Genocide, Theatre, and the News Media: Talkback after 7/16 Performance of “The International”

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How it’s New York: The talkback occurred after the July 16th performance of  “The International” at Peter Jay Sharp Theatre on New York’s 42nd Street.
How it’s Irish: The play was written by Irishman Tim Ruddy.

Aisling Reidy, the senior legal advisor for Human Rights Watch, and a former prosecuting attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia moderated a panel discussion after the July 16th performance of The International.

Read the review.

human rights panel 1

Objectivity is really impossible to achieve but at least there were attempts made in the past. Now no one even tries. Objectivity has been destroyed. — Justin Friedland

On the panel were:

  • Journalist Meline Toumani who has reported extensively on Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Russia and is a 2014 National Book Critics Circle award finalist for her book There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia and Beyond.
  • Former veteran ABC News correspondent Justin Friedland whose coverage responsibilities over more than two decades included, among other major events, the Yom Kippur War, Israel’s incursions into Lebanon, internecine fighting in Beirut and greater Lebanon, and the first Gulf War.
  • Tim Ruddy, playwright of The International
  • Christopher Randolph, director of The International

Playwright Tim Ruddy was asked, how did an actor and director from the West of Ireland get involved in writing this play about Eastern Europe?

Tim said that he remembers watching the events of the Srebenica massacre (exactly 20 years ago) play out on TV while he was living in Los Angeles. He seethed over the injustice of what he saw and was filled with guilt, impotence, and frustration. The play started as a one-woman show with only the character of Irena.

He added that the people of Srebenica reminded him of people from his village in County Mayo.

What drew the director to the play?

Christopher Randolph said the humanity of the characters appealed to him. Without that human connection, the political and social justice ideas would never reach the audience.Justin Friedland  said objectivity is really impossible to achieve but at least there were attempts made in the past. “Now no one even tries. Objectivity has been destroyed,” he said.

Can art, theatre, and writing be useful in the face of tragedies like genocide?

They can be useful in expanding the humanity and the conscience of the audience. The character of Dave adds the point of view of the spectator on tragedy. It makes us think about what should be done.

How has social media and technology affected the way war and major tragedies are reported?

Twenty years ago it took longer to get the stories out. However, that delay gave reporters a chance to think and to analyze and synthesize information. Now we are missing the filter.

hum rights panel 3

Another problem with coverage today is that so many of the news outlets are preaching to the converted.   Justin Friedland  said objectivity is really impossible to achieve but at least there were attempts made in the past. Now no one even tries. Objectivity has been destroyed.

Is it important to label atrocities as genocides? Why is there so much controversy over applying the term?

The panelists generally agreed that it is important to use the term genocide where appropriate but recognized that it is rarely used. The offenders do not want to admit culpability: the word is almost too powerful.

Christopher Randolph pointed out that no one wants to be labeled as having committed genocide. The U.S. has a Holocaust Museum but no museum of the genocide of Native Americans or of slavery.

Tim Ruddy agreed that the label is important and thought it crucial that we understand that we are all complicit. He said his ambition with the play was to try and do justice to the people on the ground in tragedies like the one depicted in The International.

Read the review.

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