When I arrived at Sundance Institute in 1996, I was surprised that many American artists seemed woefully disconnected from theatre-making outside our country’s borders. I set out to change that. After all, if we artists do not model a borderless life, who will? I knew I had to shift our lens, our perspective.
Across the seas there was surely a new and powerful generation of storytellers disrupting, leading, and inspiring their communities in the wake of giant transformations. Instead of standing affixed to the ground in the geography we call North America, we began our travels – standing first on the soil of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda. In more recent years, we’ve had the privilege of walking the streets of Tunis, Casablanca, Beirut, Cairo, and Amman, engaging with yet another community of writers and directors. I am so pleased to make this journey with all of you.
World politics seem hugely challenging right now. And as poet Gwendolyn Brooks so eloquently stated, “Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.” No one ever said that making theatre was easy, yet all of us are deeply moved to create. Sundance exists to support your artistic voyages – we aim to make the roads, and seas, and skies calmer for you, and to light your way. Indeed, “one wants a teller in a time like this.” I am filled with the sense of possibility as we close one year and head to another because I believe that in the hands of artists across our planet, we will yet illuminate a path.
Philip Himberg, Artistic Director
Sundance Institute Theatre Program
Looking back at a year of international theatre programming.
The Theatre Program is in the midst of a multi-year initiative to foster meaningful engagement between U.S. and MENA theatre artists through a series of peer-to-peer exposure and exchange activities within the Middle East and North Africa and with MENA artistic diasporas, and in the larger context of our US-focused Labs and Retreats. The MENA initiative welcomes theatre artists inspired by major transformations in the world, with a special focus on those who are creating new works for the stage in Arabic (classical and dialects).
NOTE: An asterisk (*) indicates a project or an artist from the Middle East/North Africa region.
Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in MENA ⎥ May 8-29, 2016
In May 2016, the Theatre Lab in MENA replaced the annual Theatre Lab usually held in Utah, which over the past three decades has provided critical support and development to risk-taking independent theatre-makers at every stage of their careers. Eleven projects with artists from the U.S., Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Morocco, France, Spain, UK, Belgium, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and Uganda were invited to participate in the first MENA Theatre Lab, which took place at the Fellah Hotel/Dar al-Ma’mûn. The three-week Lab culminated in closed presentations for the Lab participants, followed by feedback sessions with the Theatre Program’s dramaturgs and advisors.
Dramatrugs: Abdullah Al-Kafri*, Mark Brokaw, Chrystèle Khodor*, Christian Parker, and Leigh Silverman
Creative Advisors: Lynn Nottage, Moukhtar Kocache*, and Indhu Rubasingham
You can read more about the 2016 Sundance Theatre Lab in
MENA in American
Happy New Fear*
Wild Goose Dreams
Sundance Institute-LUMA Foundation Directors Retreat in Arles ⎥ July 18-31, 2016
As a way to exclusively support theatre directors, the Theatre Program created the Theatre Directors Retreat in the ancient Roman city of Arles (France). In partnership with the LUMA Foundation, the 12-day Retreat takes place annually and provides a unique opportunity to exchange ideas and practices for Sundance Institute-supported directors from around the world and included our first Kuwaiti director, Sulayman Al-Bassam.
2016 Retreat Fellows: Sulayman Al Bassam*, Timothy Douglas, Jackson Gay, Joseph Haj and Theodora Skipitares.
Grant from Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art
The Sundance Institute Theatre Program is the proud recipient of a new grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for Islamic Art that makes it possible to include projects/artists from the MENA region at each of our American-based programs for the next two years. We are extremely proud of this grant and the opportunity it affords American artists and artists from the MENA region to be in regular contact with one another.
2016 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at MASS MoCA ⎥ December 4-18, 2016
In our annual collaboration with MASS MoCA (Massachusetts), the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at MASS MoCA supports 2-3 projects, focusing on the creation of new musical theatre and work generated by acting companies or ensembles. This Lab is designed to afford musical productions and ensemble or devised projects the luxury of ongoing time to develop work without interruption. We welcomed our colleagues from Palestine and Lebanon to this Lab.
Advisors/Dramaturgs: Janice Paran (senior program associate) and Otis Ramsey-Zoe
Creative Advisors: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and Jeanine Tesori (program associate)
36 Abbas Street, Haifa*
We Were There!
As a sign of the Theatre Program’s commitment to maintaining a meaningful dialogue with artists and colleagues from different parts of the globe, our staff members attended and contributed to the following international events:
Sundance, A Global Platform for the World’s Storytellers
Cairo Festival for Contemporary & Experimental Theatre
Landscapes of Hope
IETM Satellite Meeting in Beirut
Journées Théåtrales de Carthage
Arab Voices: Here/There/Then/Now
To complete this overview of the Theatre Program’s international work in 2016, we asked some of the Program’s fellows, participants and advisors to share thoughts about their Sundance experiences:
Sundance Institute Theatre Program’s MENA initiative came as a space-in-between the time of hope for freedom and the time of despair due to the feeling of abandonment shared by the populations of this region; the context of theatre-makers searching for topics to fill their worlds, and the context of topics needing theatre-makers to deal with them through their plays; the dream of theatre-makers from the Arab region to connect with broader international platforms, and the dream of breaking the isolation of theatre-makers from the U.S. and other parts of the world towards the Arab region. The MENA initiative isn’t an emergency program designed to respond to short-term needs, it’s an organic part of the Theatre Program’s commitment to establish deep, meaningful and peer-to-peer relationships with artists from different parts of the globe. In 2017, the Theatre Lab will return to its home in Utah to welcome artists from the U.S. and MENA, and a new space will open in Berlin for MENA playwrights who are newcomers to Europe. Both spaces will be platforms to contemplate the role of theatre in front of major global transformations, and the power of aesthetics and imagination despite a shared feeling of despair and defeat. Two more spaces to confront commercial art, and to celebrate risk-taking artistic forms of expression. The most creative way to fight stereotypes, cultural prejudices, condescension, and shallow approaches.
In 2016, I had the opportunity to be a member of the Acting Company of Sundance Theatre Lab in MENA, and to participate as a Fellow (writer & performer) at the Theatre Lab in Mass MoCA. I was delighted with both experiences, where people from different cultural backgrounds were invited to share a safe space to create and make art. We mingled, worked, discussed, exchanged ideas and points of views with total openness. We danced, sang, fought, cried, hugged, ate and then worked some more. We acted like human beings without borders, without prejudices. But mainly, I wasn’t forced to use a diplomatic speech to explain who I am! I was seen as the Palestinian that I am: complete. The experience taught me how to listen again, feel again and think again. It made me realize that I, as a Palestinian, wasn’t alone in my struggle to survive and to be perceived as a human in this world. This amazing initiative has offered me the tools and the platform to better represent myself as an artist and as a member of a global community.
A summer of magic and light that followed my winter of discontent
(That made me an orphan by my father’s leap to the great beyond)
A summer of spheric music and a stirring heart
Set beating by the passion of theatre’s transforming ways.
A summer of soul expansion and revelation
Made flesh by Arabic spirit and rhythm under the soul-cleansing Moroccan sun
Turned reflective and fruitful in a retreating French countryside.
I have been steeped in new-world promise tempered by other-worldly wisdom
In awesome humanity and sobering truth – this was my Summer of Sundance.
The Sundance Theatre Lab was the spark that convinced Zakaria Allilech* and I to join forces. Our shared vision of Sarah Kane’s CRAVE, and our strength working together, developed over time making possible the work that we present today. The support and collaboration of the Sundance team was precious and instrumental in bringing the poetry, intimacy, and raw energy of Sarah Kane to the stage and onto the screen. Sundance was the bridge between our work in Morocco and in France. Recently, the Grand Parquet and the Paris Villette Theatre allowed us to build on the wonderful opportunity Sundance initiated. And thanks to Sundance’s continued interest and support, I have learned how to bring together the right team, and build mutual respect and confidence on stage between the actors, scenographic team, and technicians, giving us all the power to accomplish our shared vision: I now truly believe in this project!
‘And I tell myself, a moon will rise from my darkness.’ – Mahmoud Darwish. Together with musician Kathy Alberici, visual designer Ana Nieves Moya, I got the opportunity to explore and trust the process of a very intimate, vulnerable and political work, HAPPY NEW FEAR, during the Sundance Theater Lab in MENA. Later on, the project received additional Post-Lab support funds made possible from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to help us achieve a two-week research residency in Beirut, Lebanon. These two opportunities encouraged me to establish and explore multiple artistic possibilities, and to push my work towards new encounters and relationships with spaces and people. My project aims to explore an environment of anxiety and control via a narrative built around Madame Bomba, a persona first created in 2014 when I wore a fake cartoon TNT bomb around my chest while roaming the streets of my hometown Beirut. Recently, HAPPY NEW FEAR received further support from CTM Radio Lab in Berlin, and will subsequently be broadcasted in its radio version via Deutschlandradio Kultur in March 2017.
As a theatre practitioner from Lebanon, I had the opportunity to participate in the Theatre Lab in MENA, where I met Asiimwe Deborah Gkashugi, who co-lead the Theatre Program’s East Africa initiative, and who’s now the Director of Kampala International Theatre Festival in Uganda. As a result to this encounter, I received an invitation with my company, MINWAL, to present our latest creation, BARZAKH, at the festival in Kampala (November, 2016). I do believe now that one of the purposes of the Theatre Lab in Morocco was also to create this type of connections, to bring together artists from different parts of the world who usually don’t have the opportunity to meet and interact. The Lab environment brought us together as theatre makers and human beings, and this is how we resist to all forms of injustice and inequalities in the world today. I hope our paths cross again and again.
Asiimwe Deborah Gkashugi
Connecting artists and audiences from Eastern Africa, the U.S., North Africa and the Middle East is the right thing to do, especially now, more than ever before in a world that is increasingly becoming insular, that is pushing away anyone that is different, or has different beliefs. I had the opportunity to work with the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, co-leading the East Africa Initiative, and this initiative has transited into The Kampala International Theatre Festival – now in its Third Year. In May, I was fortunate to be in Morocco for the Sundance Theatre Lab in MENA. While there, I met amazing artists from across the world. This year, we were delighted to host artists from the Americas and the Middle East at the festival in Kampala. We know that conversations for possible collaborations across continents are beginning to be explored. We are confident that where politics, religion, and the economies of the world have failed, art may have an answer. Art can heal our world.
COMING IN 2017 – Artists from the Middle East & North Africa at all programs
Playwrights & Composers Retreat
Sundance Institute and Kennedy Center present
MENA Playwrights Residency in Berlin
Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort
Sundance Institute | LUMA Foundation
For more information about our international work, please contact Jumana Al-Yasiri (Middle East & North Africa Manager). We also invite you to visit our website and join our MENA community on Facebook.