Art in Times of Conflict

Aug 2, 2016

As OBP and I get ready to publish Theatre & War: Notes from the Field, my excitement is tempered with a little bit of – what I can only term – hopelessness. Because, you see, I have just returned to the safety of my New Mexican home from my annual theatre-project-related visit to Kashmir. And Kashmir, as anyone who reads the news will know, is burning.

Over the last three weeks more than 50 people have died; thousands have been injured; curfews are in place; mobile internet and phone services have been shut down; there seems to be no end in sight…When I went to Kashmir in June, I had grand visions for what my six-week project there would entail. Plans that had to be changed when my fellow actors could not attend the workshop. Plans that eventually had to be cancelled when there seemed to be the possibility that my originally planned return might be thrown amuck by violence.

In all my projects involving theatre and war thus far, I have been immensely lucky. Somehow, I’ve managed to arrive in conflict zones when the violence was at a lull.

I suppose it was inevitable that my ‘luck’ would run out:

Inevitable that I would be forced to move from a theoretically empathetic understanding of war to a more experiential lived experience of the way it suffocates and exhausts.

Inevitable that I would have to acknowledge, head on, the guilt that comes from being privileged enough to leave at the first sign of trouble.

In attempting to deal with these inevitabilities

I wake up in the middle of the night to check online news sources for updates.

I obsessively check Facebook for stories from the few Kashmiris who have access to broadband internet connections and are able to report from the ground.

I watch another beautiful sunset in Santa Fe and wonder, like I have done many times before, why I make theatre in places of war.

So yes, there is a certain hopelessness that pervades this experience of publishing my first book – hopelessness for Kashmir; hopelessness about the place for art in times of violence; hopelessness for the many dreams that my colleagues and I have for our work. That said, I must also say that my hopelessness is not all consuming; my fatalism is mitigated by many glimmers of excitement. Excitement that stems from the hope that this book will, somehow, enrich the field of theatre and war. That this book will, somehow, honor the admirable artistic efforts that are being performed in settings of duress. That this book will, somehow, pay tribute to the numerous experiences that have inspired me to better understand the role for theatre in times and places of war.