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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