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.