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January 12, 2011

Theater of War@UVA addresses human costs of war and reintegration of warriors into civic life

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The human costs of war have been known since time began. Greek playwright Sophocles witnessed those costs firsthand 2,500 years ago as a general and wrote about the numerous consequences for audiences that consisted largely of citizen soldiers.

“Theater of War@UVA” will address the human costs of war through two free public programs, based on New York theater director Bryan Doerries’ “Theater of War” project, also known as the “Philoctetes Project.” To be explored are the challenges associated with addressing the needs of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and the effects on society.

Doerries has recently produced new translations of Sophocles’ dramatic texts about wounded warriors. Using professional actors, Doerries stages readings of scenes for military and medical audiences, who recognize in the dramas their own struggles, choices and responsibilities.

The first UVA event, “How Do We Address the Human Costs of War?,” to be held Sept. 15 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium, will include scenes from Sophocles’s “Ajax” and “Philoctetes,” responses from a panel and audience discussion. Panelists will include Iraq and Vietnam war veterans, a veteran’s spouse and professionals who work with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The second event, “How Do We Care for Our Wounded Warriors?,” will be held Sept. 16 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in the Jordan Hall Conference Center Auditorium at the School of Medicine. This Medical Center Hour event will include scenes from “Philoctetes” and responses from health professionals and audience discussion.

Doerries will lead discussions at both events. Local actors, led by drama department director Betsy Tucker, will present the scenes. In conjunction with “Theater of War@UVA,” selected undergraduate, graduate and professional school courses at UVA and nearby colleges such as Virginia Military Institute will read Sophocles’ plays and incorporate themes of illness and healing, war, and professional ethics and responsibility in class curricula.

“‘Theater of War@UVA’ addresses important human problems for our society today. These ancient dramas show us how to help reintegrate war veterans into civilian life with recognition of warriors’ struggles with both physical wounds and the mental and emotional challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Marcia Childress, associate professor of medical education in the UVA School of Medicine’s Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, and organizer of “Theater of War@UVA.”

“The reintegration of returning soldiers has a profound effect on our society – families, communities, health care systems, schools and social service agencies and religious organizations are all touched by what occurs on the battlefield,” she said.

“Theater of War@UVA” is an interdisciplinary humanities and arts initiative sponsored by the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, History of the Health Sciences Lecture Series and UVA’s Buckner W. Clay Endowment for the Humanities.

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