Jeffrey Wright recites the words of Ajax as David Strathairn and Gloria Reuben look on. Theater of War presented a reading of the play in New York City, November 2009. (Photo by Paxton Winters)
Since 2008, Theater of War has presented readings of Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes to military communities across the United States. These ancient plays timelessly and universally depict the psychological and physical wounds inflicted upon warriors by war. By presenting these plays to military audiences, our hope is to de-stigmatize psychological injury and open a safe space for dialogue about the challenges faced by service members, veterans, and their caregivers and families, as well as their resiliency.
It has been suggested that ancient Greek drama was a form of storytelling, communal therapy, and ritual reintegration for combat veterans by combat veterans. Sophocles himself was a general. The audiences for whom these plays were performed were undoubtedly comprised of citizen-soldiers and the performers themselves were most likely veterans or cadets. Seen through this lens, ancient Greek drama appears to have become elaborate ritual aimed at helping combat veterans return to civilian life after deployments during a century that saw 80 years of war.
Plays like Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes read like textbook descriptions of wounded warriors, struggling under the weight of psychological and physical injuries to maintain their dignity, identity, and honor. Given this context, it seemed natural that military audiences today might have something to teach us about the impulses behind these ancient stories. It also seemed like these ancient stories would have something important and relevant to say to military audiences.
Over the past year, we have enjoyed the privilege of performing for the U.S. Marine Corps, West Point cadets, homeless veterans, Army Posts, and the Department of Defense. Each reading has been followed by a town hall style audience discussion, which has been facilitated with the help of military community members. These have been arresting, emotionally-charged events, in which service members have spoken openly about their experiences in combat and at home.
Theater of War is currently touring in Germany through May 25th, where our USO Family Centers have supported our performances:
25 MAY 10; (Tuesday) 0900 AND 1630 HRS; GRAFENWOEHR, Grafenwoehr Field House, Bldg. 354
26 MAY10; (Wednesday) 0900 AND 1630 HRS; HOHENFELS, Post Theater, Bldg. 3
Theater of War also returns Stateside in June, at the following locations:
June 8 and 9, 2010 – Fort Leonard Wood, MO
June 24, 2010 – Army War College, PA
June 29 and 30, 2010 – Naval Special Warfare, Little Creek, VA
For updated information about the project, including performance times for the locations listed above, please visit our website: www.theater-of-war.com
The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Theater of War and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO. You can also follow Theater of War on Facebook and Twitter!