In Memoriam: Ziad Abou Absi, 1956 – 2018

The trailblazing artist, LAU alumnus and former faculty member passes away.

By Hanan Nasser

The director in action at a rehearsal for his major production, Macbeth, at Irwin Hall in 2001.

The LAU community lost a dear member on November 18 with the death of former Assistant Professor Ziad Abou Absi.

Raised in Sidon, Abou Absi discovered acting as a student at LAU, then known as Beirut University College (BUC). He studied business management and accounting and received an Associate in Applied Sciences in 1979. He continued at BUC, enrolling in the drama program and taking part in a number of university productions.

During his student years, he met legendary artist Ziad Rahbani, who cast him in the role of Harold in the 1978 modern classic Bennesbeh Labokra Shou? (As for Tomorrow, What?). It was the beginning of a decades-long collaboration with Rahbani that saw Abou Absi appear in some of the director’s most memorable productions, including playing the role of Edward in Film Ameriki Taweel (American Feature Film) in 1980 and Aboul Zelof in 1983’s Shi Fashel (A Fiasco).

In 1984, he obtained his BA in drama before heading off to the University of Houston in Texas for an MFA in the same subject, for which he received a competitive scholarship. He returned to BUC in 1986 and was named an assistant professor of drama and communication arts.

In 1992, he won a Fulbright and used it to research Shakespeare. Shortly thereafter, he launched a Shakespeare company at the university, which put on some of the Bard’s most challenging plays, such as Hamlet, Macbeth and Richard III.

Throughout his career, he wrote, produced and directed a number of pieces, in addition to collaborating with other major theater directors. More recently, he appeared in the 2009 documentary The Lebanon I Dream Of and the 2011 Nadine Labaki film W Hala’ La Wein (Where Do We Go Now?), which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won the People’s Choice Award at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

He was also a regular contributor to the Lebanese press on matters of art and philosophy and appeared occasionally in television series.

Despite his broader success, he is being remembered at LAU as a mentor who transformed his students’ thinking about theater and inspired a generation of performers. One of them is Associate Professor of Theater Lina Abyad, who was a classmate and, later, colleague of Abou Absi. “Ziad had a very solid relationship with his students. There was a sparkle about him that distinguished him,” she said, adding, “He had a real attachment to theater, and it was a way of living. He loved life.”