Now presented triennially featuring the ReOrient Forum
The ReOrient Festival was inaugurated in 1999 to present alternative perspectives of the Middle East, showcasing the diversity of artistic voices and styles from the region, and gathering various segments of the Middle Eastern community together with the non-Middle Eastern community for an evening of distinctive – yet shared – narratives. For the past ten years, the festival has annually turned San Francisco into a destination for artists who challenge the dominant depictions of the Middle East and audiences who seek unconventional and provocative programming. It has served as a springboard for the careers of top Middle Eastern-American playwrights such as Yussef El Guindi; and Betty Shamieh, originally from the Bay Area. In addition, the ReOrient Festival has introduced audiences to significant dramatic works from the Middle East by authors that are rarely produced in the US such as Sadegh Hedayat, Fatma Gallaire, Towfiq Al-Hakim, among others. While promoting the voices of the Middle East, young and old, the festival offers an opportunity to non-Middle Eastern playwrights to explore the region as a topic. The ReOrient Festival has premiered works by such distinguished American playwrights such as Naomi Wallace, Eric Ehn, and Israel Horovitz. In fact, the majority of plays submitted to the festival continue to be by non-Middle Eastern writers who appreciate the thoughtful and professional support that the festival offers.
In 2009, in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the festival, we organized a convening in San Francisco aimed at expanding the dialogue on theatre and the Middle East, and to showcase the diverse talents of Bay Area’s Middle Eastern arts community. The two-day event was comprised of five panels, an internet play, a book launch, an arts exhibit and two concerts. Artists from across the globe (US, England, Canada, Argentina, Korea, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Armenia, Syria, Turkey) participated in person or via the internet. Panelists included award-winning playwrights Philip Kan Gotanda and Motti Lerner; Emilya Cachapero, director of International Program, Theatre Communications Group; Roberta Levitow, Founder of Theatre Without Borders; Roberto Varea, chair Performance and Social Change, USF. Iman Aoun, artistic director of Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah, participated in a panel from Jerusalem via the internet. Long time Golden Thread artistic associate, Yussef el Guindi wrote The Review, a short play specifically for the ReOrient Forum to be performed via the internet – with one actor (and director) in San Francisco and another in Cairo. Theatre Communications Group chose the ReOrient Forum to launch its latest publication, “Salam.Peace” the first ever anthology of plays by Middle Eastern Americans. Bay Area arts groups Ballet Afsaneh and Aswat Arabic Music Ensemble performed. As part of the ReOrient Forum, work by two Palestinian visual artists was exhibited at Theatre Artaud lobby gallery for three weeks. The Forum was presented at Theatre Artaud/Z Space for two days and the ReOrient Festival of Short Plays ran for four weeks at the Thick House. In addition to breaking attendance and box office records, the ReOrient Festival was featured in American Theatre Magazine in spring 2010 as a historic and groundbreaking event.
The ReOrient Festival is Golden Thread’s hallmark event and reflects the core values of the company. ReOrient also reflects the pioneering spirit of San Francisco and Bay Area patrons’ welcoming attitude towards innovation and alternative perspectives which nurture the festival’s growth and its evolution over time.