Touching back on our earlier article about theatre's take on the Iraq War, NPR recently ran a story about how theatre has always dealt with wars in the here and now. Even back in the days of Greek theatre, the plays have dealt with serious issues such as soldiers returning from the front and finding it hard to shake what they've seen there; what we now have come to call PTSD.
Theatre is able to convey things about war that film is not simply by bringing people together to share an experience. Nothing can truly recreate the horrors of the battlefield, but bringing veterans, artists, and audience together we can at least share in the emotions of dealing with the horror, loss, and the attempt to move on. There is, however, huge responsibility in attempting to facilitate this type of interaction. There are often wounds that have to be dealt with, both physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
I was at a theatre festival where this was handled poorly.
There was a small piece that briefly touched on a solider try to cope with his war experience. The playwright brought a friend to his show who had fought in Iraq and had a very different response to the piece than most of the audience. The veteran often laughed at what seemed to be inappropriate moments making for a awkward feeling surrounding and detracting from the piece itself. The veteran left after this piece and did not stay for the rest of the evening.
Afterwards, at the talk-back, the moderator had noticed that there was something strange going on in the performance and asked the playwright why his friend was behaving the way he did. You could feel the whole audience bristle at the question.
Calling attention to this abnormality did not help the situation nor does it make us as theatre artist look good. We need to facilitate dialogue and make everyone feel welcome. We are not there to solicit or force interesting discussions on edgy subjects. People need to feel comfortable coming to both the performance and the discussion of their own free will. An invitation must be extended and accepted with established boundaries - one of which is to respect all those who choose to attend.
Happy Birthday: Dame Judy Dench (b. 1934), John Malkovich (1953), & Michael Dorn (1952)