Five Things to Know About… Sivan Battat

With “Wish You Were Here,” which opens the 2023-24 season at Yale Rep, director Sivan Battat returns to the city where she fell in love with theater.
Sivan Battat

Sivan Battat (Photos by Andrew Hurley)

The Yale Repertory Theatre kicked off its 2023-24 season this month with “Wish You Were Here,” a play that follows the changing friendships of five Iranian women as they navigate the tumultuous decade encompassing the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. Written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sanaz Toossi, the play runs through Oct. 28.

The show’s director, Sivan Battat, is based in New York City. But she says it was in New Haven where she fell in love with theater as a young girl, so she jumped at the opportunity to direct the Yale Rep production.

An artist, director, and cultural organizer, Battat helps run New York’s Noor Theatre Company, which develops, commissions, and supports the work of theater artists of Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian descent.

Yale News caught up with Battat in the theater’s green room. Here are five takeaways.

Sivan Battat in a panel discussion

Battat grew up in Woodbridge, Connecticut.

Her Iraqi-American family moved to the quiet New Haven suburb when she was four. A naturally theatrical kid, Battat was drawn to the city’s arts and cultural offerings at an early age. By the age of eight, she was taking creative dramatics classes at the Little Theatre on Lincoln Street. In the summertime, she and her mother would pore over the schedule for New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas and map out which events they would attend.

I have such a formative memory of seeing Yo-Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble on the New Haven Green in the pouring rain when I was in high school,” Battat said. “New Haven is bursting with arts and culture, and I feel so grateful to have been able to grow up here and find my way.”

Her years at the Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) Educational Center for the Arts, the public arts magnet high school in New Haven, were some of her most formative.

Battat split her high school days between Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge and the arts magnet, known as ECA. At ECA, Battat said, she found her people.

I found a rich and robust community,” she said. “It was a hub of young people making art, and everyone was very committed to whatever artistic practice they were exploring. Each department holds their students to quite a high standard for high school artistic development, and it gave me such a strong base in the kind of art I wanted to make and the possibilities that were available.”

By the time she headed off to college at Wesleyan University, Battat knew she wanted to act and direct.

Yuri Kordonsky, a professor in the practice of directing at Yale’s David Geffen School of Drama, is one of her mentors.

Kordonsky was Battat’s undergraduate directing professor while she was at Wesleyan. She was honored that he came to observe one of the rehearsals for “Wish You Were Here,” and then took time to discuss it over coffee.

It was really sweet to be back with my directing mentor,” she said.

She’s known playwright Sanaz Toossi since 2017.

The two met at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York during a reading series of Middle Eastern plays. They hit it off and have stayed in touch since.

Battat is a big fan of Toossi’s work. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “English,” is “just extraordinary,” she says. And she followed the evolution of “Wish You Were Here” over years of its development at various open forum readings.

It’s been such a gift to have Sanaz celebrated with the focus she has on mostly women and the reality of our humanity,” she says. “Where the geopolitical systems that we all exist in as Middle Eastern people are present, but they’re not the foreground of her work. They’re the backdrop.”

Wish You Were Here” is her Connecticut directorial debut.

Battat has directed plays in many cities, including New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, but “Wish You Were Here” marks her first professional production in her home state.

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