I’ve noted several performance works that address drone wars before, and I’ve now encountered two more.
George Brant‘s new play, Grounded, has been acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a solo drama (‘monologue’ really doesn’t do it justice) about a US Air Force pilot who has been obliged to switch from flying F-16s to Reapers (and so to the ‘Chair Force’) after her maternity leave.
The focus is on a domestic geography of remote operations that is beginning to attract more critical attention and which resonates with what Grégoire Chamayou calls the ‘psychopathologies of the drone‘: the difficulty of switching every day, every shift, from being in the war zone, at least virtually – what she calls being “downrange” – to being at home with a young family.
‘We’ll be working in shifts. Tapping each other out and taking the controls. A never-ending mission. Home will be training too. Getting used to the routine. Driving to war like it’s shift work. Like I’m punching the clock. Used to transition home once a year. Now it’ll be once a day. Different. Definitely different.’
The pilot finds it increasingly difficult to maintain the separation – to decompress – and gradually and ever more insistently one space keeps superimposing itself over the other; the fixed, precise sensor of the Gorgon Stare yields to a blurred vision in which the pilot finds it increasingly difficult to know where (or who) she is.
She begins by familiarising herself with the landscape in Afghanistan and the spectral figures moving through it:
‘I stare at the desert. They’re twelve hours ahead there. Night. Weird. I stare at the screen. It’s not like a videogame. A videogame has color. I stare at grey. At a world carved out of putty. Like someone took the time to carve a putty world for me to stare at twelve hours a day. High-definition putty….
‘The eye in the sky waits for the putty people to get closer together. Just a little closer. Closer. Closer. There I press the button. I watch the screen. A moment. A moment. And boom. A silent grey boom.’
‘It becomes your world,’ she says, a world populated by the living and the dead whose greyness bleeds one into the other:
‘Lingering over the dead. A mound of the dead. Our dead. They were ambushed and I am to linger over their bodies. I do. With no idea of who they are or how they got here. A mound of our grey. Our boys in grey. Please let me find the guilty who did this the military age males who did this send me to shred their bodies into pieces too fine for my resolution…’
But then the Nevada desert on the drive home starts to resemble the landscape in Afghanistan; the face of a little girl on the screen, the daughter of a ‘High Value Target’, becomes the face of her own child:
‘The girl Her face She stops running and I see it Her face I see it clearly I can see her It’s Sam It’s not his daughter it’s mine…’
There’s much more – much of it turning on imagery and surveillance – and it’s richer and less linear than I can convey here. You can download the script from Amazon or buy hard copy from Oberon Books here; in the UK Grounded has just transferred from the Edinburgh Festival to the Gate in London until 28 September: details here, and other dates in the US here (scroll down).
I’ve also received a message from Hjalmar Joffre-Eichhorn, a German-Bolivian theatre-maker who has lived and worked in Afghanistan for the last six years. Hjalmar brought the “Theatre of the Oppressed” to Afghanistan and co-founded the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization (AHRDO). He’s currently writing a new play to be premiered in Kabul in November, which focuses on drones and suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Pakistan: clearly another parallel with Grégoire Chamayou‘s work.
More to come, I hope, and I’ll keep you posted, but you can watch and listen to an inspiring talk by Hjalmar on Afghanistan and community-based theatre here:
Note: Back to my reading of Théorie du drone next week – this week has been filled with preparing for the new term which starts on Tuesday (so I’m updating the course outlines under the TEACHING tab). I’ve also had a lovely e-mail from Grégoire Chamayou, and we are going to try a digital conversation – once the dust of the beginning of term has settled – and when we’re done, I’ll post the transcript here.