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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.

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