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Middle East/North Africa

Sundance Institute’s Theatre, Feature Film, and Documentary Film Programs have identified MENA as an artistically and politically crucial part of the world with a venerable storytelling culture, a wealth of theatre and film talent, and an emergent infrastructure of support. These Programs have already committed to the region with meaningful long-term engagement. Over the next three years, the Institute will pursue a coordinated, cross-programmatic MENA Initiative, led by the Theatre Program, to explore ways to increase our support of MENA artists either domestically or abroad.

The MENA Initiative will respond to the specific needs of the region. We aim to identify a diverse range of MENA artists who demonstrate distinctive vision and help them enhance the quality, depth, and ambition of their new works. We will deepen our support for innovative and courageous artists who are taking creative risks and welcome a supportive community. Through this work, we will forge strong, sustained connections with individual artists and organizations in MENA and contribute to the advancement, preservation, and public value of the arts in the region. We will promote financial health and capitalization by providing artists with the professional skills they need to establish and maintain a career in theatre or film and develop works that can be presented locally, regionally, and globally. The decision to focus our efforts in MENA has grown from previous work, including the Feature Film and Documentary Film Programs’ activities in the region and the Theatre Program’s nearly 13 years of research, outreach, and residency Labs and workshops in East Africa. Artists from East Africa have experienced extreme isolation from the global conversation, and connecting them to their counterparts not only in the U.S. but also in the much closer MENA region will have meaningful impact on all sides. The MENA Initiative will advance Sundance Institute’s efforts to encourage original storytelling and support the discovery and development of diverse, independent theatre and film artists from around the world.

A new MENA Theatre Lab will be the next programmatic step in the Theatre Program’s evolving international strategy. In Fiscal Year 2016 (dates TBD), the two-week pilot MENA Theatre Lab will support up to 35 theatre artists representing MENA and East Africa as well as Americans. The Lab will include projects, workshops, master classes, and collaborative efforts among participating theatre makers. It will build connections among theatre artists from MENA, the US, and East Africa, creating a meaningful program of exchange, exposing international work to American artists (and eventually audiences), and providing artists from abroad with an opportunity to network and collaborate with top-tier U.S. theatre practitioners. The desire for MENA artists to connect with their East African counterparts has been a stated need and the Theatre Program is poised to facilitate this effort.

The MENA Theatre Lab location will be determined as part of the Theatre Program’s current research and development. To date, Program staff have investigated the theatre scene in Amman, Jordan, the Downtown Cairo Arts Festival (D-CAF), the Istanbul International Theatre Festival and other international gatherings such as the HIWARAT: New Arab Dramaturgy Festival in Marseilles, France, where MENA investigation continues (recently in Spain at SURGE Madrid). In the coming year, the Program plans to make two trips to MENA, one in the fall and one in the spring. Over the coming years, staff will return to Cairo and also visit Tunis and Carthage, Tunisia; Beirut, Lebanon; Rabat and Oujda, Morocco; and other locations of interest.

For more information about the Theatre Program’s work in MENA, please contact Christopher Hibma.