Interviewer: Theater of War's remarkable success has been a major driving force behind your work on your two new books, hasn't it?
It was out of this idea that Theater of War was born, and in many ways the book is the distillation of what I've learned from the audiences for whom we perform--including soldiers, prison guards, doctors, hospice nurses, addicts, and survivors of natural and man-made disasters.
Interviewer: We invited you to discuss your two new books, but for our readers who aren't familiar with Theater of War, perhaps it would be useful for you to share a bit more about the genesis of this project and your involvement as its founder and director.
Doerries: I founded Theater of War in 2008 on a hunch that ancient Greek war plays, written by a general named Sophocles, would speak powerfully to contemporary military audiences, creating a safe space and vocabulary for openly discussing the visible and invisible wounds of war.
How did Theater of War evolve from it humble origins into what is has become?
Doerries: Within a few months of that first performance, I found myself sitting in a general's office in Virginia, just down the road from the Pentagon, fielding questions about what it would take to bring Theater of War to scale.
Can you give us an idea of the different places you've taken Theater of War performances?
Doerries: We've performed Theater of War in hundreds of locations all over the world, from military installations throughout the US, to Japan to Germany to Denmark to the detention camps in Guantanamo Bay, and in settings as varied as the Pentagon, homeless shelters, VA hospitals, universities, chapels, museums, and theaters such as Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Interviewer: Along with Bryan O'Byrne, as Philoctetes, and Benjamin Busch, as Odysseus, you brought Theater of War to the Air Force Academy earlier this year and performed Philoctetes for over 2000 people.
Doerries: We present Theater of War on military installations as training events, in which case the audience is typically composed of hundreds of service members who have mandatorily been made--or "voluntold," as is said in the military--to watch our renderings of Sophocles' plays.
Interviewer: Contemplating what you've written and observing the way you frame Theater of War performances, I've concluded that your work essentially comes down to what might be called a serious confrontation with the problem of pain.
So what is it that explains the distaste people sometimes have for Greek tragedy and how does the Theater of War experience combat negative perceptions of tragedy?