Funded! This project was successfully funded on June 3, 2012.

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An original solo show that explores our capacity to find humanity in even our most hated enemies.

"A fresh and powerful exploration of the military mind..." A.R. Gurney

Produced at Williams College in the spring of 2012, SOLDIER is an audience interactive solo show that challenges us to think about the justifications and consequences of war. With momentum on his side, actor/writer Jonathan Draxton is now trying to take this exciting and unconventional show to New York City, where he intends to remount it for five weeks at the Bridge Theatre in midtown Manhattan. But theatrical spaces are not as easy to come by as they were in Williamstown, MA, and so Jonathan needs your help! Every denomination of American currency that you give will pay for the rental of the Bridge Theatre, crew, lights, costumes, insurance, programs, and advertising so, please, donate even just a dollar and help bring SOLDIER to life on a New York City stage near you (relatively speaking).

To read the first review of the show, please click here: http://thewilliamsrecord.com/2012/05/02/soldier-challenges-audience-with-moral-quandaries-of-war/

SOLDIER will play July 1st and 2nd at 7:00 PM in the Dorothy B. Williams Theatre at the HERE Arts Center as part of the Summer Sublet Series. This is an exciting opportunity to workshop the show before the full run in the fall.

The Short Version

SOLDIER tells the story of a German officer trapped on the banks of the River Styx. His name is Heinrich Weiss, and he is desperately searching for coins so that he and his men can secure passage across the waters...coins that the audience members have been handed as they walk in the door of the theatre. In the pursuit of his objective, Heinrich will reveal his own personal history as well as the origins and facets of man's love affair with war: the heroism, the glory, and the honor of it. But he will also delve into the nastier side of it: the blood, the hatred, and the murder of other human beings. By the end of his attempt, Heinrich will get more than he bargained for when he first approached these strangers on the riverbank; he will have to confront his own personal demons and defend his actions and the actions of his unit, now perceived as horrendous crimes in the annals of history.

What in soldiers and war appeals to us so much? Why do we forgive certain acts of violence, but not others? Is it possible to feel compassion for the Enemy? What do we risk by allowing ourselves to feel that compassion, and what do we lose by withholding it?

How It Began

As a senior Theatre major at Williams College, I was required to take a seminar entitled "Struggle Theatre", taught by Professor David Eppel, a man who spent the beginning of his theatrical career performing and working with the internationally renowned Market Theatre in apartheid South Africa. In this seminar, David challenged all of us to find a subject that "bothered us" and then create a piece of theatre centered around that subject. "What bothers you about the world?" he would say. "What makes you angry?" 

I almost immediately settled upon war, but most especially how we portray war in art. As the soldier-poet Wilfred Owen wrote before he was killed in 1918: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity." Despite the incredible horror and destruction that war wreaks on both our physical and emotional worlds, we somehow find ways to justify and glorify it, find ways to turn the horror into an elegant, indescribable, and desirable beauty that appeals to our patriotism and pathos. This conversion has always disturbed me, and so I decided to find out precisely why. 

I began by reading the soldier-poets of World War I, including Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and John McCrae, trying to find a particular aspect of their poems that troubled me (besides the vivid imagery of men being gassed in trenches or the wastelands of Ypres). I finally found it in Sassoon's poem, "Glory of Women", where he writes the following lines: "O German mother dreaming by the fire,/While you are knitting socks to send your son/His face is trodden deeper in the mud". This poem brought home to me the thought that, when we portray war in art, there is "our side" and there is "the enemy". "Our side" is fighting for all the right reasons and everyone has a backstory, something they hope to do after the war, someone who is waiting for them to come home alive. "The enemy", on the other hand, is rarely granted the luxury of even having a name. With that in mind, I decided to create a character that was not only the perfect Enemy, but also uniquely human, with a name, a father, a history, and a dream: to make the world a better place by going to war. And so I created Heinrich Weiss.

And Now...

I have created a challenging piece of theatre. Even David Eppel, the man who inspired me to create it and also directed it, sometimes looks me in the eyes and says, "I wish I had never met you"...I like to think he's joking. Through Heinrich and his story I explore our species' fascination with war, without trying to condemn or condone it. As Tim O'Brien wrote in his novel, The Things They Carried: "A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie..."

Or, as Homer puts it in the Illiad when Achilles is visited by the spirit of his slain friend Patroclus"Thou hast forgotten me, Achilles. Never was I uncared for in Life but am in Death...I wander about the wide gates and the hall of Death. Give me your hand. I sorrow."

I hope that, after seeing SOLDIER, Heinrich and his story will haunt you long after you have left the theatre.

Thank you for your support!

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