August 25, 2005

The War Plays Project

Tonight I saw a performance piece called Letters To, Letters
From . . . Letters Never Written.
It was put together by a Friend who is a professional actor and who has pursued a leading to put her theater skills, knowledge, and experience to work by creating The War Plays Project.

The Project is, according to its mission statement,

a non-profit organization whose goal is to educate and enlighten people on the reality of violence and war through theater, spoken word, and the facilitation of open community dialogue...
This is the second or third performance piece that Friend Fran has put together since the war in Afghanistan began, following September Eleventh.

Fran doesn't proclaim that she is creating these plays because of the peace testimony; she appears to be working on the War Plays Project as an extension of herself, of her faith.

I would say that she is being led.

What most impresses me is the quality of her leading:

1. It taps her creativity and is "outside the box."
2. It energizes her and feels bigger than herself.
3. It draws people in and knits people together.
4. It brings forward information that is otherwise stale or "out of reach"--something many folks might not pursue on our own.
5. It has its roots in her faith and experience as a Friend, without imposing values or dictating what action one should or shouldn't engage in.
6. It compels her to do more, not less.
7. It is a natural extension of her gifts and of her connection to the world beyond the walls of the meetinghouse.

The particular performance piece I saw tonight, Letters To, Letters From . . . Letters Never Written, is based on dozens if not hundreds of letters written by and sent to veterans over the years; letters that Fran solicited, read through, and selected for inclusion in this performance.

Parts of letters that my partner's family had exchanged were included. I'm hoping I'll see it again, with my partner, next month at a local college.

There were excerpts from vets who were exposed to Agent Orange, who had PTSD, who had lost a limb or worse. There were excerpts from World War II vets; veterans from VietNam and Korea; and vets from the first Gulf War, including the voices of a couple women veterans. Some letters ended with the words EDITED BY BASE COMMAND; some looped back on themselves, the poetic license of Fran pulling the individual letters together while illustrating the inanity of war...

To be fair, I acknowledge that I haven't asked Fran if she's had a clearness committee, or asked her how she has gone about testing her leading. On the other hand, the meeting has, in a fashion, sponsored the performances that she has put together. And there is a minute of support from the meeting's Peace and Social Action Committee, which often serves as an informal clearness committee for an individual who has a leading that relates to, well..., peace and social action.

What most lifted my soul, though, was when I first heard of Friend Fran's War Plays Project. It had "leading" written all over it. ...I often consider that one way to know if God is moving among us is when items emerge that no one could have predicted or planned for.

And bearing witness has oh so many forms...



Paul L said...

Yes, yes, and yes.

I couldn't attend this new play on Thursday but performed in two and saw the third of the war plays she produced last fall. All of the things you say about Fran's work and its spiritual basis is true. Furthermore, she conveys that sense to all of the performers and then audience as well.

What I find most remarkable and refreshing is how she is using cultural forms to convey the message. I am personally convinced that the great work of personal and social transformation is going to be realized largely through the arenas of artistic and cultural activities (theater, music, poetry, dance, ritual, etc.) rather than through polemic, political or economic reform (though these activities have their place.)

I hope we can all recognize that early Friends' testimony against plays was just plain wrong in the extent of its condemnation of all plays -- and visual art, novels, music, etc. -- as necessarily being "vain amusements." While in the historical context Friends' condemnation of these artistic forms made sense, and many of the warnings against the dangers of the arts to one's spiritual life are still pertinent, they certainly took it too far and we are better off for having lost those testimonies.

I acknowledge this conclusion may simply be my rationalization for not being able to -- or wanting to -- live by the old testimony and that I may be wrong about the no-plays testimony being obsolete.

But, if I'm wrong, I'm with Huck: I'll go to hell. I wouldn't want to live in a world without creative art. I thank God that Friends now realize that artistic forms are every bit as capable of -- and often superior to -- reflecting Truth as straight forward preaching and devotional writing are. (We don't have to look any farther than the Psalms, Job, or Jonah to know that this is true.)

And I am thankful for Friends like Fran who so skillfully and creatively make use of the materials at hand to tell the Truth.

Jeanne said...

I am looking forward to seeing this play on September 9th at Metro State.

I want to add that some of the letters she based the play on were from World War I. My grandfather wrote from France to my grandmother during WWI, and according to the program, some of his letters are included (Norma, my grandmother and from whom I got my first name).

Liz Opp said...

Y'know, looking over these two comments, I think it would be wonderful if the play could be... what's it called? ...podcasted!