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Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

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It’s actually been these past two weeks in tech. Tonight is opening night, and I haven’t been this glad to be out of rehearsal in a while. Remarkably, it’s not because this process was particularly long or arduous, because it wasn’t. Things went smoothly, everyone did their job, and we didn’t work particularly strenuous weeks or anything – week one came in at under 60 hours, which is always nice. No, it’s just that everything else in my life feels like it’s behind the 8-ball.

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Our illustrious lighting designer (and my boss).

I shot these pictures toward the end of focus call two weeks ago, before the set was loaded up with props, furniture, etc. I love the starkness of a single light against the bare countertops and the wood floor. I think this show looks great; I can’t really publish full photos of anything for copyright reasons, but I’ll try to snap some detail shots to show you as this run gets underway. It’s set in the Brooklyn loft of a relatively well-to-do couple, and the livability of the space is great. Small, but great. I don’t think I could ever live in NYC; I have too much stuff and need too much space to be comfy in the kind of apartment I could afford. Hell, there would be nowhere to put all my yarn.

The show itself is remarkable. It was nominated for two Tonys when it was on Broadway, and it’s getting a lot of play around the country now that the rights have opened up to regional theaters. The subject is near and dear to my heart – ostensibly, it’s about the relationship changes that the central couple go through, but to me it’s all about journalism.

The play takes place in NY during the Iraq war. Sarah, a photo journalist, has just come home wounded by a roadside bomb. Her long-time partner James settles in to take care of her. He, too, was in Iraq, but came home weeks earlier after a mental breakdown due to PTSD. As the play unfolds, we watch the relationship between Sarah and James morph and change; they pull together and apart as they re-examine what they want out of their lives following Sarah’s brush with death. Despite the extraordinary context, their strains and heartaches are familiar – infidelity, depression, questions of identity, marriage, and children.

Anchoring all these interpersonal dramas is a question of journalistic ethics. A disclosure: my father is an editor and spent many years as a reporter in and around the halls of Washington. Although he was never a war correspondent, a lot of the questions asked in the play apply in broad strokes to everyone working in the news media. It asks what role a journalist is obliged to play – independent observer or activist.  When Sarah is confronted by a dying child, she takes his picture rather than giving first aid or trying to save his life. One of the other characters questions her decision – isn’t that a cruel and cynical way to behave in the face of human tragedy? Sarah argues that it is the job of relief workers to try to save the child; her job is to take the photo, to show the world evidence of what is happening, and to record truth for posterity. The scene leaves Sarah to justify herself to the audience, but neglects to mention what I feel is the most compelling argument in her favor.

I feel for Sarah; she has to believe in what she does in order to face it every day. She says it’s not up to the photographer “to step into the frame and fix things they don’t like,” and because she is a journalist, I think she’s right. We depend on reporters to be impartial, to look without judging, and to tell the facts as they are without analysis. The news media has become the target of so much vituperative criticism in the last decade – gone are the days when the family gathered around the 6 o’clock news after dinner and watched as the nation’s reporters read off the stories of the day. The right and left political machines have both pitted themselves against the fourth estate, accusing it of bias, manipulation, and stupidity. The public has come a long way from calling Walter Cronkite “the most trusted man in America.” There are still institutions doing their best to lay out the facts and let the people decide what they mean, but those are admittedly fewer and farther between. The play portrays Sarah as cold and detached, but I think she has a good handle on why she has put herself into a war zone – it is her duty to report the truth, not to alter it. She knows that if she gets involved, the picture changes.

If we as citizens cannot trust our media to be impartial and honest, we cannot make the decisions we need to make. We can’t elect officials, we can’t push for social justice, we can’t put pressure on the people who make wars to stop the fighting. Countries run by oppressive regimes often hold their power partly by abolishing the freedom of the press – in an open society they would be roundly condemned by other nations, but in secrecy they can commit atrocities. The current situation in Syria, where no journalists have been allowed,  is a perfect example of this – for over a year Bashar al-Assad has been killing his own people, and the response from outside the country has been slow in part because the situation has been unverifiable for so long. The good reporter takes this charge seriously; his is not merely a job but a responsibility.

Whew! If you’ve hung with me this long, thank you. I know this post didn’t really have anything to do with theater, other than the title. That’s how you know a play is good: when it riles up its audience, and asks them to think about things. Tonight is opening night, which means that I’ll be sitting through this one fifty or so more times. I’m looking forward to it. I’m pretty sure it will be unpacking itself for quite a while.

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