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A year of discovery: Rolex mentor and protégé Peter Sellars & Maya Zbib

Peter Sellars and Maya Zbib shared a year and circumnavigated the globe. The enfant terrible of the American stage is best known for his contemporary treatments of classical plays, including an industrial take on King Lear, and his groundbreaking direction of new operas. Both Sellars and his Rolex Arts Initiative protégé, Lebanese actor, writer and director Maya Zbib, believe that theater can do much more than entertain. They agree that it is an agent for social change. To emphasize this point, Sellars brought Zbib to the Congo. She brought him to Beirut.

In Lebanon, Sellars became a mentor not only for Zbib, but for her entire theater company Zoukak. “(He) spent lot of time with us discussing work and challenging what we do and firmly validating what we believe in and the ethos of our existence as a collective. The respect and support he showed for our initiative gave us a new boost and also led us to question and push our endeavor further.”

Zbib’s company performs in Beirut and all around Lebanon. They create their own original works and run drama workshops in refugee camps in the Southern part of the country.
“For me it was a year of discovery, of moving inside some of the discussions – aesthetic and political – in Maya’s part of the world,” says Sellars. “A more nuanced view than the standard journalistic view. To see what is at stake, within the political context, is very eye-opening for me.”

Sellars exposed Zbib to a very different political context when he hosted her in Chicago, where he was in the early stages of a modern adaptation of Frederick Handel’s Hercules. In the new version Hercules is an American general returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan. To help conceptualize the piece, Sellars brought Zbib to meet new veterans, including some who were homeless, and used their stories about adjusting to civilian life to guide his work.

The experience has changed how Zbib thinks about her work. “New layers have been added to it,” she says. “Peter has broadened my horizon of what theater can be through the breadth of his research, from current events to ancient sacred Indian art, for example. On the other hand, Peter reminded me of the joy and pleasure of doing theater and that it does not have to be a heavy, complicated task.”

This post is sponsored by Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in partnership with Sundance Channel.