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Theatre of/for/with/about Separatists: Four Examples

by on June 23, 2013

“I used to plant bombs during the years of the civil war in Guatemala”, he said. “I had to creep slowly, quietly, in the night…arm the bombs…the slightest mistake and well, I would have been killed.”

So went the conversation with this ex-guerrilla fighter, who used to write and direct plays during the years of the civil war in Guatemala. Creating scripts about love, making his fellow fighters laugh in a time of intense violence, theatre– for this rebel theatre maker—was a way to provide much needed distraction for his troops during times of war. His plays provided a space for laughter, a space in which the mandates of his guerrilla group were restated via theatrical forms, and a space that, two decades later, gestured to me a possible way for theatre to engage fighters of a war: to entertain / to motivate.

“I write”, he said, “about my time in the IRA. About the Troubles. I write…because…well, I write.”

An ex-IRA fighter in Northern Ireland who took to becoming a playwright after the Troubles, this man wrote plays about the past, about the present. He wrote because the writing was a gesture toward what the art form of the theatre could do for a man like him, a man who had chosen to use violence for his fight during the Troubles: to remember / to express.

“We use theatre here”, she said, “as therapy, and to teach these children that they must not use violence again. They must go back to their communities and live with everyone else.”

This social worker, who used theatre/role-play as a means to rehabilitate ex-child-soldiers in northern Uganda, practiced arts-based therapies to get the children to let go of the lives that they had lived in the ‘bush’ with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Theatre was part of a larger effort in this instance to re-educate the young men and women, and re-integrate them back into their communities. Surrounded by many questions of ethics, this use of theatre gestures toward one more possible use of the art form for those who have used violence during times of war: to rehabilitate / to re-educate.

Chiapas, Mexico – January 3rd, 2000 – the Zapatista Air Force “bombarded” the federal barracks of the Mexican Army with hundreds of paper airplanes. Each airplane carried a message for the soldiers monitoring the border. In remembrance of this event the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) releases a digital translation of the Zapatista Air Force Action: the Zapatista Tribal Port Scan.

Another way then, for artists to interface their work with those who are fighting for a cause i.e., by using their art to gesture toward a space where their craft might support those who are on the front-lines of a battle; to bring the agendas of these fighters into public spheres/spaces, for larger populations to engage with: to sensitize / to collaborate.

Posted as a follow up to “Gestures of Proximity/ Alienation/ Violence/ Art” (May 24); “Soldiers & Art” (June 9)

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