simin Behbehani to the stage, and directed the premieres of Scenic Routes by Yussef El Guindi, A Girl's War by Joyce Van Dyke, Nine Armenians by Leslie Ayvasian, The Myth of Creation by Sadegh Hedayat, and Tamam by Betty Shamieh, among others. Her articles on contemporary theatre in Iran have been published in The Drama Review, American Theatre Magazine, and Theatre Bay Area Magazine, and HowlRound. Torange has contributed to the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures and Cambridge World Encyclopedia of Stage Actors. Born in Iran and of Armenian heritage, Torange holds a Master's degree in Theatre Arts from San Francisco State University.

Started in 1909 in the U.S., International Women's Day (March 8) is an occasion marked by women's groups around the world. This date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. When women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.

Founded in 1996 by playwright Torange Yeghiazarian, Golden Thread Productions is the first American theatre company focused on the Middle East. Golden Thread produces passionate and provocative plays from and about the Middle East that celebrate the multiplicity of its perspectives and identities. Golden Thread is a developmental catalyst and vibrant artistic home to artists at various stages of their career. Golden Thread brings the Middle East to the American stage, creating treasured cultural experiences for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. goldenthread.org


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