On Sunday, October 1 in the Mary Chapel, the College of the Holy Cross hosted the play, “Antigone in Ferguson,” a dramatic reading of Sophocles’ “Antigone” by the Theatre of War Productions that serves to relieve tensions between local communities and law enforcement across the country. Arts Transcending Borders presented this Brooklyn-based company’s interpretation of a Greek tragedy in light of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri by a local police officer. The event was preceded by a screening of the documentary, “Whose Streets,” on Monday September 18 that delves into the chaos and unrest that plagued Ferguson after this crisis.
Arts Transcending Borders is an initiative led by Director Lynn Kremer and “designed to enhance the role of the arts in every aspect of the Holy Cross experience by infusing the arts into students’ academic lives and creating new opportunities throughout the curriculum and the community to cross cultural, geographic, and disciplinary boundaries,” according to their Holy Cross web page.
Theatre of War Productions was founded by Bryan Doerries, a Kenyon College classics major. Its objective is to use the enduring and timeless lessons found in ancient Greek tragedies to facilitate dialogue on controversial contemporary events, such as public health and social justice issues. Bryan Doerries has recently been named the artist-in-residence of New York City’s Department of Veteran Services and Department of Cultural Affairs.
“Antigone in Ferguson” alternates between dramatic readings of Sophocles’ “Antigone,” and songs composed by Phil Woodmore and performed by the Phil Woodmore Singers (the Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church Choir), and the Holy Cross Chamber Singers. The Phil Woodmore Singers is an ensemble of educators, residents, and police officers local to St. Louis, Missouri and Ferguson, Missouri, giving the program a diversity of perspectives on the 2014 events in Missouri.
Bryan Doerries immediately drew parallels between the struggle of a teenage girl, Antigone, and the events that transpired on Saturday, August 9 in Ferguson. After Michael Brown was shot six times by officer Darren Wilson, according to his autopsy report, his body was claimed by local police officials as “evidence.” Michael Brown’s family was denied the right to bury their son as his body lay in the street for four hours during investigations.
Similarly, Antigone seeks to bury her brother, Polyneices, who has just been murdered in a civil war, despite the orders of her uncle and newly-established king to leave the body or face death. Antigone defies her uncle, and the debate and disorder that ensues highlights the words of the flyer handed out at the event: “what happens when personal conviction and state law clash, raising the question: When everyone is right (or feels justified), how do we avert the violence that will inevitably take place?” Antigone refuses to abide by state law, and instead adheres to what she perceives as divine law, or “the law of love.”
The play was followed by a guided audience discussion, equally integral to the production, in which panelists, Dillon Carmichael ‘18, Tanya Neslusan of Showing up for Racial Justice in Worcester, and Ron Waddell of Straight Ahead Ministries, commented on their interpretations of the play’s meaning in regards to current events in the nation, personal experiences, and community observations. The audience and Phil Woodmore Choir were then asked which components of the play resonated most with them. Responses touched upon issues of racial tensions in the country, racial divides occurring on our own campus, and how we should be engaging in this important conversation.
Amidst protests in St. Louis, Missouri after a local police officer who shot a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, was not found guilty of first-degree murder, and the white supremacy march on UVA grounds in Charlottesville, the dialogue that the Theatre of War Productions is fostering has become increasingly relevant as we attempt to overcome polarization in our country. Aleyra Lamarche, a Senior at Holy Cross, thought “it was interesting to have people in the law enforcement who were in the choir.” She noticed “that a lot of the time the discussion may be one sided, so any time where you can listen to even people you don’t agree with, its very important and it’s a part of learning.”
James Falconer, a junior in the Holy Cross Chamber Singers, reflected on his experience after the production and believes that the play “delivered a message of unity and delivered a message that change needs to come.” He also hoped that the program “helped at least make that message clear if not helped start the discussion through the music and through the arts.”
To learn more about the Theatre of War Productions, visit http://theaterofwar.com/about/mission.