Theater of War Productions
Program: Arts in Health
Area of Work: Arts
Grant Purpose: The King Lear Project
Theater of War Productions works with leading film, theater, and television actors to present dramatic readings of seminal plays—from classical Greek tragedies to modern and contemporary works—followed by town hall-style discussions designed to confront social issues by drawing out raw and personal reactions to themes highlighted in the plays. The guided discussions underscore how the plays resonate with contemporary audiences and invite audience members to share their perspectives and experiences, and, helping to break down stigmas, foster empathy, compassion, and a deeper understanding of complex issues. Bryan Doerries — Theater of War Productions’ Artistic Director and a writer, director and translator — served as one of New York City’s first Artists in Residence; he was hosted by the New York City Department of Veterans Affairs in collaboration with the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.
Purpose: To support the Theater Company in Residence, Theater of War Productions, including The King Lear Project to foster discussions about aging, dementia, and family care-giving.
In 2019, Theater of War Productions served as the Brooklyn Public Library’s first Theater Company in Residence, through which it developed and premiered two new projects to foster discussion of public health and social justice issues; The King Lear Project used readings of Shakespeare’s play to illuminate topics of aging, dementia and family caregiving, and The Suppliants, an ancient play by Aeschylus, raised topics of immigration, human trafficking, and refugees. Audiences are built through deep community engagement and partnerships, reaching people who would not generally attend theater events. Every performance was followed by facilitated dialogue with community members about the relevance of the play to contemporary societal issues.
During the grant period, Theater of War Productions (TOWP) delivered 24 performances in all five boroughs, reaching approximately 1,700 people. Sites included senior centers at New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, the SAGE Center for LGBTQ+ seniors, Lincoln Medical Center, and the Spanish-Speaking Elderly Council -RAICES Times Plaza Senior Center in Brooklyn. A specific goal of The King Lear Project was to create opportunities for intergenerational conversations surrounding issues of aging. For example, a performance of The King Lear Project at the RAICES Times Plaza Senior Center brought together the older adults from the senior center and local high school students, and they were able to discuss these issues from the perspectives of their current stage of the lifespan. In all performances, the discussions fostered unique connections. The evaluator, Metis, reported that “Audience members were truly in dialogue with one another during discussions. While audience members often agreed with each other, they sometimes also shared differing opinions. These are the dialogues that TOWP aims to foster.”
Other goals and outcomes were to overcome the elitist reputation of theater and make it accessible and relevant to issues that the community members identified as core to their lives. Survey results bore this out:
- 87% of survey participants reported that the event was “a lot” or “somewhat” relevant to their own lives.
- 90% reported that the event made them “a lot” or “somewhat” more likely to talk about difficult topics.
- 90% reported that the event made them “a lot” or “somewhat” more likely to seek help for themselves or someone else if needed.
By creating open, shared experiences, the productions were also designed to help strengthen community connectedness. Survey results showed that:
- 90% said they would be “a lot” or “somewhat” likely to participate in other activities in their community.
- 87% said the event helped them feel “a lot” or “somewhat’ connected to other people in the room.
Additionally, the programs were designed to provide information and resources to find help in the future.
- 81% reported that the event increased access to community resources “a lot” or “somewhat.”
Photos by Beowulf Sheehan.