Voice of the Warrior: From Strangers to Confidantes

Voice of the Warrior covers the winter and spring phases of 2018 Warrior Chorus in 2018, where four previous Warrior Chorus Fellows will take new groups through three phases: readings and education of Greek theater, a new interpretation which these Fellows compose, and then performance.

This blog takes place the third of Jenny's classes, in a mixed performance space in NYC:

How can a room full of strangers one week become a room full of friends a week later, and a room of trusted confidantes a week following? Something about throwing the Veterans and Family Members of Warrior Chorus into a pantheon of strange names, choral narration, and graphic life and death relationships erases not only the lines between Veteran and Civilian, but individual differences, even if for only a few hours. Such lines not easily blurred; this is no easy feat.

In Jenny’s class, a group formed in a line-by-line Greek chorus on the first day, early chatter is of nothing but everything. How is that new fitness class, did you make it out on a run this morning? But it quickly turns in the check-in to something much more real, an exercise of trust and of how each person really feels not just in mood but physically and as a whole person.

With varying experience in acting scattered between the individuals, the emotional connection is somewhat surprising much less the willingness to share it with what amounts to a room of near strangers. What makes it more peculiar is to see it in a room of at least half Veterans. Veterans are not exactly known for sharing emotions, with each other or with those outside their inner circle.

But it is happening; something is blurring the lines.

As the scholar observed, that “something” might be the need for release, and the role it plays in connecting not only the story but also the room. The Greeks had a passion for this release, through war and celebration and theater, food and drink and everything else. There was a great deal of pent-up energy and obligation among the Greeks, and thus they placed a heavy obligation upon finding methods to release that energy for the betterment of their health and society.

As Jenny’s class checks in, encouraged to let go of everything outside the room to be present, the influence of Greek release in theater is evident. Feeling the floor through stocking feet, lying down, standing up, sharing what is happening outside gives the impression that once you take your turn and check in with the others, you don’t have to deal with whatever it was that was weighing you down for the next two hours. Gone is the idle chatter from before class began. The energy level picks up with each stretch and each story, energy that the participants carry into the circle of chairs. Lines of anger are shouted, tears of battle and regret are shed. Each person, Veteran and civilian, has left the world outside for the world of the Greeks and only brought with them the reality of emotion. Past blends with present, lines are blurred.

When the reading ends and the discussion can begin, the connection is even clearer and closer than before. The relationships of the characters and symbolism of the story are broken down and analyzed, but there are also legitimate feelings of frustration or anger with characters acting in self-interest and sympathy for the women caught up and used in the vengeance and retribution of a god. But discussion is relaxed, somehow, even more so than the idle chatter of early in the day. In reading and in discussion, the tragedy has brought them closer to understanding not only the Greek need to release energy but a bit of their own need to do the same. Listening to the rage or sorrow or even joy as another reader hopped up or down from their seat to play a role had a cathartic effect on the room.

And as they each relaxed, the lines further blurred, bringing a shared closeness between the readers. Three weeks from strangers to confidantes: accomplished.

This is the end of Phase I, and the end of the reading for the ancient Greeks. Next our groups will link up with each other, and the other two Veteran-led groups, and begin reading original works inspired from the readings, merging them with their Veteran experiences. Comment below on what you see in the process!

Voice of the Warrior: Starting the Conversation

Voice of the Warrior covers the winter and spring phases of 2018 Warrior Chorus in 2018, where four previous Warrior Chorus Fellows will take new groups through three phases: readings and education of Greek theater, a new interpretation which these Fellows compose, and then performance.

This blog takes place the second of Johnny's classes, in an apartment in NYC:

The themes are beginning to emerge in Johnny’s Friday night group. Do we accept death, or do we fear it? Do we accept war, even embrace or value it and celebrate it in society at home and in our art, or do we shun it?

The discussion, something less prevalent in the first session, is louder this time. It isn’t just because the Korean War Veteran has moved from the corner, having recovered from his cold and grabbed a more prevalent part. It isn’t because the scholars are chiming in more, and it isn’t because the text of Frogs reads like a tossed out scene from sketch comedy set at the gates of Hell. Though the group missed a week of interaction the week before, they’d connected in the interim. They sent messages, suggestions, thoughts, and it carried over and into the room on Friday night.

Dispersed into the reading was discussion, understanding of the text and better understanding of the themes and of war. Alcestis tells of moral ambivalence and yet also of self sacrifice. How to rectify, in a room of Veterans and Families, the consideration that, as the group’s scholar Mattia notes: “Admetus’ father describes it as an act of a moron (line 771). Who wouldn’t want to live? Why would you give away your precious life for someone else? And – most importantly – how can anyone actually ask for somebody to die for them?” Death was, as Mattia points out, permanent and Hades was undesirable and the absence of light. Therefore, it was the ultimate sacrifice.

The discussion around this concept, of course, turned to the worthiness of the cause. Athens was constantly at war and so are (at present) current Americans. Is it worth the sacrifice? The Korean Veteran, seeing a family of service from World War II and then beyond into Vietnam and through the spectrum of public opinion, had some thoughts. It is easier to fight when you know who the bad guys are, after all, and when the world can agree the cause is just.  

But this is not a classroom, but developing theater! The purpose here is to create adaptations, to learn and to grow, and that is what is happening. Conversation turns now to the role of the poet, and to is the one composing the play responsible for restoring that sense of nostalgia, the sense of right and the sense of value in war in the public, or are they simply there to record and replay what the sense is out in the world? Do they change opinion, or do they reflect? Should their words be used to justify military action, and is such an idea proper when the idea of right and wrong are murky, as they are in cases beyond WWII, or in regimes other than those considered more authoritarian than the foundations upon which the United States was built. But it seems, at least in the works these Veterans and Families read, there was no consensus for the role of the poet and theater in Athens nor could there be consensus found in the room.

Conversation is passionate and heartfelt, and full of memories. There is no writing this time, shared or otherwise. Topics wander to the new production, but the focus still remains on the role each character plays, both within and outside productions. What is the role of the poet and the playwright, the combatant and the supporter back at home? What does each need, and what dreams are expressed and what is put on hold and what dies and ends up at the gates of Hades?

If they could, they’d talk all night. Discussing characters and attributes, theories and concepts and what should be in the new production. The fact that most of the people in the room had only met two weeks before went unnoticed; everyone had something to contribute, everyone was engrossed in the moment. As the night drew to a close and individuals began to drift towards the door, one would think they’d left a thoughtful salon instead of a discussion of war and death. Far from a feeling of weight and sadness, there was palpable anticipation towards what the next week of Greek theater might bring.

Voice of the Warrior: Building a Community

Voice of the Warrior covers the winter and spring phases of 2018 Warrior Chorus in 2018, where four previous Warrior Chorus Fellows will take new groups through three phases: readings and education of Greek theater, a new interpretation which these Fellows compose, and then performance.

This blog takes place the first day in Jenny's class, around a table in a yoga and mindfulness space in NYC:

Each Warrior Chorus class is different this time: different attendees, different instructors, different interpretations of different selections. But there is one common thread that binds them tightly, even beyond the military connection: community.

As Jenny’s class introduced their way around the table, each shared a sentence of what brought them into the room and what drew them towards Aquila Theater’s Warrior Chorus. Whether the speaker was a Veteran or Family Member, an actor or a scholar, each admitted to the comfort and joy in the family of theater.

To everyone in the room, the theater is more than a series of lines (in this case, lines written millennia before) telling someone else’s story; it was a way to share their story or the story about someone they loved. It was a way to build and share with the community, and in particular with this group a way to share the stories of Veterans and a way to give a voice to those who might be voiceless. They see in these plays the stories of their own wars, hear the stories they or their family members might not be able to put proper words to, and now as they introduce themselves to each other they each confess they are in this room to share those stories.

It’s humbling, and it’s genuine.

The community builds quickly, with the warm-up exercises comfortable and full of laughter. Movement, loud, heads shaking, stocking feet (it’s in a yoga studio, after all) bouncing up and down, there is already a feeling that each member has shared something close and can trust the others so there will be no judgment. It’s been nearly an hour, mostly of conversation and laughing and usually getting Jenny to laugh, and by the time the warm-up is complete what we see around the table is a chorus.

The laughter continues, even when it is down to business. Notebooks are colorful, and screens start lighting up with scripts (and with the scholar, attending virtually to prevent spreading a cold). While some parts are assigned, the bulk of the scene is a coincidental Greek chorus. Since the table is also a chorus the lines are divided to go around and around the small group and they immediately circulate quickly, flowing rapidly from person to person building up steam into one voice and one community.

The only interruptions come from the scholar, the metallic reverberations from the phone being mounted on a music stand, but when the voice speaks the chorus hushes except to ask more questions and scribble notes in their bright notebooks. The group becomes deeply engrossed in the questions, asking notes of lineage, of why the warriors value so much the relationship to the mother when born of the father and what is the proper battle cry and what is the real tale behind this war and the battles to come. There are stories shared here, both of the combat in the story and the combat in the lives around the table, even the combat in day-to-day life. No one is excluded, even those who before this class might not have considered themselves directly a “warrior.”

Now this is a chorus of warriors, and it is only the first day of the first phase.

Voice of the Warrior: A New Perspective

Voice of the Warrior covers the winter and spring phases of 2018 Warrior Chorus in 2018, where four previous Warrior Chorus Fellows will take new groups through three phases: readings and education of Greek theater, a new interpretation which these Fellows compose, and then performance.

This blog covers the first day in Johnny's class, set in the apartment of one of the participants...

It was the first night, so there was some expectation of nervousness. Walking into someone’s home, maybe someone you didn’t know, after a few faceless emails and reminders. They file in ones and twos, and it becomes clear many in the room knew at least one face, Johnny's if no other. Sit in groups near people you know, hope that next buzzer is a friend.

No time like the present to begin. What is interesting is Johnny skips the usual introductions, the warm-ups with the names and the personal histories to which everyone seems to have grown accustomed since coming into a new room (and leaving behind the military days where we wore our last names on our shirts). He established some were scholars, some Veterans, some family members, but no distinguishing characteristics made at the outset. Was this to bring the room together, to break down some barrier? 

No breathing exercises, no stretching, no noise. Write down your thoughts, free flowing. Now some of the Veterans might start to peek through, being a little less trusting of unstructured activity, and indeed they pause a little more often. Sharing thoughts, only not being asked to share them with each other but with the page, told to put them into a rhythm, NOW being told to share and make it rhyme no less.

Meter and rhyme and the room brightens, starts to have fun. Breathing becomes a little easier. They aren't a team yet; they are still working within their little groups, identifying with those they know. The Korea Veteran sits skeptically in the corner away from the Rutgers kids. The scholar sits quietly observing in the corner. But each gradually begins to share a little more, volunteer a rhyme, laugh or clap at a rhythm, so something is beginning to happen, though they still don't know names or even, really, why they are here.

Midsummer Night's Dream, the final scenes. In other groups, we might delve into why the character doesn't want to see his personal history in battle depicted. Is it PTSD? Is it protecting someone from learning embellishments of his war story? We don't know, and we aren't going to discuss, not now. Here, it is just a mention, an informational call-out from Johnny, and a few interested sighs from the participants who had not put these pieces together until this moment. But despite the interest, we drive on. Would this be brought up again later? We are integrating a new work, a new play, fighting a new battle, so is it likely at least one will take in the concept that the warrior doesn’t always want to talk about the worst days of the old fights? That remains to be seen, since it wasn't overheard in conversation afterwards, but who knows. Everyone needs to digest a moment, and here that’s done with more writing about the loved ones left behind during combat. No one promised a relaxed Friday night of the theater!

Nevertheless, the social atmosphere afterwards is friendly, improved substantially on the nervousness from before we began. Great strides were taken over two hours. Two free-writing assignments, even with very little sharing, and some shared Shakespeare can do that, I suppose. Much can be learned in the observation of putting your thought to paper, then convincing The King to watch your woodland play.

Comments? We invite you to participate in the discussion, share your thoughts and memories, and what you think of what happened in the room!

Return of the Warrior

Probably the most important question posed during the session was two-fold: Should we consider Ajax a wounded soldier? And if so, how do we heal him? This led to a discussion over what society can reasonably expect of men at war. Can a semblance of normalcy be maintained? Is normalcy even beneficial in this theater?

Return of the Warrior

Our first session was primarily dedicated to introducing the participants to the character of Ajax. The participants this week included Phil, our Warrior Chorus facilitator, as well as Dan, Laura, Vic and Joseph. After reading the opening 130-or so lines together as a group, we discussed the separate perspectives that are immediately apparent at the opening.