TheatreSquared gets $250,000 grant to create Romeo & Juliet version set in Syria

TheatreSquared managing director Martin Miller (left) and artistic director Robert Ford.

Photo: Celi Birke

Another day, another Fayetteville organization doing something amazing.

This time, it’s Fayetteville-based theatre company TheatreSquared, who last week announced they’ve been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Building Bridges Program of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Arts to reimagine Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in contemporary Damascus, Syria.

The company was one of just eight organizations nationally that received grants through the program that seeks to support “organizations whose work advances relationships, increases understanding, and reduces bias between Muslim and non-Muslim communities through immersive arts and culture projects.”

“In a world fraught with divisive problems, the work of creative people can be a powerful conduit to one another, a way to connect and see each other more clearly,” said Zeyba Rahman, senior program officer for the DDFIA Building Bridges Program. “We are proud to support the fresh ideas and courageous programs that these organizations have proposed to expose the public to cultures rooted in Muslim regions, both abroad and in their own backyards, and look forward to watching them unfold.”

With their grant, TheatreSquared will collaborate with Syrian director Kholoud Sawaf, who was born in Damascus and is a veteran of the Al Qabbani and Al-Hamra theatres, to develop the show. Sawaf is currently working as an artist-in-residence at TheatreSquared.

Sawaf said that adapting the classic work in the unique modern setting creates some interesting new opportunities.

“The story is very human and very universal,” she said. “Our job at the first workshop is to dig deep into Shakespeare’s words and examine them through the lens of modern Syria. How do two young people fall in love in the divided world of Damascus, and bridge the chasm between their families? In Shakespeare’s world and in ours, the peaceful flag of a love story asks us to pause and reconsider each other.”

Sawaf will begin workshoping the new adaptation at this year’s Arkansas New Play Festival. Staged readings are already planned in June at Crystal Bridges, as well as TheatreSquared’s Fayetteville home in Nadine Baum Studios.

Also, over the course of the three-year development and production of Romeo and Juliet: Damascus, TheatreSquared will lead public conversations with local partners including Interfaith Arkansas, the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies, the Fayetteville Public Library, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and others in order to help initiate dialogue inspired by the production in front of some diverse audiences.

The cast and creative team for the June 2016 workshops includes playwright and actor Leila Buck, as both a script consultant and cast member, and Victoria Nassif, who will play Juliet. Additional team members will be announced later this month.

Passes for the 2016 Arkansas New Play Festival are on sale now for an early bird price of $40 and include admission to four staged readings and a workshop production over two weekends in Bentonville and Fayetteville.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit