Voice of the Warrior: Theater Lessons for Life

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.

We are almost complete with Phase II, where the four groups review the Veteran-written interpretations of the ancient Greek works, and deep into editing and rehearsal.

There is always something to learn, and a different way to learn it. When it comes to regaining focus and grounding your senses, there is nothing quite like breathing. So when a Warrior Chorus warm-up links the minds of the participants to scenes and lines to practice breathing exercises, yet another therapeutic practice translates to the world outside the theater. Meanwhile, they continue with character development and conception as a piece of new confidence.

The breathing devolves into chaos as the theme for the warm-up becomes “embracing the awkward.”  Converting the awkwardness of a close stare into scene dynamics, finding ways to incorporate your character from your play into the dynamic of another character from a different play, all break down into lessons. Can we do this with our real lives? The chaos of lines shouted into nothingness, as the group moves at random. Lines walk by, each character engaging and disengaging quickly. “I come to bury him” “Bullshit!” “Why are you dressed like that?” “Beyond my paygrade” all merge together from four different plays (plus some original Shakespeare and some Greek originals thrown in, because why not). Interactions don’t make sense, but the unexpected awkwardness and the tension is desired. It is a part of not only creating tension that makes interesting theater, but being comfortable with it and accepting it as something positive that translates into life.

The break into small groups is calming, but there are only two more rehearsals to get the scripts finished and ready for the readings so the pressure is on. Jenny’s group, with direction from Stephan, discusses owning the stage and making the point, again a concept to learn from. “No one tells my story better than me” is their theme to remember, so they can learn to take command of their lines and be heard no matter how strange it might feel.  The embracing of awkward and adoption of characters learned in the last two sessions is effective: Veterans and Families are making their presence known now.

Dan’s writing cohort is focused on word choice, using tone and emotion to convey true meaning, for their lesson this evening. With a shorter script, they are making sure each point is conveyed in multiple ways. Their goal is to make the audience consider sacrifice, war, and respect of the dead versus respect of the living. They don’t want to embrace the awkward alone: they are bringing the audience in for these difficult conversations and asking them to embrace it as well. It is no easy task and each word holds significant value, even when phrased as friendly banter between Veterans.

The dynamic in Neath’s room is serious, as their conversation is about power and humanity and empowerment but also weakness and logic and reality. The editing process through group suggestion and input has allowed them to surmount a huge stumbling block of character development in the last week, one that changes aspects of the play for the emotional. Like Dan’s group, this team is not shying away from some very tough conversations and the harsh world that for too many is a sad reality.

Johnny’s group then deviates from this reality, a stark contrast to some of the other plays (which is a key part of what makes the Warrior Chorus so interesting). His team is deep in character thoughts, what their dreams might be and what the fates tell them, and how devastating something might be for the fates to turn them away from a path. The participants have become so in tune with the characters and the story they can write scenes that flow together even when they are not in the same room, allowing Johnny to send them “assignments” for contributions. This method of contribution and character cohesion has led to a tight-knit group that only a month ago were largely strangers.

So many lessons to embrace in three short hours and only one rehearsal to go, but it’s all coming together. There is a feeling of pride in every room, in every line, about what is being created and conveyed.

To see the new works read in NYC, come to the ART 502 W 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019 on March 28th and 29th with an approximate start time of 6:30pm for public readings (two plays will be read each night). The final reading (excerpts of all four plays) and ceremony for Warrior Chorus is on 11 April at Federal Hall at 6pm. Follow Aquila on FacebookTwitter, and this blog for updates.