To create a cultural bridge, through theatre, between the Middle East and the West. To use stories of Shakespeare and the Arab world to illustrate our common humanity.
Arabian Shakespeare Festival
Officially founded in January 2013, ASF’s history reaches back to January 2010. Then the company was unofficially known as Arabian Gulf Shakespeare and had entered negotiations with the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, UAE. That year saw the development of the AGS’s pilot program which took place in the 2010-2011 season.
The program took three actors from the San Francisco Bay Area to the UAE where they spent two weeks teaching the women of UAE University various aspects of theatre, while performing scenes from various Shakespeare plays to illustrate the lessons taught. For example, the workshop on “Communication” was connected to the scene between Katherine of France and Henry in Henry V, and sonnets concluded with a performance of the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet. At the end of the two weeks, the most popular scenes were selected and expanded to include 13 of the students from the previous two weeks. With three days of rehearsal, they were worked into the scenes, speaking some lines in English and some in Arabic, and for the first time in the history of UAE University there was a public outdoor theatrical performance. Expectations were shattered when attendance reached over 350 people for the single performance.
During the 2011-2012 season AGS again returned to UAE U. with three actors. This time, workshops focused less on the performance elements of theatre and more on the social aspects of them: “How are Shakespeare’s plays relevant today?” Using scenes from both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor, various social topics were debated and discussed in the classes. Topics such as forced marriage, obedience to a father and men pursuing women. The culminating performance included half hour productions of both plays, this time featuring over twenty women, for an audience of almost 400 people
In January 2013, ASF became a legal 501(c) 3, changing its name to Arabian Shakespeare Festival. This step was taken after the interest shown by several organizations in Kuwait as well as outside of the Arabian Gulf region.
In November of 2013 ASF produced its first production in the US, with the English language premier or A Message by Kuwaiti playwright Dr. Hussain Al Musalam and adapted by Dr. Matthew Spangler. In addition to ASF’s first domestic production, ASF launched an education program at both St. Lawrence Elementary and Middle School (Santa Clara) and the Woodland School (Portola Valley), where ASF teaches children in grades K-8.
The Fall of 2014 saw ASF produce is first domestic Shakespeare, with its critically acclaimed production of Othello directed by Humber River Shakespeare (Toronto, Canada) Artistic Director Kevin Hammond. With this
production ASF sought to view the major themes of the play through the lens of the Middle East. The major themes were explored with a perspective that is markedly different from the perception of them in America. This led to a production that was described as “different.”
The 2015 season is the first in which ASF has embarked on more than one production during the year. ASF produced a staged reading of Antony and Cleopatra directed by Vickie Rozell, a one day Festival of New plays based on Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the poetry of Sidi Abderrahman el Mejdub and Abeliziz Al Magrouhi. The main stage production is a new work telling stories of heroism and exhibiting the bravery of the women of Kuwait during the Gulf War. Titled We Made Bread it is a one woman show celebrating the untold, true stories of these remarkable women and the decisions they made during the occupation of their country. Celebrated Kuwaiti actress Nadia Ahmad traveled to the SF Bay Area to workshop this remarkable piece of work, directed by Louanne Moldovan and beautifully performed by Elizabeth Huffman.
2016 included the second annual New Works Festival, this time based on the poetry of Ibn-Al Arif and Alsha Al BayUnniah. The fall saw our second domestic Shakespeare production, this time Macbeth, directed by Oregon Shakespeare alum Terri McMahon.
The 2017 season saw the critically acclaimed production of Yussef El Guindi’s Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes directed by William J. Brown III, as well as the third New Works Festival, this time based on the poetry of Elmaz Abinader. The Fall of 2017 will include a production of Hamlet directed by Toronto’s Kevin Hammond.
In addition to ASF’s performance work, we have a thriving education program. ASF has taught in school workshops and afterschool classes throughout the Bay Area. These classes range from turning children’s storybooks into plays to year long teacher residencies.
William J. Brown III
William is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Arabian Shakespeare Festival. He was one of the creators of the Shakespeare workshops on the United Arab Emirates University Al Ain campus. He also was one of the three actor/teachers in both the 2010 and 2012 series of UAE University workshops held in Al Ain. Additionally, he has performed all over the San Francisco, California Bay Area. William is a member of Actor’s Equity Association.
As a teacher, William has taught Theatre to students of all ages at the university level for United Arab Emirates University and San Jose State University, as well as at many theatre companies including. TheatreWorks, Annapolis Shakespeare Company and the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. He has taught workshops on Shakespeare in California, Maryland, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Since moving to the Bay Area, Teddy has appeared with Capital Stage Company, SF Playhouse, SF PlayGround, Arabian Shakespeare Festival, Marin Shakespeare Company, and The Douglas Morrisson. He has worked regionally at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Dallas Theater Center, The Theater at Monmouth, Ten Chimneys, Texas Shakespeare Festival, The Undermain, and Summer Repertory Theater. Teddy has won a BroadwayWorld SF Award (Best Leading Actor In a Play, Pontius in Summer Repertory Theater’s Passion Playby Sarah Ruhl), and has been nominated for a Theatre Bay Area Award (Best Leading Actor In a Play, Goring in The Douglas Morrisson’s An Ideal Husband). Teddy has studied Shakespeare throughout the country, most notably with master teachers Glen Close, Ben Crystal, Cathrine Fitzmaurice, Dennis Krausnick, and Dudley Knight. Teddy holds both a BA in both Musical Theatre and Psyghology from California State University, Chico, and an MFA in Acting from Southern Methodist University. He is a Company Member with SF PlayGround, and a proud member of Actor’s Equity Association.
Jennifer Le Blanc
Jennifer Le Blanc-Jennifer Le Blanc has acted with the Colorado, San Francisco, Marin, Livermore and Napa Valley Shakespeare Festivals, as well as many other regional theaters. She received her MFA from the National Theatre Conservatory and her BA in English Literature from U.C. Berkeley. She is co-Artistic Director of S12E in New York and an associate artist with the Arabian Shakespeare Festival, as well as AmiosNYC, Fight or Flight, and Cerimon House. She has written two full-length plays, and several produced short plays.
Annamarie MacLeod trained in New York City at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She has performed theatrically in Al Ain, UAE, Chicago and San Francisco, as well as regional theatre where she was a producer for a renaissance theatre troupe. Past roles include Hermia , A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Hamlet, Hamlet, the First Quarto; Biondello, The Taming of The Shrew; Margaret, Much Ado About Nothing; Desdemona, Desdemona; Cordelia, Lear’s Daughters; Sylvia, Sylvia; Heloise, Abelard & Heloise; Beth, A Lie of the Mind; Ruth, And Baby Makes Seven; Catherine, Northanger Abbey; and Jim Hawkins, Treasure Island. Ms. MacLeod has also appeared on television and has starred in numerous independent films including Reflection of the Life and Political Animals, for which she was nominated for best actress at the Action on Film International Film Festival.
Board of Directors
Abdullah Alharoun -Chairman
William J. Brown III-President
Judy B. Brown
Dr. Robert E.B. Peake
Marcia B. Newell
ASF Advisory Board
Dr. Ramzi Salti
Ramzi M. Salti was born in 1966 in Lebanon. French educated in Beirut, he completed his high school education in Jordan where he graduated by earning his British G.C.E. (General Certificate of Education) and Tawjihi degrees. In 1983, he moved to the United States where he earned his B.A. in French and English (1988) from Santa Clara University. He went to earn his M.A. (1991) and Ph.D. (1997) in Comparative Literature (Arabic, French, English) at the University of California at Riverside.
Dr. Salti has been a full-time Lecturer in Arabic at Stanford University since 1998. He is also a fully Certified ACTFL Certified Oral and Written Proficiency Tester of Arabic by the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
He authors his own ‘Arabology’ blog at www.arabology.org and hosts a weekly radio program titled ‘Arabology’ which airs on KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM. Podcasts are available at https://soundcloud.com/arabology/sets.
Dr. Salti’s collection of short stories, titled The Native Informant & Other Stories: Six Tales of Defiance from the Arab World was published in 1994 and received much acclaim in such periodicals as “World Literature Today,” “The Digest of Middle East Studies,” “Tat Tarbut,” and “The LA Village View”. It was also critically analyzed by Dr. Chris Wise in Ethnicity and the American Short Story (Ed. Julie Brown) in 1997 and spotlighted in a chapter in Wail S. Hassan’s Immigrant Narratives: Orientalism and Cultural Translation in Arab American and Arab British Literature (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Lena Zubaid is from Kuwait and has lived in San Jose, California since 2009. She completed her Bachelors (2013) and Masters (2015) in Communication Studies with a minor in Photography at San Jose State University. Lena is a proud member of Phi Kappa Phi due to her academic achievements. For her masters’ project, she created a documentary titled “Open Your World” where she examined the stereotypes of Gulf Arabs while living in America. Aside from her love of communication, her emphasis was on performance and rhetoric, which is where her documentary derived from.
Currently, she works at Bay Area News Group as a multimedia advertising coordinator and intends to continue her career in the media field. In her spare time, she finds new projects to work on including photography and videography, and she also enjoys to read, sing, play games, and travel. To see more of her work, you can visit her website.