A recent New York Times article about a Syrian play got us thinking about theater as a form of journalism. The production, "Could You Please Look into the Camera," emerged out of a series of interviews with 10 Syrian citizens who had been jailed (and many tortured) for speaking out against President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Playwright Mohammad al-Attar used the interviews as a basis for the story, while director Omar Abusaada projected activist-themed footage onto the set.
As Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times notes, the play was “a remarkable event for several reasons: There was only one performance. It aired its accusations of torture and other abuse by President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Beirut, where a small clandestine community of Syrian activists lives in dread of the long arm of his secret police. A chunk of the audience came from Damascus.”
Just as remarkably, the play created a space to house thoughts already in existence. As one playgoer remarked, “it was cathartic because it was no longer kept inside everybody.”
To celebrate the continuing power of theater as protest, we put together a slideshow chronicling the recent history of the genre, from star-studded casts publicizing the issue of gay marriage to a drama about the closure of a General Motors plant. Be sure to follow the links in the blurbs for more information, and post any suggestions about noteworthy productions we may have left out in the comments.
<a href="http://www.handspringpuppet.co.za/_oldsite/html/ubu.html" target="_hplink">'Ubu and the Truth Commission,' is a play by Jane Taylor</a> which uses different mediums of performance (puppetry, music, live actors, music, animation, and documentary footage) as well as <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0442852/" target="_hplink">Alfred Jarry's production 'Ubu Roi' </a>as a counter text to original testimony from witnesses at the Post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation commission in South Africa. The play was first performed at <a href="http://markettheatre.co.za/view/laboratory/about-the-lab-and-drama-school" target="_hplink">The Laboratory in Johannesburg's Market Theatre</a> in 1997. In this photo, South African President Nelson Mandela (L) receives a five volumes of Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in Pretoria 29 October. The report reveals human rights abuse by various political parties during the Nationalist Party (NP) rule. Accepting the report, Mandela acknowledged that the wounds of the period of repression and resistance were too deep to have been healed by the TRC alone.
<a href="http://theater.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/theater/reviews/16after.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">'Aftermath,' created by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen</a> was compiled out of interviews they conducted with Iraqi refugees living in Jordan. The play opened at <a href="http://www.nytw.org/aftermath_info.asp" target="_hplink">The New York Theatre Workshop in 2009</a>. The photo shows uncollected garbage accumulating on a street in Baghdad in May 2003.
<a href="http://www.dustinlanceblack.com/" target="_hplink">'8' is a play by Dustin Lance Black </a>which follows the trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger--the court case that the American Foundation for Equal Rights filed to overturn the bill to keep gay and lesbian couples from marrying in California. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/04/prop-8-play-youtube_n_1319379.html" target="_hplink">The play uses actual words from the Perry trial transcripts, first hand observations of the courtroom drama and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families. </a> The photo depicts the cast onstage during the one-night reading of '8' presented by The American Foundation For Equal Rights & Broadway Impact at The Wilshire Ebell Theatre on March 3, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.
<a href="http://www.workinggrouptheatre.org/WGT/Rust.html" target="_hplink">'Rust' was produced by the Working Group Theatre</a> in Iowa City in 2011. In 2008, GM closed a 75 year old stamping plant in Wyoming, Michigan. Over 1500 people lost their jobs. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/end-of-the-line.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">Austin Bunn, the playwright, began to interview those people who worked at that plant and constructed a play from those interviews. </a> The photo depicts yet another closed General Motors plant, this one in Lansing, Michigan.
<a href="http://www.crowstheatre.com/production/current-plays/seeds-2/" target="_hplink">'Seeds' by Annabel Soutar</a> focuses on <a href="http://www.percyschmeiser.com/" target="_hplink">a large-scale court case that developed in 1998</a> between Monsanto Inc, an agricultural biotechnology corporation and Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer, over copyright infringement of seeds.
<a href="http://cultureclash.com/" target="_hplink">Culture Clash's</a> 'Chavez Ravine' (made up of performers and writers Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza) is based on the destruction of a poor Los Angeles community to make way for Dodger Stadium. <a href="http://www.playbill.com/news/article/79609-New-Culture-Clash-Work-Chavez-Ravine-Makes-World-Premiere-at-LAs-Taper-May-17-July-6" target="_hplink">The production premiered at Mark Taper Forum in 2003. </a>
<a href="http://theater.nytimes.com/2006/10/16/theater/reviews/16rach.html" target="_hplink">'My Name Is Rachel Corrie' is a play</a> assembled out of journal entries and emails written by Rachel Corrie, a 23 year old American that was killed in 2003 by an Israeli army bulldozer while protesting in the Gaza Strip. 'My Name Is Rachel Corrie' first premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2005. Watch an interview with Mairi Philips, the actress who plays Rachel, to the left.
<a href="http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Investigation.html?id=AObmGcfa5csC" target="_hplink">Peter Weiss' 'The Investigation'</a> is a documentary theatre piece about the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials which he attended. He used actual testimony from the survivors at Auschwitz. The play first premiered in 1965 in fourteen different West and East German cities as well as at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London.
<a href="http://www.scotsman.com/the-scotsman/scotland/theatre-reviews-could-you-please-look-into-the-camera-write-here-1-2241412" target="_hplink">'Could You Please Look Into The Camera' </a>by Syrian playwright Mohammad al-Attar was staged last month in Beirut. This video image taken from amateur video and broadcast by Bambuser/Homslive shows a series of devastating explosions rocking the central Syrian city of Homs, Syria, Monday, June 11, 2012.
Emily Mann's (left) play, <a href="http://theater.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?html_title=&tols_title=GREENSBORO: A REQUIEM (PLAY)&pdate=19960212&byline=By VINCENT CANBY&id=1077011430132" target="_hplink">'Greensboro: A Requiem'</a> is crafted out of verbatim interviews, courtroom transcriptions, and other documents all surrounding the murder of five unarmed protestors in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979. The massacre was carried out by members of the Klu Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. The play premiered at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey in 1996.