Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Gulf (2001)

Anthony Gray
In 2001, Dobama's Night Kitchen produced an ensemble-written piece on a unified theme (what the kids at CPT nowadays like to call devised) inspired by the ten-year anniversary of the Persian Gulf War. I wrote one scene about an artist-based protest piece that went off the night before the war started on January 17th. These are some reflections on the original event, and a journal entry from the DNK production.
Originally written 01.15.2011

On midnight, January 16, 1991 I and a few dozen others participated in a performance art piece called Desert Scream, which took place next to Mem Aud. The director/creator of the project stated he was not commenting on this war (which had not yet begun, but would start the following evening, Eastern Time) but about war in general. When war happens, people die. Lots and lots of people. Horrors occur, people are displaced, there is great confusion and the loss of hope. That was the point.

Hundreds witnessed the event. A small number turned out with American flags to protest the protest, but they stood silently and watched, because there were no words to argue with, just images. And, you know, Peter Gabriel, because at that point in history, anybody staging a movement piece used that soundtrack. Everybody.

When the event was over, we the performers left, and the hippies took over. They started singing Give Peace a Chance and, I don't know, Kumbaya.

Okay, that was trite. They didn't sing Kumbaya. Sorry.

Speeches were made. And words failed.

Desert Scream
1991 Version
Originally written 02.15.2001

Saturday there was a large crowd (for this show) roughly sixty people. Included were the subject of Heather's "I'd See You Again" piece, the mother who served and her daughter, then 10 years old, now a student at CSU. They were both tremendously moved. The mother never knew what it was like at home during that time, she had no idea how tumultuous it was for us as well. She has boxes of stuff from that time, but she hasn't looked at any of them. Some are filled with letters from children at home.

Last night, closing night, "Leah's Vet" came. She had mentioned him several times, he was a medic, and she had written a play or two about his experiences but they just didn't fit. But he came anyhow, with his wife, who was also in the Marines during the war, and their young son.

Leah had said, a week or two ago before the show opened, that this man wanted to speak to us, all of us,personally, while we were still working on this. That kind of creeped me out. Leah had remarked that, despite his emotions, how moved to tears he was remembering stories for her, she was also virulently anti-Iraqi. I didn't want any of the actors spooked by the potentially emotive, possibly angry rhetoric that might be shared.

But he was there, and insisted on all of us, the entire company, gathering together so he could speak to us, last night. And what he had to say was how much he and his wife loved the show, how grateful they were that we remembered them. He said Sean's portrayal of "PFC Guttenburg" and his talk about "family" was right on target, and how Josh's "Gulf War Syndrome" series was also very important, how many vets have died from the Syndrome, and how no one cares.

He also invited us all to an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the peace declaration (Sun., Feb. 25) downtown. Rumor has it they will be honoring Leah at the event.

Desert Scream
2001 "The Gulf" Version

I realized some things myself last night. Of course, I discouraged the marketing director from promoting this event through VA halls. I am anti-war, a pacifist, and just assumed what we said was potentially offensive to Gulf War vets.

That was assuming all (or most even) vets haven't also spent the past ten years wondering what happened, and why no one talks about it. Sure, it was a decisive victory, and when they came home everyone was all gung-ho, yippee, all those stupid parades, &c. ... that was a long time ago. They, too, wonder what it was all about, and why no one walks about it. The fact that we decided to mention it at all was enough to make at least these three veterans thrilled. And they were all wise enough to know we weren't dissing them. The government maybe, but not them.

I was so depressed going into this ... a play about a war? What was I thinking? This isn't Guerrilla Theater Company, you can't just sling half-baked generalized opinions around, not about this. But the crew was fantastic. And for once I knew how to get the results I wanted. I wasn't always sure, but I followed my instincts and opened myself up for commentary from people like Sean and others. The format worked, the materials worked, the artists worked.

Despite the small houses (and what did I expect) I am immensely proud of this show. I am proud of all the people who made it, I am proud of myself.

Oh, and I was right about not needed the "Patriotism" monologue. Those vets let us know the show already had "patriotism" written all over it.

Long Time Passing
by Leah Krauss

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