the journey to a play’s creation is in itself, a gift

the journey to a play’s creation is in itself, a gift

I have just completed my first semester of an American Sign Language/English Interpretation Program. This may not sound like anything significant but for me, it is. Throughout my life people have asked me if I would ever consider becoming an interpreter. The idea could not have interested me in the least. Now, I am living in a new city and province, having put my acting career on hold for two years to do exactly what I said I would never do. How did I end up here? In a strange turn of events, I was brought here by a play. Actually, it was the idea of one.

I grew up in a Deaf household. This is my normal. I never thought much about what my normal meant until I moved to Montreal from small-town Ontario when I was 18. I met new people who discovered my parents were Deaf and for years had to answer the same questions about my family and upbringing. Until that point, it had never occurred to me that I was raised in a different environment than most; my normal was another’s fascination. I knew a different language and culture that I had never thought critically about before, probably because I had lived in the same town for 18 years where everyone already knew my family, so nothing ever felt out of place.

This revelation of having a unique life experience also led me to recognize that I did not know very much about my own background. I had taken it all for granted. I was now profoundly interested and invested in my past, my family, their upbringings, the Deaf experience, and all that comes with it. I became fascinated with American Sign Language which, yes, I was already fluent in, but had never truly explored as a form of expression. ASL had only been used to communicate with certain family members and friends. Memories came flooding back and instances of oppression toward my parents that I had normalized, resurfaced. I read. I asked questions. I wanted stories. I learned who my parents were as people, beneath mom and dad. I learned about other peoples’ experiences in Deaf families and that there was such a thing as a Deaf Community. I recalled events that I had attended with my family where instead of paying attention, I would get bored and play with other children. Now that I am older, I wish that I had taken it all in and absorbed every moment. But as my father would remind me, kids would often rather play than listen to dad’s boring stories, and besides that, he always knew that when I got older my curiously about our heritage would ignite. He was right.

As an actor, I see the world in images and moments. My family’s experiences became increasingly vivid images in my mind that were gently tugging at me for many years. I am an actor, a teacher, and a facilitator. These are the titles I feel comfortable with. Writer? That sounded terrifying, so I moved on with my life for the time being. Fast forward four years: sitting on the floor of a rehearsal space at Black Theatre Workshop with actor and playwright, Julie Tamiko Manning. She and I are discussing the right to speak on behalf of a culture that we “only half-belong” to. She being half-Japanese and I being raised in a Deaf community while not actually being Deaf. Although they are very different circumstances, the ethical dilemma is similar. I speak the language, I know the culture, it is my home and my life, but I can also hear. Do I have a right to speak on behalf of the Deaf community? Is my parents’ blessing and acceptance enough? I told Julie about my images and she advised me to trust my instincts and dive in.

A few days later I was walking down a street in Montreal and I bumped into Micheline Chevrier, Artistic Director of Imago Theatre and director extraordinaire. We were both in a rush but I mentioned that I had an idea I wanted to discuss with her. I do not know why I felt the need to tell her in that moment, it was just a gut reaction. She told me to send her an e-mail and we both scurried off. We ended up meeting for coffee where I shared my brain-trapped images and ideas. They were disconnected, unsure, but pulsing. Micheline gave me her blessing and told me to write them all down. I started with the title, The Sound of Dogs.

The number of people who have become involved with this play over the past two years seem random but intertwine beautifully in the web they exist in. One coffee led to a dinner between two others which led to support from the NAC in Ottawa to continue writing. A phone call led to Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal linking me with a mentor, Alex Haber, to guide me through the playwriting process. Dean Fleming, Director and former Artistic Director for Geordie Productions, hosts a workshop about writing plays for young audiences where I learn that my Deaf play can actually be split into two separate ones: The Sound of Dogs and Thumbs Up! The first being darker and more related to my personal experiences whereas the latter is about a little girl who is a superhero and also happens to be Deaf. The list goes on and on in terms of the level of support from theatre creators in and around Montreal.

While this process was slowly unfolding, I could not shake the feeling that I was somehow disconnected from ASL culture. I began toying with the idea of attending interpreting school but did not want to suspend my career. When the first draft of Thumbs Up! was complete, I had a wonderful Deaf actress, Elizabeth Morris, come in for the first reading. Although the experience was incredible, I felt my confidence begin to wane relating to my Deaf background. I still didn’t know what Sound of Dogs was “supposed” to be and felt frustration, fear, and hesitation on how to move forward. This is also the precise moment where my respect for writers and playwrights increased dramatically because I learned that writing can be personal, terrifying, and immensely difficult.

There are a number of reasons why I decided to go back to school to become an interpreter, but underneath it all, honestly, it was calling me. I wanted to go and study ASL, and I wanted to learn more about the culture that I love. So I here I am.

Sound of Dogs is always with me and as Micheline reassures me often, it will eventually shape into a cohesive whole but that a process is a process and I am not to judge it. The decision to move to Atlantic Canada was the right one. Studying aspects of your childhood can be very strange but also an astoundingly rewarding experience. I highly recommend people take a trip to visit their roots and heritage. It is funny how many quirks are a part of you because of that culture. I feel a connection with this program that I did not anticipate. I thought I would go in, gain some additional skills, and come back out raring to go. I could not have foreseen the spiritual journey that exists in parallel. I am developing amazing linkages, my vocabulary is already stronger in both ASL and English, and I understand who I am a little bit more everyday. I am in love with American Sign Language and its culture and I feel more whole and connected to not only myself, but my family as well.

I still do not know how Sound of Dogs starts or ends, least of all when it will be finished. However, I do know that it has become a guiding friend. It is with me while I write, I see more of those pictures, and I know that eventually it will come together. This little friend brought me here in the first place and here is where I need to be. A huge part of this playwriting process was the research and reconnection I needed to a childhood experience that I never truly explored. I am grateful for the opportunity to be supported by friends, family, and fellow theatre creators in the journey that is Sound of Dogs. I think the journey to a play’s creation is in itself, a gift.

Jennifer Roberts, Artist in Residence

 

Canadian Women in Theatre You Should Know

Canadian Women in Theatre You Should Know

WHY ARTISTA INSPIRES ME

WHY ARTISTA INSPIRES ME

    I participated in an ARTISTA dinner and workshop last night and the experience was so collaborative, creative and inspiring.The women in that room have such incredible insight, sensitivity and intellect. I was struck by the encouraging atmosphere in the room....
Fuck misogyny and long live Artista

Fuck misogyny and long live Artista

This post is part of a series of reflections about Imago Theatre’s Youth Mentorship Program, ARTISTA, by program mentors and mentees.  Here Julie Tamiko Manning (ARTISTA Mentor) reflects on the value of the program. I am angry a lot of the time.  Not the kind of anger...
WHY ARTISTA INSPIRES ME

WHY ARTISTA INSPIRES ME

 Artista wide banner

 

I participated in an ARTISTA dinner and workshop last night and the experience was so collaborative, creative and inspiring.The women in that room have such incredible insight, sensitivity and intellect. I was struck by the encouraging atmosphere in the room. No one was competing with one another and everyone had a platform to express themselves and their perspectives. At the end of the workshop, where we made character masks and described their significance, we gathered in a small circle and reflected on words of inspiration from the session. Huddled in that small circle, surrounded by powerful and expressive young women, I felt a wave of gratitude and a rumbling-in-my-stomach sense that paradigm shifting change is possible.

Our society is structured to shrink, control, condemn, confine and fear women’s bodies.

As a part of an ARTISTA exercise, we were instructed to make masks. Mine had a furrowed brow and a mountain of yellow bags under her eyes. I discovered that she was a tired feminist whose words are only pin pricks in a seemingly impenetrable system.This system prizes obedience over self-actualization and gives her visibility on terms she never agreed to while making her invisible in the charged spaces where she has the right to thrive.

This system files her body away under the label,”Second Class Citizen.”

I have been, and will continue to be, angry about how our world is so unfairly stratified. I store this anger like a small stone in the back of my throat.

The women in ARTISTA spoke out of turn rather than waiting with bated breath to be invited to the table. This, along with their other unique and creative qualities, makes them lighthouses. Being there last night made me feel confident that women can and will claim spaces that have historically excluded them.

Being there last night reminded me that we need to continue to be lighthouses for each other because we’re still in the middle of the ocean trying to make sense of why we were stranded in this storm in the first place.

Thank you ARTISTA! 

Dispatches from Intractable Woman Rehearsals

Dispatches from Intractable Woman Rehearsals

Week three, tipping into week four of rehearsals for Intractable Woman: This is the much anticipated transition from rehearsal hall to the theatre. Details of the actors’ navigation on the stage will be inhabited in their appropriate space. Practical adjustments are now made with the actors “on deck”. This is a very exciting time as all the elements come together in the performance space. It is truly magnificent how the various dimensions; structures of the text, the director’s, actors’ and stage manager’s work in rehearsals, are married with the brilliant set, the costumes, the lighting, and the sound and video design. Creative levels are high, with exceptional, perceptive collaboration between Micheline Chevrier, stage manager Sarah-Marie Langlois and the acting ensemble and our technical crew — the production is now living and breathing with design elements in beautiful, dynamic synchronicity. Breathtaking design, spectacular performances, directed with care and precision — it is a tremendous honour to witness all the wonderful artistry creating this amazing production.

Outside the rehearsal, in our every day lives, the power of words, their potential influence, and the sometimes questionable use and censorship of them, hits deeper and deeper. You need only read, watch and listen to the news. Hopefully, we can trust the sources from which we receive our facts, information and op-ed reads. We have the right to expect truth, honest and without significant bias. But how do we know? More and more I hear myself, my peers, neighbours, family and friends genuinely ask, “Where do you get your news from?”

As we have read more of Anna’s writing, we have also come to understand that Anna experienced acute loneliness. On the second Chechen conflict, which she called “A Dirty War”, Anna said, “No journalists come here.” I can only imagine her degree of loneliness. Although Novaya Gazeta, the paper Anna wrote for, was opposed to the current Russian political party line, the paper was still reluctant to print everything Anna reported on from the second Chechen conflict. Her writing also helps us to understand this. When barrier after barrier is set in-front of you, how do you carry on? How do you persevere in telling the truth, reporting undeniable facts? How do you get your story told? How do you make it known? How can you help people listen and foster understanding? Anna spent time as a journalist in Chechnya and it was not a friendly place for transmitters of truth. She was brave and determined and she never stopped; both remarkable and inspiring qualities, but also necessary to her profession.

Anna Politkovskaya wrote truth. She was a journalist. She was a transmitter of facts. A journalist has the occupation of reporting, writing, collecting, publishing facts. However, at times, there can be almost impossible, seemingly insurmountable blocks in one’s way to tell the truth, have it heard and have it stand a chance. Simply said, no one can know about a very real situation if they don’t want to know. Even with what she was up against, Anna promised to report the truth; and even if she did not say it in words, her promise was made to her journalistic sources, sometimes with a nod and something whispered. Anna was a civilian. And she was a journalist, documenting and reporting truth. If not for her, we would not know about the second conflict in Chechnya. We would not know about its perpetrators, the thousands of civilians who suffered, the detailed history leading up to the conflict, and what it means for our world today. Take a quick moment and think about current biases you are experiencing in your readings of current affairs.

In my earlier blog entry, about week one of rehearsals, I wrote that every civilian has a right to information and has a right to access information. Seems pretty obvious, but this notion rings at an almost deafening rate these days.

Which of today’s truths are being silenced?

– Stefanie Buxton, Assistant Director, Intractable Woman Feb 9-18

September 1999.   We are lying on withered autumn grass.  To be more precise, we want to lie on it, but for most of us all that’s left is the dusty Chechen ground.  There are too many of us—hundreds, and there are not enough amenities for everyone.

We are the people caught in the bombing.  We didn’t’ do anything wrong; we were just walking toward Ingushetia along the former highway, which is now all torn up by armored vehicles.

Grozny is behind us.  We run as a herd from the war and its battles.  When the time comes, and you have hit the ground face down, assuming a fetal position, trying to hide your head, knees, and even elbows under your body—then a kind of false, sticky loneliness sneaks up on you, and you start to think: “Why are you crouching?  What are you trying to save?  This life of yours that no one but you cares about?”

Why is it false?  Because you know perfectly well that this isn’t really true; you have a family, and they are waiting and praying for you.  And it’s sticky because of the sweat.  When you’re clinging to life, you sweat a lot.  Some people are lucky, though.  When they feel that death is near, all that happens is that the hair rises on their heads.

Still, there is loneliness.  Death is the one situation where you can never find companionship.  When the diving helicopters hover over your bent back, the ground stars to resemble a death bed.

Here are the helicopters, going for another round.  They fly so low that you can see the gunners’ hands and faces.  Some say that they can even see their eyes.  But this is fear talking.  The main thing is their legs, dangling carelessly in the open hatches.  As if they didn’t’ come to kill, but to let their tired feet get some fresh air.  There feet are big and scary, and the soles almost seem to touch our faces.  The barrels of their guns are squeezed between their thighs.  We’re frightened, but we all want to see our killers.  They seem to be laughing at us crawling comically down below—heavy old women, young girls, and children.  We can even hear their laughter.  But no, this is just another illusion; it’s too noisy to hear that.  Automatic weapon fire whistles in the air around us, and someone always starts to wail along.  Has anyone been killed?  Wounded?

“Don’t move.  Don’t raise your head.  That’s my advice,” a man next to me says.  He dropped to the ground right where he was, in his black suit with a white shirt and black tie.

My neighbor Vakha starts talking nonstop.  This is a good thing; it’s better to talk now that to be silent.

Vkaha is a land surveyor from Achkhoi-Martan, a big village not far from Ingushetia.  In wartime Chechnya, everyone is afraid of everything.  This morning, Vakha left his house wearing his suit and carrying his folder as usual, so as not to attract attention, as if he were going to work.  In fact, he had decided to flee.

“Every time,” Vakha mumbles, because you can’t help mumbling with your mouth pressed to the ground, “every time the helicopters come, I take my folder, get out some paper, and pretend to write.  I think it helps.”

People nearby start to laugh quietly.

“How can paper help?  What are you talking about?” a tiny, skinny man to his left mutters in a loud whisper, spitting our dirt.

“The pilots see that I’m working, that I’m not a terrorist, “ the land surveyor retorts.

“And what if they thingk just he opposite?  That you’re taking down their licence plate numbers?’ a female body in from pipes up, gingerly shifting a bit.  “I’m all numb.  When will this all end?”

“If they think that, then you’re done for.” We can’t see who says this.  He is behind us.  And it’s a good thing: his words are tough, sharp, and pitiless, like an ax.

“There you go again.  Enough of that.”  An old man’s voice cuts the tough guy short.  The he asks Vakha, “Show me your folder, please.  I’ll tell the others.”

The bodies, who have been silenced by the tough guy, are eager to clutch at straws again, to enjoy an unexpected gift of momentary happiness, the last for some.

“Go ahead, show us…”

“We’ll all get these holders…”

“The Russians will run out of them…”

“Putin will wonder, why are all the Chechens running around with folders during the war?  They should be carrying automatic weapons…”

“And he’ll give out folders to the Feds too.  All of Chechnya will be carrying folders…”

“Vahka, what color should the folders be?”

The helicopters don’t stop circling around.  The children’s crying shakes the ground that is studded with people, machine guns are shooting—why don’t they shut up for just a moment?—and the explosions of falling mines croak the whole time, introducing a banal note into our stay on the death bed.  That’s all we need!

Still, people joke around.  Vakha defends himself meekly.

“It’s all in Allah’s hands,” he says.  “But say what you want, I’ve never been wounded with this folder.  Not in the first war, and not in this one.  It’s always helped me.”

“So you had the folder in the first war too?” someone burst out laughing, in a kind of nervous spasm.  “Then why are you lying on the ground, man?  Why don’t you get up?”

Vahka is tired of that.

“Everyone’s lying on the ground.  Why should I be the one to get up?  Why should I make myself into a target?”

– Anna Politkovskaya

Politkovskaya, Anna. A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. Translated by Alexander Burry and Tatiana Tulchinsky. The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Dispatches from Intractable Woman Rehearsals

Dispatches from Intractable Woman Rehearsals

In the second week of rehearsals for “Intractable Woman”, Micheline and the acting ensemble have been delving into further exploration and investigation, creating beautiful, inspiring, incredible work. Micheline’s innovative direction and the brilliant, captivating ensemble have been lifting the text off the page and onto the stage with mastery and passion.

Some questions about the narrative of the play that we have been asking this week are: How does Anna’s integrity fuel her bravery? Where do we sense Anna’s fatigue? How did she persevere when she experienced threats against her? How did she cope when she learned of the tragic deaths of her journalistic sources? Some of the innocent, brave civilians who spoke with Anna were also betrayed by fellow civilians and even neighbours. These sources were killed by non-civilians for speaking their truth to Anna. The simple opportunities to work, live and love, had completely diminished and been stolen from the Chechen population. Anna persevered in making this known. She called the second war in Chechnya, “A Dirty War”. It stemmed from hatred, intolerance, corruption, hate and lies. An entire culture, an extraordinarily beautiful land was being destroyed, and the truth behind this horrible reality was being silenced.

Our relationship with Anna deepens every day through continued conversation, specified research, connecting with Stefano Massini’s brilliant structure of this ‘theatrical memorandum’ — deepening our understanding of Anna and her work, the people she met and the people who trusted her. Anna lived by the code every honourable journalist swears by: to stay alive and protect their journalistic sources at all costs. Anna only ever revealed identities of any sources after their lives were lost, after any risk to their lives was extinguished.

More than ever, we find ourselves in a climate of ever-increasing censorship and silencing of truth; facts we all have a right to know. Anna’s story and her sources’ stories are critical, and must be shared and heard.

An inventory from Week Two:

Clarity

Commitment

Invention

Resilience

Strength of spirit

Humour

Love

Family

Neighbour

Support

Protection

Voice

being true to the facts, embracing the possibilities of theatrical, physical expression in each scene, trying out all the ideas to best serve the play and the drive of the piece, the urgency in Anna’s voice, what we experience learning about her, learning from her, understanding Anna, understanding this atrocious war, all the people affected by it, discovering the physical movement and its roiling nature, utilizing the space in all its potential, keeping in mind the technical aspects which will be married with the work thus far once the ensemble enters the theatre space, trying out ideas and finding the pieces and the connections between these pieces, all within the fabric of this extraordinary, pertinent play.

– Stefanie Buxton, Assistant Director, Intractable Woman Feb 9-18

­­­­

July 2001.  I’m meeting with Aina as if she were an undercover agent and I were a liaison from the center.  We take precautions worthy of a spy thriller.  Aina made her way to our meeting place via secret paths, using a different route than usual and not telling even her neighbors where and why she was setting off.  But the whole problem is that Aina and I don’t have an underground mentality, and the position that the authorities have forced us into is downright revolting to us.  Aina is a widow from Makhkety, and I am a journalist who wants to know why Makhkety has been cordoned off and isolated from the rest of the world for several months now.

“Did you know that the driver who ventured to go to Shali in February to tell the world outside of Chechnya about your arrest was just killed?  They tried to talk him out of it, but he said, ‘Someone must save her.’”

“What?!  He was killed?”

“Soldiers drove up, asked him his name, and then shot him point-blank.  It happened on June 30.  His name was Imran.”

So this means I am living at the cost of Imrans’ life.

“But didn’t only people in the village know that Imran went to Shali?  Your people?  Doesn’t that mean someone denounced him to the soldiers?”

“Of course.  We have so many informers now that we don’t know what to do.  The Feds corrupt our people; they pay them for the deaths of their neighbors.  I myself, coming to this meeting, feared the informers most of all, not the Feds.  The soldiers come to the villages to follow up on tips.  Eventually, the informers get killed too.  Do you remember the old house in Selmentausen where we met four men who had just been bought our of the pits on the 45th regiment base?”

I remember it well.  The house was very poor.  The family was crammed into a narrow little room with a primitive stove fueled by brushwood gathered near the forest.  The little children huddled up close to their mother and stared with fright at the guest.  After all, I looked like the people who had once take away their father; he had later returned home sick and beaten up.

The host himself had turned out to be a cheerful, witty man who was born the same year as me.  He hadn’t complained at all about the Feds torturing him, which surprised me.  He’d merely laughed at them.  Rubbing his fingers, which had been crushed by pliers, he had said, “Those poor bastards.  They’ll have to answer to God for everything they’ve done.  What’s the difference if we call him Allah?”

“He was killed too, “ Aina said quietly.  “They came, took him, shot him somewhere, and threw the body onto the road.  No one in the village has any doubt why it happened.  It’s because he told you about the torture.  We decided to ask you not to reveal his name anywhere so his family can survive.  And do you remember the black-haired fellow who was sitting in the homemade trestle bed next to the host then?”

“Of course I do.  He was also very cheerful.  He tried to calom me…”

“Oh, yes, he kept telling you, ‘Don’t get so upset! We Chechens are tough.  I can survive anything.’”

“That’s how he answered the question whether he ever dreamed of the tortures he’d been through.”

“He’s dead too.  They killed him the same way: they came in, asked his name, and took him away.  Only instead of throwing away the corpse, they forced the relatives to pay ransom for it.  Of the five men we talked to in Selmentausen then, three are gone.  And do you remember that tractor driver?  He was fixing a tractor by the farthest house in Selmentausen, and you talked with him for fifteen minutes.  He told you about the Feds’ raids, and you asked him, ‘Did you see the militants a long time ago?  When did they come here?’”

“Yes, and he answered, ‘A long time ago, maybe a year.  They stayed in the village for a day.  This day, the Feds stopped their shooting, and the militants warmed up, washed, and left.  And that’s when the raids started here…’  That was his story.  I copied it down on my notepad.”

“That tractor driver has also been shot…And how about the people you stayed and talked with at night in Makhkety?  Twenty or twenty-five people were crammed into that room.  And half of them are also no longer here.  Remember Taus Tagirova?  She was telling you so much, and crying.  Two of her sons were taken right from their home into the 45th regiment, and it’s been two months since they’ve been heard from.  And how about the Mohammedkhajievs?  Kharon and his wife?  They took Kharon, beat him up right in front of his six children, dragged him away, and he hasn’t been heard from for thwo months either…Nobody know what to do.  There are funerals every day,” says Aina, and her eyes are dry.

I look at Aina, who has been driven into a corner, recalling her own children whom she’s left behind in Makhkety every five minutes of the conversation.  She shudders at the thought that while she’s not there, anything could happen to them.  What if someone turned her in?

– Anna Politkovskaya

Politkovskaya, Anna. A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. Translated by Alexander Burry and Tatiana Tulchinsky. The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

 

Dispatches from Intractable Woman Rehearsals

Dispatches from Intractable Woman Rehearsals

Week one of rehearsals for “Intractable Woman” has been incredible. It is an honour and a joy to be in the rehearsal room, assistant directing for Micheline Chevrier, witnessing and sharing in the magnificent artistry this generous, brilliant, fantastic ensemble creates every day.

The first few days of rehearsal have been spent on table work, discussion and exploration of the text and the play’s subject matter. Through Stefano Massini’s play, alongside with research materials, including Anna Politkovskaya’s writing and documentation, we are getting to know her. We are getting to know the person Anna was, her pursuit of the truth, her dedication, intense pragmatism, and the environment, the landscape “Intractable Woman” is set in, and the names and faces of the people Massini’s  theatrical memorandum and Anna’s reporting tell us about.

In the second half of our first week of rehearsals, the acting ensemble has moved in smooth transition from the table work to being on their feet. The rehearsal space inspires, constructed to resemble the set, with props and costume pieces to incorporate as the ensemble explores the play on its feet; and we have a collection of materials for research and reference in the room to refer to throughout the process. The work on the text, along with introducing movement and blocking, all with captivating and imaginative use of the space, is very exciting to see; and all the conversations, the questions, the investigations — every day has been energizing and inspiring. Each day, the room is full of magnificent creativity, guided by Micheline and her extraordinary artistic vision as we get to know Anna Politkovskaya and her remarkable work.

As we have been researching, discussing, sharing and learning during this first week, we see how incredibly brave, honourable, funny, brilliant, unrelenting, focused and tremendously caring Anna was. A self-confessed “transmitter of the truth”, Anna said she wanted people to understand. This is one of the many topics, ideas, themes we have been exploring; and through this, understanding the loneliness Anna experienced when she was not understood. We have watched video documentation, read many different sources, including Anna’s own reporting and documentation. We have looked up images and articles on the internet and we are amazed, inspired, profoundly moved by the work Anna generated, the subjects, the people she reported about, and her journey up to her assassination and the events surrounding that tragedy. Throughout her investigation of the second Chechen war, Anna Politkovskaya sought answers — the What, Who, When, Where, Why and How. She got her information from the source — the person. She spoke to civilians, officers and generals who were experiencing the atrocities of this horrendous war — this “Dirty War”. In video interviews we watched, Chechen civilians  passionately attest to Anna’s incredible capacity to listen, and that she would listen for long lengths of time. She listened, civilian to civilian. Every person she spoke to felt heard. And although she was at risk, and despite unimaginable threat, Anna pursued the truth and listened to her fellow civilian and gave them a voice. These people were able to tell their stories. Anna listened and she wrote the facts — the information. Anna made information accessible. Civilian voices were being silenced by non-civilians, and Anna ensured many of those civilian voices be heard.

Every civilian, every person everywhere has the right to information and the right to have access to information.

In the theatre, we tell stories, seeking understanding and knowledge. We have a conversation. We exchange ideas. We learn. We change. We challenge. We grow. And, we are all civilians. Stefano Massini needed to understand the link between Chechnya and Russia. For him, Anna was that link. Anna is the through-line to help us all understand and Massini has crafted a brilliant theatrical memorandum to do precisely that: understand.

Throughout this first wonderful week of work in the rehearsal room, we are exploring the world of this play and its landscape, the people who were there, the circumstances, the events, Anna’s observations and descriptions, her editorials, her exchanges, her experience, her understanding, her voice and who Anna was.

– Stefanie Buxton, Assistant Director, Intractable Woman Feb 9-18

Who am I?  And why am I writing about the second Chechen war?

I am a journalist—a special correspondent for the Moscow newspaper Novaya gazeta—and this is the only reason I’ve seen the war; I was sent there to cover it.  Not, however, because I am a war correspondent and know this subject well.  On the contrary, because I am just a civilian.  The editor in chief’s idea was simple: the very fact that I’m just a civilian gave me that much deeper an understanding of the experiences of the other such civilians, living in Chechen towns and villages, who are caught in the war.

That’s it.

For that reason, I’ve been going to Chechnya every month since July 1999, when the so-called Basayev raid on Dagestand took place, which resulted in torrents of refugees from mountain villages and the whole second Chechen war.  Naturally, I have traveled far and wide through all of Chechnya.  I’ve seen a lot of suffering.  The worst of it is that many of the people I”ve been writing about for the past two and a half years are now dead.  It has been such a terrible war.  Simply medieval, even though it’s taking place as the twentieth century passes into the twenty-first, and in Europe too.

People call the newspaper and send letters with one and the same question: Why are you writing about this?  Why are yo scaring us?  Why do we need to know this?

I’m sure this has to be done, for one simple reason: as contemporaries of this war, we will be held responsible for it.  The classic Soviet excuse of not being there and not taking part in anything personally won’t work. 

So I want you to know the truth.  The you’l be free of cynicism.

And of the sticky swamp of racism that our society has been sliding into.

And of having to make difficult decisions about who’s right and what’s wrong in the Caucasus, and if there are any real heroes there now.

– Anna Politkovskaya

Politkovskaya, Anna. A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. Translated by Alexander Burry and Tatiana Tulchinsky. The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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