Theater of War Productions: Confronting hard truths through theater
17 June 2020

I watched from afar, in France, the brutality of recent incidents of racial injustice in the U.S. and the demonstrations they ignited.

Europe is no stranger to these issues, and we need to relate and concern ourselves with what’s going on there. Racism and oppression, no matter how invisible or disguised, threaten our societies. Acknowledging the depth at which discrimination and inequality are rooted in our systems will require confronting hard truths. But we cannot understand and recognize issues without engaging and listening attentively. SNF grantee Theater of War proposes that theater can be one avenue for this to take place.
 
Theater of War‘s projects present dramatic readings of seminal plays—from classical tragedies very familiar to Greeks to modern and contemporary works—followed by town hall-style discussions. Prometheus in Prison is an innovative public health project related to the criminal justice system, Antigone in Ferguson was created a few years ago when the police killing of a young black man sparked protests in the U.S., and Tape addresses consent and sexual assault. The Oedipus Project is their latest initiative, exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.*
 
The organization gets deep into the values involved, ultimately opening a platform for honest dialogue with diverse audiences. Through their artistic endeavors, they set out to explore the personal perspectives and experiences of those attending and to foster mutual understanding.
 
Several years ago, I experienced my first Theater of War performance, The Drum Major Instinct, the live premiere of a project based on Dr. Martin Luther King’s homonymous final sermon. It is a performance I would wish to bring to Greece and Europe.
 
The text of the civil rights leader’s sermon is readily available, but hearing such powerful words brought to life by prominent actors and a large gospel choir, composed of singers, activists, police officers, and musicians from Ferguson, Missouri, and Brooklyn and Queens in New York creates a unique, direct experience. It is not just an American experience. It offers an opportunity to reflect on the deeper human drive the text discusses, relevant irrespective of religion, race, nationality, or gender: the “the drum major instinct,” the desire to lead and be recognized. And it offers the opportunity for everyone attending to make a choice in the moment. This instinct can be harnessed for good, promoting righteousness, justice, and peace, or it can be a destructive force, turning one person against another. Can we strive for greatness without dominating or diminishing one another?
 
Unless you know a problem is happening, and recognize it, things cannot improve. No matter how high the barriers for dialogue across continents and communities may be, each of us needs to be intentional about building bridges, sharing, and acting in any form we can. It is a privilege to have been able to support opportunities for dialogue and transformation, whether through Theater of War or through the work of organizations such as the Humanity in Action Fellowship programs.
 
Charis Desinioti
SNF Program Officer, Monaco
 
The Oedipus Project is coming to the SNFestival: RetroFuture Edition on Wednesday, June 24, featuring Frances McDormand, Oscar Isaac, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Frankie Faison, David Strathairn, Glenn Davis, Marjolaine Goldsmith, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
 
Recommended reading, listening, and watching: