Performance peace

Theaters Against War

Chris Good and Lee Dazey belt it out during a Nevada Shakespeare Company performance of Stille Nacht.

Chris Good and Lee Dazey belt it out during a Nevada Shakespeare Company performance of Stille Nacht.

Photo By David Robert

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In 2000, Jeanmarie Simpson’s son enlisted in the military. Simpson, a professional actor, director, educator and self-described socialist at heart, was devastated.

“I thought I was going to go out of my mind,” Simpson says. “I begged him, and everyone I know tried to talk him out of it, but he knew better, at 19 years of age, than any of us, and he went.”

Simpson, artistic director of Nevada Shakespeare Company, the company she co-founded in 1989, was full of rage and fear—with no idea how to express it.

“There I was, a mother of a son who my country was eager to use for cannon fodder, and I was presenting The Trojan Women, a play that spoke to these ancient mothers and their agony at the loss of their sons and husbands. I joined Mothers for Peace, and that gave me much comfort. But as an artist, I was still frustrated that more artists weren’t taking a stand against military destruction. In THAW, I found my international community.”

THAW (Theaters Against War) is a group of more than 200 theater companies that stands against the war on Iraq and escalating attacks on civil liberties at home. The group was founded in late 2002 by several actors, including Kathleen Chalfant of Angels in America fame. Members come from as far away as New York, London or even Thailand.

Besides being a defining voice for its members, the group organizes protests, demonstrations and petitions. During the Republican Convention in New York, THAW helped organize a protest march of more than a half-million people. Member theaters also do anti-war performances or curtain speeches.

Around the time of THAW’s founding, Nevada Shakespeare Company presented Euripedes’ The Trojan Women. Simpson realized that no one was really dealing with the play’s message. “All our exit surveys reflected the inherent denial that was running through the local culture. Nobody wanted to talk about what the play was about; their comments were general and dispassionate.” An Internet search in early 2004 helped her find THAW. The NSC board, and even its Republican president, unanimously supported the decision to join.

Simpson, a member of an AFL-CIO affiliate, uses her artistic talents and activist background to address society’s foibles through theater, believing that artists must use their gifts to better their world. “Those of us who have the impulse to create works that speak to the destructive nature of world culture must follow that impulse. It is what we do. We must use our craft to shape our message in the sharpest and most vividly artistic way and pass it on. To do less is to throw our gifts into the wind.”

All NSC performances reinforce THAW’s message. Before Christmas, NSC performed Stille Nacht, about the Christmas Truce of 1914 between the German and British troops. Stille Nacht returns to Reno next Thanksgiving. In 2005, NSC will stage Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a play about returning soldiers and the women who’ve been getting along without them. As Simpson explains, “With Shakespeare’s brilliant canon to focus on, why spend a second thinking about military cannon?"