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After meeting Sidney through Franki, Sidney said “you must talk to Jonathan,” and called him on the spot. He’s a busy guy, but quickly made time for a talk. Jonathan works as a UN Human Rights Advisor here, and his have included working with the late Sergio Vieira de Mello in Iraq (Jonathan has a nice short piece called “The Importance of Intelligent Empathy” up on the “Chasing the Flame” blog that gives a sense of his outlook). For a guy with so much experience, he seems to easily turn off the gravitas and seem highly approachable. He projected interest in my project and offered a number of telling anecdotes and suggestions for further thinking.
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Sidney is among the many contacts the incomparable Franki Raden shared with me. He’s known her since she worked for the Ford Foundation a long time ago. She’s worked with Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and other internationals and NGOs, and is now Senior Advisor to the International Crisis Group, which specializes in conflict prevention and resolution in Southeast Asia. Needless to say, Sidney’s conversation with me was an individual “pro bono” consultation with me, rather than the official work of the ICG, but she was so fascinating and incisive that I wish I could name her Senior Adviser to the Dark Room project.
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Franki is an old friend from my grad school days, a composer, performance artist, teacher and impressario, so when it transpired that he was back in Java we rearranged our South East Asia itinerary to spend some time with him. As I thought he might be, Franki was just the artist I wanted to talk to at this stage of the project (and he also set up two other great meetings for me).


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I really don’t get what the reliably problematic Robert D. Kaplan is doing in this post. Or I do get it: it’s a prime example of a genre of torture “think piece” that involves mashing up some contradictory thoughts and leaving the mess on the page/screen as supposed evidence of one’s deep consideration of the issues. This muddled ending is actually, sad to say, the clearest passage:

If we act like angels, and another, even more massive attack occurs in the United States, then the public might cry for blood, as it did to an extent in the immediate days and weeks after 9/11, when torture was occasionally spoken of in different terms than it is now. Remember that some Bush Administration policies were drawn up in the context of one public mood, and carried out in the context of another. Were that to happen, detainees’ rights might decline by, say, 50 percent. But if we push the envelope only 15 percent along that dangerous path, then we might avoid the 50 percent trap, and save many of our own lives.

But even 15 percent makes me queasy. To avoid the question, though, is itself irresponsible.

But that’s the end of his piece! Confusion passing for complex thinking? or “both a literary and moral failure“?

The latter. Kaplan is little more than an erratic concern troll at this point. (And this “percent” thing is a symptom of the pretence that torture can be “dialed up” or down precisely, which Darius Rejali and others have pretty much taken apart.) But this kind of thing makes clear why having Obama as president doesn’t magically fix what’s wrong here.

Obama’s inauguration, and particularly the welcome string of Executive Orders since, appear to significantly change the context for my research on torture and performance.  After all, Obama is trying to close Guantanamo, so surely there will be no more performances documenting its abuses. And the US is on the way out of Iraq, so there will be no more Abu Ghraibs to make theatre about. Since US public opinion, represented by Obama’s election, has turned 180 degrees on torture, perhaps my own performance project has much less currency. Doesn’t Obama’s election mean an end to torture? Read More »

I didn’t expect to do much work as a theatre artist/scholar while on holiday in Nepal, and I’ve really treated the whole South Asia leg of this trip as a vacation (although I went to a lot of theatre in Kolkata (about which perhaps more another time) and I certainly have thought a lot about Dark Room here. But I had the great fortune to see a fabulous performance and meet with some remarkable theatre people in Kathmandu. Read More »

I set this one up through a chain of emails following on another email “cold call,” and it was one of my favorites so far. Read More »

Sometimes a listening rehearsal is just an opportunity for an interesting lunch, but they all seem to change the piece, sometimes in unexpected ways. Read More »

I’ve found a lot to influence me in South African theatre (though far more in Johannesburg than in Cape Town) and I should probably write specifically about all that the Zwakala theatre festival of community performance gave me to think about. I was able to hang out a bit with some of the artists and later to visit with a wonderful director and theatre creator in Alexandra Township, Ntshieng Mokgoro, in the community space where she works. In brief, looking at all this work has both been inspiring in the ways you might expect and also lead me to think a lot about the role of entertainment and “artisticness” in “applied” theatre work. More on that later, maybe, because I feel challenged by comments the marvelous Mandla Mbothwe made to us in Cape Town about the problematics of dwelling on aesthetics, as well as the whole festival context…

OK, so there’s been a lot going on that has related to the DR project, but in terms of the “formal” listening rehearsals, the work in JHB has been no less wonderful for being quite informal, and my meeting with the fascinating Market Theatre Lab education officer Dan Robertse on 13 October was a case in point. Read More »

I had a brief but very interesting meeting with Pieter-Dirk after seeing his performance in Darling, SA. If you haven’t heard of his work you should visit his web site. His performances trample gleefully through the thicket of South African political and racial culture. I was struck by how ready he was to place violence in the list of topics where humor can be found, and he encouraged me to be “fearless” in approaching the humor that audiences can find in the most horrible things.

On an aesthetic/technical note, I loved hearing him talk about why there are no blackouts in his show: “once you’ve got a blackout, you’ve got someone waiting for a cue. I don’t want to have to give a cue!” Food for thought for me, as you can imagine.