On Wednesday, Feb. 10, Theater of War Productions hosted a free virtual workshop for residents of Knox County and affiliates of Kenyon College. The company presents readings of Greek tragedies with contentious themes, followed by audience discussions around them. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has recently adapted to the virtual format, and established its virtual residency at Kenyon in the fall.
Last semester, the company put on two virtual plays: Antigone in Ferguson, which introduced the company to Kenyon students, and The Book of Job, which starred Bill Murray alongside Mount Vernon Mayor Matthew Starr. Following each showing, Bryan Doerries, the artistic director of Theater of War Productions, facilitated a panel discussion among select members of the Knox County and broader Ohio communities.
Doerries commenced the workshop with an introduction of one of Sophocles’ three Theban plays, Oedipus at Colonus. Doerries is currently translating the play from Greek and will present the final product later on in the semester. To get feedback on the work, Doerries organized a group of five Ohio residents to participate in a panel discussion after the reading. Subsequently, viewers were asked to give their insight using Zoom’s raise hand feature.
Oedipus at Colonus touches on current political themes such as homelessness, asylum seekers and immigration. As Oedipus enters the village of Colonus, he sits down, but is immediately confronted by a villager and asked to leave. The chorus enters and interrogates Oedipus about his background and identity. At one point, the chorus says to Oedipus, “It seems best to me that the people who rule this land should decide what to do with you.”
After the reading of Oedipus at Colonus by established actors — including Moses Ingram of The Queen’s Gambit and Frankie Faison of The Wire — Doerries began the discussion by asking the panel, “What resonated with you?” An intense, 45-minute-long conversation ensued, leaving no time to hear input from the audience. Instead, the audience was directed to fill out a survey asking about specific issues they would like to hear addressed through Theater of War Productions’ model, and if they had any suggestions for texts to be performed which frame the aforementioned issues.
“We want to ask who the audience is, what do they need that a specific type of theatrical intervention might achieve and what texts would serve that?” Doerries said in an interview with the Collegian. The company aims to shape each production and subsequent discourse around issues that are relevant to the target audience. In this case, that audience is Knox County.
Audience members are invited to contribute to the final showcase of Oedipus at Colonus in whatever capacity they feel comfortable. This can mean being an audience curator, an actor in the online show, working behind the scenes or just attending one meeting about the final show, which is set to premiere in May.
“People who are interested in how our model works — whether they’re activists, or they’re theater practitioners, or they’re classics students, or they’re concerned citizens, or writers, or storytellers — [are] thinking about how our approach to using storytelling to achieve social impact works,” Doerries said.