War, theatre and performance

performance-in-place-of-warWhile I was away I managed to get much further into planning my “Social Life of Bombs” performance-work than I’d imagined – though there’s still a long way to go – so I was very interested to learn (from Dan Clayton) of James Thompson‘s update on the In place of war theatre project.  James explains how the two main questions that framed the project emerged from his travels in war-torn Sri Lanka in 200, namely:

‘…why in war zones do people continue to make theatre, and why do academics assume that they do not?

These questions led to a major Arts and Humanities Research Council grant for 2004-07 documenting theatre and performance programmes in war zones internationally. This was followed by another project, supported by the Leverhulme Trust, running seminars for war-zone artists. And finally the current stage, funded again by the AHRC, developing an online platform where war- and disaster-zone artists can save and share their work.’

THOMPSON Humanitarian performanceI’ve written about this and the theatre of war before, but here James goes on to describe his more recent collaborative work with Children in Crisis in the Congo, and the ways in which his life in England and his harrowing experience in the war-zone folded in to one another: as he emphasises, the ‘place’ of war ‘is both specific and ubiquitous’.

I’m assuming that some of this will appear in extended form in his next book, Humanitarian performance: from disaster tragedies to spectacles of war, forthcoming from Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press in the brilliant Enactments series in September.  (You can get a taste of some of James’s arguments in his “Humanitarian performance and the Asian Tsunami” in TDR: The Drama Review 55 (1) (2011) 70-83.)

Laughter under the bombsBut what also caught my eye, given my present work, was James’s passing reference to Laughter Under the Bombs (Dahk Taht Al-Qasf), a performance work that emerged out of a series of workshops with kids and young adults organised by Sharif Abdunnur during the Israeli assault on Beirut in 2006.

‘The show went on literally under the bombs, the area was under threat – it was announced each night about two hours before the show as planes dropped fliers to say that the area would be targeted that night… and yet… the play opened to a full house and the laughter drowned out the deafening noise of the bombing right outside the doors of the theatre.’

You can find the translated script here, and a detailed account in the book by Sharif Abdunnur and Jennifer Hartley, Laughter under the bombs: diaries of a dramatherapist (AuthorHouse, 2007).  There’s also an extended discussion in James Thompson, Jenny Hughes and Michael Balfour, Performance in place of war (Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press, 2009) (pp. 38-46).

What I have in mind is very different – I’m working on this in the safety of Vancouver, after all, and what happens to those crouching under the bombs will not be shown until the very last, I hope awful minutes – but I clearly have much to learn from projects like these.  And, as you can see from several recent posts, I’ve become increasingly drawn to ways of developing (not simply conveying or representing) arguments about war through media other than conventional academic platforms.

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  1. Pingback: Choreographies of 21st Century Wars | geographical imaginations

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