New Play at Dance Mission Tackles Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Actors discussing Tiamat after the first reading of the playing.

“The rhetoric of this war is different.”

“Yes, this is a war on terrorism, which means it could be anywhere and with anyone.”

This is a conversation among organizers of “Tiamat” — the name refers to a Babylonian goddess of chaos — a play about gender, war and post-traumatic stress. The actors had a first rehearsed reading on Wednesday, and Friday March 11th at 1 p.m. the play will get a public reading at Dance Mission, 3316 24th Street. A second reading will take place at 3 p.m. on Saturday March 12th at the San Francisco Mime Troupe, 855 Treat Avenue.

The play began with a partnership between the director Timothy Near, previously director of the San Jose Repertory Theatre, and Krissy Keefer, the executive artistic director of Dance Brigade. The two have worked together since the 1970s, and last year won a $25,000 San Francisco Artist and Communities Grant to produce a new play.

Keefer and Near said they chose to tackle post-traumatic stress because they had been hearing about suicides among returning soldiers. A play, Keefer said, would “bring the issue into people’s consciousness.”

“We did all the anti-war demonstrations. We realized that PTSD was more present now, so we decided to stay politically engaged and do something artistic about it,” she said.

The next step was to bring in a playwright, and they decided on Aaron Loeb.

“He had theatrical style,” said Near, referring to Loeb’s play “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party.” “His willingness to take on the big issues made him the right playwright.”

The play will incorporate dance and drumming.

“It feels like the subject matter and talent merge. We are trying to express violence and stress at such a heightened peak with Taiko drums,” Near said.

In addition to Loeb, Near and Keefer collaborated with the Iraq Veterans Against the War, interviewing 11 Iraq war veterans about their experiences.

“What was surprising for me was the actual effect of basic training,” Loeb said of his interviews. “Before you even set foot in Iraq there is an enormous amount of trauma taking place.”

This is what happened to Stephen Funk, the artistic director of Veteran Artists, an organization affiliated with Iraq Veterans Against the War. Funk worked closely with Dance Brigade and Loeb on this play.

The play revolves around Walter, a former Marine who is in a small city hospital, and his stress-produced dreams.

Some 31 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.

“This is healing for the veterans’ stories told through dancing,” Funk said. “It is very moving for everyone involved.”

Filed under: Art, Front Page

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