Warfare, and the way that civilians in Canada engage with it, has changed a lot in the last century. While everything I’ve learnt about World War One and Two leads me to believe that it was embedded in everyday life even for those still in Canada with everyone contributing in some way, the Global War on Terror has been different. Unless you’re connected to the military, the updates and information most people receive about it are sporadic, perhaps only when significant progress or losses occur.
And that’s what makes Hannah Moscovitch’s 2013 play This is War different – it personalises the effects of war for an audience that might not have first- or second-hand experience of it. The play shines a spotlight on the effects of war on soldiers through a fictional account of a real incident that happened in Afghanistan. Told in a direct address to the audience, who is in the role of a broadcast journalist, This is War integrates the accounts of four fictional soldiers with flashbacks to their memories on their time in Afghanistan. March 3 – 13, Punctuate! Theatre will present This is War in the PCL Studio at the ATB Arts Barns.
Andréa Jorawsky, an Artistic Associate with Punctuate! Theatre playing the role of Master Corporal Tanya Young, says one of the reasons the play resonated with her was because it shows a side of war that’s not often seen – that of what soldiers experience when they come home and are asked about what happened while they were overseas. “For my character, it’s about coming to terms with what she did. It’s about trying to normalize what happened. It’s fiction, but it’s a look at what the war in Afghanistan was like on the ground. It’s a look into this kind of modern warfare. It’s a different kind of warfare than any other war. Everyone I talk to says you never see the Taliban. You only see them right before they blow themselves up, so it’s like you’re fighting this invisible enemy, but they’re everywhere. It’s also about coping with these kind of insane experiences… It’s a show about war and how that affects people…. it’s isolating. There’s this bond of brotherhood, for lack of a better word. You’re so close to everyone in your section, your unit, your platoon. You may not like everyone but you would take a bullet for them. That sort of closeness, you never really ever get to experience ever again. And then you come home and it’s like how do you explain?”
Andréa says that Moscovitch’s true-to-life characters help her and the other actors in This is War (Evan Hall, Telly James, and Joe Perry) dig into the characters and show their humanity. “Her writing is really sharp and I think the one thing that attracts me to it as an actor is the people or characters that she writes, it’s never black and white. She writes characters as complicated as humans are. When someone asks you, ‘Why did you do that or why did you make that decision in your life?’ It’s never like, ‘Because A, B, and C.’ She’s one of those playwrights… who really makes you dive in and go, ‘What are all the factors that made this person make these decisions?’ Especially in the show, we’re dealing with a lot of life and death decisions and how your decisions as that character are actually affecting someone’s life or death.”
Moscovitch’s insight comes in part from her time working as a writer on CBC’s Afghanada, a radio drama about three soldiers deployed in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, where she interviewed members of the Canadian Armed Forces as part of her research. To keep this production rooted in that authenticity, Punctuate! Theatre has also been interviewing members of the Canadian Forces about their experiences. Andréa says, “I’ve had ongoing interview conversations with five or six members of the Canadian Forces, which has been invaluable. One of the guys I talked to, I asked how do you adjust coming home? He was like, ‘It’s just a switch, you’re just home, it’s different.’ I talked to someone else and he was like, ‘It was fucked up. I couldn’t sleep because I had this fucking injury because I got hit by an IED.’ Like everything in life, everyone reacts differently to it. I don’t think I could have done this show justice without talking to people and getting a sense of what it’s actually like there and coming home. I was very fortunate to be able to talk to them and I was blown away by their generosity with their stories and their time.”
Punctuate! Theatre is also partnering with The Greater Edmonton Poppy Fund for the presentation of This is War, donating a portion of the profits from the show to the fund as well as making the show free for members and veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces to attend. Andréa explains, “It’s important to reach out and make the show accessible and have relationships with the community who this show is about. The Poppy Fund provides support to ex-military personnel or veterans by providing them with wheelchairs or electric beds and things like that… They are going to be providing us with one of their members for a talk-back and we also have other members of the Canadian Armed Forces or the reserves for the talk-back.” The talk-back will be held after the March 8 performance, which is also a pay-what-you-can performance.
This is War runs at the PCL Studio at the ATB Financial Arts Barns March 3 – 13. Tickets are $20 – $25 from Tix on the Square. Veterans and members of the Canadian Armed Forces are invited to attend any performance for free. The March 8 performance is pay-what-you-can and a talk-back with the cast, a member of The Poppy Fund, and members of the Canadian Armed Forces, will follow the show.