In his Sept. 24 lecture “Tragedies of the Pandemic,” Bryan Doerries ’98 introduced Theater of War Productions’ 2020-21 residency to the Kenyon community. Theater of War performs theater-based projects tailored to specific communities, aimed at confronting urgent social issues. Their residency will feature two virtual performances per semester, as well as several master classes available to students and faculty.
Co-founded by Doerries in 2009, Theater of War is a production company known for presenting classic Greek tragedies as well as various contemporary works. Performances are followed by town hall-style discussions where audience members voice their reactions to the performances. Though the performances are often headlined by distinguished actors, the core purpose of the company lies in the post-production discussions.
Doerries emphasized the significance of these discussions, which are often centered around social justice, in creating connections and exploring vulnerability. The discussions, he said, “are an invitation to make mistakes and not sound brilliant — to respond from the heart. … I don’t claim that what we do is therapy, but I see it as a door through which people can walk … to all kinds of paths of healing and action.”
Programs for the fall semester include a rendition of Sophocles’ Antigone entitled Antigone in Ferguson and a reading of The Book of Job. Antigone in Ferguson interprets the ancient play’s core conflict between personal conviction and the law of the state in the context of race and the growing unrest in America following Michael Brown’s death in 2014. The Book of Job, based on the corresponding ancient Hebrew poem that explores the dilemma of why bad things happen to good people, addresses the emotional aftermath of natural disasters.
In his Sept. 24 lecture, Doerries asked his listeners to consider that individuals from all walks of life may be able to offer a “raw, collective knowledge of experiences” that provide immense and personal insight into works that are so often academicized.
The discussions following performances confront stigma, explore major societal issues and bring empathy to the forefront. Outside of the Kenyon community, Theater of War Productions has worked to establish dialogue within veterans’ organizations, health institutions, prisons and other groups. The company has presented a variety of projects to diverse audiences at military bases, in hospitals, incarceration facilities, schools, homeless shelters and in many other settings.
Reflecting upon past audiences, Doerries recalled a veteran sharing with him that understanding how PTSD has afflicted people for thousands of years made him feel less alone in the world.
“This ideology could be applied to anyone who has experienced trauma,” Doerries said. “What I’ve seen and learned from experience … is that seemingly the most … universal experience of trauma is the feeling that ‘I’m the only person on the planet who has ever felt this alone.’” He aims to change this feeling and to promote communal connection.
Theater of War Productions’ incoming residency at Kenyon is highly anticipated among community members. Antigone in Ferguson, the first program scheduled for the fall semester, will be available to the Five Colleges of Ohio on Oct. 8, 2020.