On the weekend of September 16-17 in St. Louis, MO, demonstrators and protesters took to the streets after the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley was announced. Stockley was tried for the deadly shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old black man, that took place in 2011. A group of St. Louis activists, police officers and community members were not on the scene in that city, however, but in Hanover, NH.
Theater of War Productions brought Antigone in Ferguson to The Moore Theater of the Hopkins Center for the Arts on September 15 and 16. The event included gospel songs, a staged reading and an interactive discussion led by Theater of War Artistic Director Brian Doerries and select guest panelists from the host community. Among the performers were Tracey Thoms, Zach Grenier, former teachers of Michael Brown and current St. Louis police officers.
[Editor’s note: For more about the impact of Antigone in Ferguson, see this September 19, op-ed piece in The Dartmouth.]
Asked after the reading to think about play’s moments and lines of dialogue that resonated with them, audience members were left to encounter Sophocles’ tragedy about a girl who does what she believes is right, at the expense of what is legal. Ultimately, Antigone dies for her disobedience to the law set by King Creon. However, one could argue that the king suffers even more for his arrogance and refusal to listen to advice: his actions lead to the deaths of his wife and child, and jeopardize the peace and safety of his land.
The staged reading portion of this event used a pared-down adaptation of Antigone, consisting of the key dramatic moments of the story. Scenes were separated by gospel songs sung by the chorus. These interludes allowed for reflective pauses, and the abstract lyrics gave room for audience interpretation.
After the reading concluded, the choir performed a rendition of “I’m Covered,” a gospel song that exercised the talent of all the singers onstage. This piece felt like an offering of shared healing, one community opening its arms to another.
Finally, Doerries opened the discussion first to the panelists, then the larger audience. Microphones were available to participants no matter where they sat, and members of the cast were invited to join in as they felt compelled to do so. This organic conversation, urged on by prompts given by Doerries, allowed the audience to process reactions to the piece in real time, and receive responses in turn from the artists presenting it. In almost equal terms uncomfortable and uplifting, this portion of the evening felt like the most important and gave me the most to think about as I left the theater.
Antigone in Ferguson was not a stage play. It was not an opera. It was not a traditional theatrical experience, but rather a gently led exploration of themes that have persisted long after Sophocles’ time, and into today.