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Theatre and War

Nandita Dinesh

5. When

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We might also note that there are times when theatre and performance cannot, or perhaps should not, happen. During and after the devastation and threat of war, what might be needed is a pause; stillness and silence while waiting for the dust to settle and some semblance of everyday routine to return. One of first “ethical dilemmas” that is raised by these practices, therefore, is when is it desirable and when is it not desirable to make performance in a place of conflict? (Balfour, Hughes and Thompson, 2009a: 303).

1I have left the chapter on When for the very end of this book since the intricacies that arise from an examination of temporality in theatre-in-war interventions have surfaced relatively recently for me. In their book Performance in Place of War (2009a), Michael Balfour, Jenny Hughes, and James Thompson discuss how the notion of time within a conflict zone can be important as areas of war are ‘affected by complex temporal and spatial categories — post-war, pre-war, military zone, demilitarized zone, cleared area, uncleared area, no man’ s land’ (ibid.: 21–22). Furthermore, these authors suggest that ‘shifts in place and time — in place of war, out of the place of war, at a time of bombardment/closure/curfew, in a time of ceasefire, etc. — impact on the types of performances that emerge’ (ibid.). However, although I agree with (and appreciate) the complexities that are encompassed by Balfour, Hughes, and Thompson’s spatio-temporal matrix, there remains a disconnect for me between their (and others’) theoretical expositions of the spatial and temporal nuances of war zones and the practicalities of incorporating questions of When in theatre-in-war work. It is this inability to link existing theory with practice that led to the quest for different ways to understand the importance of time in theatre-in-war work; a quest that is pursued through the three sections in this chapter: Time and the War, Time and the Play, and Time and the Spectator.

2The first section (Time and the War) explores the questions that emerge when theatrical spaces are created in the specific temporal zones of the war in question i.e., before violence erupts, during a time of active violence, in a time between violence and peace, and after violence. Following this exploration of how specific temporal categories of war might relate to questions of Why, Where, Who, and What, the second section (Time and the Play) discusses the complexities that stem from how time itself is denoted within a theatrical performance i.e., the play as showing events from the distant past, recent past, proximal future, or distant future. Finally, the third section (Time and the Spectator) uses Mark Hobart’s question (in Ginters, 2010: 11) — ‘when are audiences?’ — as its point of departure and outlines how and why durational strategies have come to occupy a central role in the crafting of spectators’ experiences in my theatre-in-war interventions. While the trajectory between each of the previous chapters (from intention to location to the identification of co-creators and spectators to aesthetic choices) holds an articulable sequence, time operates differently. In this vein, some of the questions of time and temporality in this chapter might benefit from being considered alongside a framing of intention; other temporal ideas might need to be explored in parallel with choices of location; other possibilities of time might be inseparable from a chosen aesthetic. Time and temporality therefore might be seen as intersecting with various points on a theatre-in-war intervention’s conceptualization and implementation timeline. Before moving on, however, I must admit to the reader that these questions of time and temporality have only recently entered my realm of investigation. As such, the discussions in this chapter are framed more often as questions and possibly evidence less certainty than my proposals in Why, Where, Who, and What.

Notes from the field
It was yet another beautiful evening in Guatemala. I think we were leaving Atitlan on a bus, or maybe I like to think it was Atitlan because that lake and her surrounding volcanoes remains one of the most beautiful sights that I have had the good fortune to encounter. Atitlan or not, I was on a bus somewhere in Guatemala with a group of actors, directors, and techies. We were touring eleven states in Guatemala as part of a series of theatre competitions that were being organized across the country by a governmental commission for human rights; a commission under whose auspices my colleagues and I were invited to be the organizing team. As part of this competition, students in schools across the country were asked to create theatrical performances that somehow related to the years of the civil war in Guatemala; how the nation was recovering (or not); the state of human rights in the country before, during, or after the years of armed conflict. I cannot remember if there was a more specific theme for this competition; what I do recall is that there was an exploration of the larger theme of ‘human rights’ in all the performances that I witnessed. The theatre competitions targeted young people in eleven different parts of the country and with all the privilege that comes from holding an undergraduate degree from an institution in the United States, I was asked to be on the jury for this competition. Despite my broken Spanish. Despite my relative inexperience in the context. I, along with two Guatemalan colleagues, were asked to rank the performances we saw in each of the eleven locations; the top ranking performances from each location were to be invited to a final stage of the competition in Guatemala City.
So, we were all traveling on a bus, for about two weeks, between eleven locations. I remember long conversations on that bus; conversations about the mundane and the utterly fascinating; conversations that were often accompanied by copious amounts of rum; conversations that, because of the aforementioned rum, necessitated a number of bathroom breaks along the way. I remember a lot from those interminable bus journeys. I also recall very little. Anyway. On one such bus trip, possibly from Atitlan to somewhere else, I was seated next to the man who had become one of my most significant collaborators/mentors/friends/colleagues in Guatemala. I’ve mentioned this man at earlier points in this book; how could I not. This was the man who used to be a guerillero during the civil war in Guatemala — you know, the one who used theatre for his guerrilla fighter combatants to entertain themselves with? The same man who used to plant bombs in the middle of the night in army establishments.
This man and I exchanged many a conversation over the course of our two weeklong bus trip. Often seated next to each other, our conversations flowed with ease. About life. About love. About theatre. In one of these conversations about theatre he asked me, “Why are you doing this project, Nandita? What do you want to achieve by looking at theatre in places of war?” “There is something fascinating to me”, I said, “that even in the darkness of war, there might be a place for art and beauty and theatre… That’s what draws me to this work”, I said, “that’s what keeps pulling me back even when rationality fails”. He smiled. Maybe it’s fair to say that he smirked. “There is nothing fascinating about war, mi amor”, he said to me — albeit condescendingly. “If you want think about theatre in places of violence, if you really want to help, go to a place where the war has ended — like Guatemala now — and work with artists like us. But when the war is actually happening… When the bombs are actually falling… There is no place for theatre”.
I found his words to ring untrue. After all, this was the same man who had used theatre during the years of the civil war. This was the same man who had conceptualized and executed a radio drama series that was aimed at entertaining his guerillero friends while they were hidden in the mountains away from their loved ones. This was the same man who went back to a life in the theatre as soon as he put down his weapons; who was committed to the theatre beyond a hundred per cent. How could such a man tell me that there was no place for theatre in a time of war? Hadn’t his life proven that there was?
But maybe that’s not what he was telling me.
Maybe what he was telling me was that there was no place for an outsider, like me, to make theatre in a time of war.
Maybe it wasn’t that theatre didn’t have a place in a time of active conflict,
Just that a theatre-maker like me, didn’t.
But then, couldn’t he have just said that instead?

Time and the War

3Before exploring how the temporal zone of a war might impact the theatrical activity that occurs in it, there are two clarifications that I would like to make. First, the considerations I offer below might be most relevant to theatre-in-war researcher-practitioners who are more outside than inside a particular context; the considerations below might be most relevant to a person ‘like me’. I say this since someone who has had the complete-insider lived experience of war might find the temporal categories I propose overly simplistic or as overlapping far more fluidly than they do from my particular vantage point. While I acknowledge the validity of these limitations, they are not ones that I can address within the scope of this chapter. Therefore, I admittedly speak from my own more-outsider-than-insider-experiences with the hope that readers will extrapolate as needed to accommodate their own positioning on the insider-outsider continuum.

4In addition to this clarification on positioning, the second explanation I would like to offer here is that I have taken special care to phrase many of my considerations in this chapter as questions rather than conclusive statements. I do this so that I will not give the reader a false sense of certainty in my thinking about the intersections between temporality, intention, positioning, and novelty; intersections that I continue to explore and develop in my work. Furthermore, I pose my thoughts as questions rather than conclusions since considerations regarding time will be intricately specific to particular contexts of war, and there can be no one-size fits all declarations. With these clarifications in mind, I would like to propose four kinds of temporal zones in which to consider the potential and challenges of theatre-in-war interventions: a time before violence erupts, a time during active violence, a time between war and peace, and a time after violence. In each of these temporal zones, I return to questions of Why, Where, Who, and What and interweave conversations from the preceding chapters. In so doing, I do not seek to create an exhaustive list of how theatre can manifest within a particular temporal zone of war. Rather, I hope that my questions will function as a guide for the reader to create their own matrices between Why, Where, Who, What, and the four temporal zones of When.

5Let us begin by considering a time/space right before a war actually erupts. I consider in this category the political climate in Rwanda in the months leading up to April 1994, for example, when large-scale violence had not erupted, and yet, there seemed to exist a shared understanding that the nation was poised on the edge of a precipice. The characteristics that emerge in this temporal zone of pre-conflict might be seen as including a struggle with structural inequalities, the emergence of heightened tensions and binaries between specific groups which might or might not be based in historical (mis)understandings, and/or a fragile and tenuous political climate in which there is an understanding that all that is required is a catalyst to set off the violence. In this temporal zone, a site that is on the brink of war but not quite in war, what are the considerations that might be relevant for a theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner? For instance, in a pre-conflict temporal zone, might an outsider theatre-in-war interventionist have a space to create work? Or is a pre-conflict temporal zone one in which space must be given to those who are more insiders on the positionality spectrum? Are there likely to be less identifiable grey zones in a pre-conflict situation since everyone needs to choose a side for the violence that is to come? In the grey zones of a pre-conflict zone, how might a theatre-in-war intervention engage with non-mainstream narratives without jeopardizing the safety of those voices? And finally, before wars begin — when there is a palpable atmosphere of the violence to come — might the anxiety levels necessitate a conservative use of novelty in the theatre-in-war intervention?

6These questions predictably shift when a place is no longer previolence, but becomes one in which violent conflict has erupted. For instance, since an active conflict zone is predicated on volatility and unpredictability, can a memorial afterlife be sought when the very notion of life is tenuous? And if the creation of a memorial afterlife might be a less plausible intention when using theatre during a time of active violence, might the more feasible approach (logistically and ethically) be one in which there is no intention to control the afterlife of a theatrical processor performance? And if this is the case, if theatrical spaces in this temporal category might best manifest without longer-term intentions, where might a theatre-in-war practitioner-researcher be best positioned on the insider-outsider spectrum? Will an insider’s embodied understanding of the contextual particularities enable them to frame spaces for beauty within a context of violence? Or will the outsider practitioner-researcher’s distancing from the partisan politics of the conflict more easily enable the creation of a theatrical space where inter/intra community dialogue (between ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’, or different groups of ‘victims’, or different groups of ‘perpetrators’) can occur? Do times of active violence call for more or less novelty in the theatre practitioner-researcher’s pedagogical and performance strategies? Although moods and coping potentials are likely to be negatively affected during active violence, can the excitement and curiosity that are generated by something novel become a needed mode of alleviating the stress of the everyday? While each of these questions will have a different context-dependent answer, by considering the temporal context of a war, we might find ourselves asking questions that better sculpt our intention, positioning, identity, and aesthetics.

7How might the above mentioned questions shift when we consider a temporal zone, which Carolyn Nordstrom (2004: 166) calls, ‘a time of not-war-not-peace’; a time that might be said to be composed of ‘a political reality we do not have a name for’? Talking about times in which ‘military actions occur that in and of themselves would be called “war” or “low-intensity warfare”.’ Nordstrom (ibid.: 166–167) argues that in situations of not-war-not-peace these actions are not labelled as such ‘because they are hidden by a peace process no one wants to admit is failing’. In such instances ‘acts of war are called “police actions”, “banditry”, “accidents” or they are simply not called anything at all — they are silenced in public discussion’ (ibid.). In such times of not-war-not-peace theatrical interventions entail different questions than before or during periods of active violence. For instance, in a time of not-war-not-peace, can the goal for a memorial afterlife become more tenable as compared to when a conflict is more active? Since violence is (at least visibly) on the decline and since a future post-violence might seem more imminent in a time of not-war-not-peace, would it become more feasible to consider the memorial afterlives of a theatrical intervention? And whether or not memorial afterlives can be better intended through theatrical interventions in a time of not-war-not-peace, is this temporal zone one in which someone who is further on the outsider end of the spectrum might have more room to intervene? In times of not-war-not peace, since many active combatants might have put down their arms, might theatre-in-war researcher-practitioners have better access to narratives that exist in the grey zones?

8While a time of not-war-not-peace can present more possibilities for the intentions and positioning of a researcher-practitioner, not to mention an enhanced ability to engage in the grey zones, aesthetically — in terms of judging the kinds and levels of artistic novelty that might be aspired for — might this temporal zone be the most tricky to navigate? While the more predictable (and possibly, perceptible) anxiety levels in an active conflict zone might enable easier decision-making in terms of the need for novelty in theatrical processes and performances, could the less-predictable anxiety levels in a time of not-war-not-peace create more challenges in assessing audience’s moods and coping potential?

9Finally, in the fourth kind of temporal zone, when there is a sense of ‘normalcy’ after violent conflict has ended, what possibilities and challenges emerge for theatre-in-war interventions? Might it be in this temporal zone, after a cessation of violence, that the possibility could emerge for an intentionality which is geared toward a tangible memorial afterlife? Do post-conflict zones become the spaces in which we might use theatre as pedagogical spaces in which to resolve inter or intra community disputes? Or is this when we might use theatre to create spaces for dialogue between those who hold opposing ideologies? Or when we might try and use theatre to, in some way, mitigate the after effects of violence? Given that the temporal zone of being post-conflict might allow for the easiest consideration of a memorial afterlife, might it also be in such times that we might encounter the most potential for theatre-in-war practitioner-researchers regardless of their identification on the insider-outsider spectrum? Since physical risks tend to be lower in a time of post-conflict as compared to a time of active conflict or a time of not-war-not peace, might we find more ethical ways of engagement as theatre-in-war researcher-practitioners across the insider-outsider spectrum? Aesthetically speaking, could it be that this particular temporal zone of being post-conflict might actually allow more novelty to be included in the process of a theatrical creation? And finally, since moods are likely to be more stable in a time after war, could the novelty invoked by the presence of an outsider theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner be more comfortably accepted by local collaborators and spectators?

10The four temporal categories of war that I present above do not contain the same degree of complexity as other matrices of spatial and temporal interactions in war zones; to some readers, my list of questions above might appear fairly ‘simple’. And yet, in looking at time and war as existing in the four overarching categories discussed above, I have found a multi-layered strategy with which to hone my own questions and considerations around Why, Where, Who, and What. Despite the simplicity of the approach, using the four temporal zones of war to create better questions about my theatre-in-war interventions has become a practical tool in my theatre-in-war toolkit. That said, there is one very apparent limitation to the approach outlined above: I only present the possibility of a particular place of war as occupying one temporal zone. However, what happens when a place exists in the temporal zone of not-war-not-peace while also being on the brink of a violent eruption? What happens when a conflict zone simultaneously occupies the space between being ‘active’ and ‘post’ conflict? What happens when overlapping temporal categories exist in a place of war?

Notes from the field
There might be many who consider Kashmir as being an active conflict zone. And they are not wrong.
However, given that there are many processes of disarmament and negotiation that are occurring in concurrence with the violence, there are some spaces in which Kashmir is more likely to be experiencing a time of not-war-not-peace.
There are also some temporal zones in which Kashmir might be seen as preconflict, until another catalyst forces that pre-conflict context into becoming either a time of not-war-not-peace or an active zone of violence.
And then, there are parts of Kashmir that are ‘post’ conflict — not because the wars have ended by any stretch of the imagination, but because various kinds of power and privilege have kept the violence at bay from the lives of a select few. These individuals’ temporal experiences of Kashmir’s conflicts are very different from those who inhabit less privileged and less powerful spaces.
Creating and performing theatre in Kashmir has come to involve a contemplation of how multiple temporal zones might coalesce in one site.
Making theatre in Kashmir has meant carefully understanding what a particular temporal zone within Kashmir might be experiencing at the time of my intended intervention.
Working toward theatrical interventions in Kashmir has meant analysing the likelihood of temporal zones shifting while I am on the ground; of making peace with the fact that the unpredictability of Kashmir’s temporal zones might lead to all my analyses and considerations going to naught.
Faced with the ongoing violence in many parts of the region, it is impossible to deny that many spaces in Kashmir are active conflict zones. And when I think of my work there, I have to admit to the equality of risk that my co-creators and I face... By equality of risk I do not mean that I face the same risks as my Kashmiri co-creators and spectators. I certainly don’t face the same risks since I have the privilege of choice. Since I have the option to leave Kashmir whenever events seem to be spiralling out of control. But that said, while the risks are not the same for my Kashmiri counterparts and myself, there is certainly a comparable risk that seems to exist for all of us. An equality, which means that if any party judges the work that I create in Kashmir as being too provocative, there will be dire consequences for me. Unlike Rwanda where I felt safe from physical harm as a possibly consequence of my work, that’s not a luxury that I have in Kashmir. There could be consequences on the ground; there could be consequences even after I leave. And while this equality of risk is sometimes terrifying and paralysing, it also — for me — has become the more ethical choice. Knowing that I am at risk, just as my colleagues and spectators are at risk, makes me more careful in how I create work in Kashmir. It makes me more sensitive to nuance. It makes me question my own moods. My own coping potential in an active conflict zone.
And yet, I also maintain that Kashmir is in a temporal zone of not-war-not-peace. That Kashmir has temporal zones in which there is a space for me to intervene theatrically, although I am from the ‘mainland’. A space that would not have been available to me in the 1990s, for instance, when Kashmir was experiencing a decade of active violence.
It is the not-war-not-peace dimension to certain spaces in Kashmir that enables me to engage in the grey zones of ex-combatant narratives.
It is the not-war-not-peace dimension that enables me to enter third spaces of relational/lateral violence.
It is the not-war-not-peace dimension that enables me to even attempt an engagement with the armed forces.
It is the not-war-not-peace dimension that enables me to experiment with novelty in relative safety.
Had I created Meri Kahani Meri Zabani (MKMZ, 2014) in the 1990s, when the violence in Kashmir was at its height… well, let’s just say that while I was only verbally accused of being a spy after MKMZ, in the climate of active violence in the 1990s, those same accusations would likely have taken a physical form.
During our Documentary Theatre project in which my Kashmiri co-creators and I worked with ex-militants, we were taken to a remote rural area by the facilitator of an NGO that works with returned combatants. The facilitator from the NGO was organizing the interviews for us and on this day, we went into a rural area — transferring between two or three different modes of public transportation to get there. “Welcome to Little Pakistan”, the facilitator told me when I stepped off the last jeep that had brought us to our meeting location. Unsure how to interpret this statement, I smiled benignly and walked forward. The facilitator of the NGO walked alongside me. “You know”, he said with a smile on his face, “if this were during the years of the militancy, if you had come here in the 1990s, the guys that you are going to meet would have kidnapped you”. He said this and then he laughed. I’m not sure if it was entirely a joke…
Had I created MKMZ in the 1990s…
I could not have created MKMZ in the 1990s.
Kashmir is composed of many temporal zones and one special temporal zone is that which is occupied by the families of the disappeared; young men (mostly) who were disappeared in the 1990s; some of whom disappeared even after the temporal zone of active violence was said to have ended. Some of these young men are thought to have either silently joined one of the militant groups, or as having been taken hostage by the Indian/Pakistani armed forces as informants or traitors. The disappearances have caused an entirely different temporal zone for those who await the young men’s return: a temporal zone that is not defined in terms of being pre, during, in-between, or post-conflict but simply as being before/after the disappearance of the person that has been lost. I am yet to enter this temporal zone in Kashmir, mostly because I have not been able to frame a theatre-in-war intervention in a way that rests easy with me. While I have certainly included narratives of the disappeared in some of my work in Kashmir, it is not work that has been created ‘with’ or ‘for’ the survivors of the disappeared who inhabit these special temporal zones.
I called the head of a Kashmiri NGO once.
An NGO that works to keep the memories of the disappeared alive.
I called the woman who runs this NGO; a woman who is considered by many as being one of the most well respected activists in Kashmir.
She was away on work when I called her and asked me to call her back in a few days to set up a meeting.
I never called her back.
“Tell me about the history of your organization?”
A friend had already talked to me about the history of the organization.
“Tell me who you have lost?”
An existing newspaper article interviewing this woman had already given me this information.
“Who are the half-widows?”
I sort of knew what I was going to hear in response to that one too.
I never called her back.
It has never seemed like the right time.
Each space I enter in Kashmir has involved (and still involves) a negotiation with the notion of time.
In Kashmir,
when working with young men and women who have not lived through the violence of the 1990s and inhabit post-conflict/not-war-not-peace spaces,
my articulations of provoking a memorial afterlife seem to be accepted.
In Kashmir,
when working with fellow artists in a temporal zone that alternates between being pre-conflict and being in a state of not-war-not-peace,
the demography of my collaborators allows an accessing of grey zones and an experimentation with high levels of novelty.
In Kashmir,
when interacting with spectators who have had the lived experience of the 1990s and seem to be in constantly anxious and nervous states of mind — who inhabit a temporal zone that is closer to being one of active conflict rather than one of not-war-not-peace —
my approach to novelty has been subject to much critique.
In Kashmir,
when speaking with ex-militants who now inhabit a post-conflict space,
my presence seems to be welcomed just as much as it is viewed with suspicion.
In Kashmir,
when interacting with members of the armed forces who occupy an active conflict zone,
there seems to be no time that can be carved out for something like theatre.
In Kashmir,
during one-off interviews and recce work,
the temporal zones are impossible for me to decipher since each particular group, each particular individual that I meet, understands their temporal positioning differently.
Temporal zones.
The impact of temporal zones on making theatre in Kashmir.
The intricacies continue to evolve.

Time and the Play

11Aside from exploring theatre-in-war interventions in terms of the temporal zones of violence in which they occur, I have also come to consider the implications of what kind of time is represented within the context of a theatrical performance. For example, Balfour, Hughes, and Thompson (2009a: 212) discuss the ways in which the Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani from Peru seeks to reimagine a ‘post-war nation in all its ethnic, cultural and geographical diversity’ by using a ‘multitemporal theatre that could explore different relations of past, present and future’. In this approach, Yuyachkani has been documented using strategies that invoke ‘specific characters, performance forms and motifs’ that ‘revived the dead and missing and let them speak to audiences in ways that represented hope for a better future’ (ibid.). Since Yuyachkani ‘believed that collective amnesia was both necessary and dangerous’, they use their performances ‘to find alternative ways of letting the past speak’ (ibid.). While Yuyachkani uses multi-temporality to let the past speak, for me, representations of time in a theatrical performance intersect interestingly with the realm of cognition: how do we, as audiences, co-creators, and facilitators, tend to interpret time (cognitively)? How might certain representations of time evoke particular kinds of responses? How might intersections between the theatrical representations of time (past/present/future) and the expected responses from spectators allow more considered decisions to be made when creating theatre in places of war?

12In considering the impact of temporal distance in cognitive processes, Yaacov Trope and Nira Liberman (in Schimmel and Förster, 2008: 53) suggest, that, ‘temporally distant events are construed more abstractly than temporally close events’. This is to say that ‘a person thinking about attending a concert a year from now might imagine the event in terms of more superordinate goals, such as having a wonderful experience’, as compared to when the same person thinks about a concert that is to take place the next day or in the foreseeable future — in which case, the event ‘might be construed in terms of more subordinate and concrete goals like ironing one’s pants’(ibid.: 54–55). Furthermore, the scholars suggest that ‘participants thinking about the distant future consider unconventional as more typical than participants thinking about the proximal future’ (ibid.: 53). Applying this proposition to the realm of art, researchers have ‘found that participants were more likely to accept unconventional artworks to the category of art’ once they had been primed to think about their distant future when compared to those who thought about their ‘proximal future’ (ibid.: 57). In addition to mood, coping potential, and information gaps therefore, the degree of novelty that we use in our theatre-in-war work might be influenced by the timeframe that is represented within the confines of our theatrical performance. Let us return to the example of MKMZ to explore this idea further: MKMZ was novel in both its aesthetic form and in the nature of its content. However, the time that we depicted in the performance was the present i.e., the current (2014) narratives and experiences of Kashmiri ex-militants. As a result, while the spectator’s moods and coping potentials no doubt inspired their critiques of MKMZ, could it also be that it was the ‘present-ness’ of the narratives in the play that influenced our audience members’ responses? What if we had set MKMZ during a time period in the distant future (2084, for instance), articulating the issues faced by ex-militants through the eyes of their children or grand-children? Extrapolating from Schimmel and Förster’s research, could it be that a future-oriented aesthetic framing might have led to our spectators being better able to accept the novelty of the ex-combatant narratives?

13The potential cognitive implications of the time that is represented in a play is furthered when looking at the realm of Construal Level Theory (CLT), which seeks to study how human beings process abstract versus concrete ideas. For instance, ‘one series of studies investigated temporal changes in the influence of information about superordinate goals (“why” aspects of action) and information about subordinate means for reaching those goals (“how” aspects of action) on evaluation and choice’ (Liberman, Sagristano and Trope, 2002: 524). In these studies the researchers find that ‘information about “why” aspects of actions was more influential in decisions for the distant future, whereas information about “how” aspects of actions was more influential in decisions for the near future’ (ibid.). It was useful for me to consider the application of this idea by looking at Augusto Boal’s (1985) Theatre of the Oppressed, especially Forum Theatre: a form that I have often critiqued for its focus on present socio-political oppressions and for its silence on the systemic causes that underpin conflicts. Looking into CLT, however, has caused me to re-evaluate my previous criticism and to allow for the possibility that Forum Theatre’s emphasis on the present realities of spect-actors might be precisely so that its audiences can see the impact of that situation on their proximal future and thus engage in problem-solving. Since Forum Theatre is predicated on generating solutions for current problems — on how a woman might deal with a proximal event in which her husband resorts to physical violence, rather than why domestic violence might be endemic to a particular society’s norms — CLT might indeed debunk my earlier critique about the form, since my earlier analyses did not consider the intersections between Boal’s intentions and spectators’ cognitive processing of the time (past, present, future) that is represented in a performance.

14Just as representations of the future can impact how spectators cognitively process a performance, it has also been suggested that ‘a distant past perspective is associated with higher construal levels’ — a notion in line with the idea that ‘concrete details fade away from memory more rapidly than general abstractions’ (Liberman, Sagristano and Trope, 2002: 532). This understanding allows us to consider the possibility ‘that memories of the distant past tend to be more abstract than recent memories’ (ibid.: 524). I return here to the example of the commemoration performance that I witnessed in Rwanda, one that is described in the Notes in the introduction, that the traumatized response from spectators might be explained by the proximity of their lived experiences to the events of 1994. What this observation suggests is that the very same performance recreating the events of 1994 realistically might evoke an entirely different response as the temporal distance from the genocide grows larger. Therefore, in 2025, if the same audience members were to witness the same play, would there likely be a less physically traumatized response and a more conceptual engagement with the memory of the events of 1994?

15Considering how spectators might construe an event based on its distance/proximity to the past/future suggests that the time that is shown within our theatre-in-war performances could impact how our intentions are actualized (the Why): for instance, how can we reasonably expect our spectators in a war zone to engage with abstract ideas surrounding the systemic nature of oppression when we are showing them events that are so closely tied to their immediate pasts that they cannot (cognitively) step outside the concrete frames of that event? The discussions concerning how spectators might cognitively construe an event based on its distance/proximity to the past/future suggest that the time that is shown within our theatre-in-war performances could impact how our sites are chosen (the Where): what is the theatre-in-war researcher-practitioner’s relationship to the time that is represented in the play? How does this relationship affect the facilitator’s judgment? The ever-evolving research on how audiences might interpret a represented event based on their own pasts, presents, or visions for their futures suggests that the time shown within our theatre-in-war performances could impact how we identify our co-creators and spectators (the Who): our decision to target audiences of high school students in Kashmir was based on this premise. And finally, the discussions of how spectators might cognitively respond to the depiction of an event based on its distance/proximity to the past/future suggest that the time that is shown within our theatre-in-war performances could impact how we choose our aesthetic strategies (the What): will Brechtian strategies of alienation be more effective in catalysing critical empathy if the events being performed in the play are from the audience members’ distant pasts rather than their immediate realities? While this manifestation of When — of the cognitive implications that stem from the time which is represented within a play — has only recently entered my realm of investigation, it is without doubt an area of research that warrants much more investigation in places of war.

Notes from the field
In our post-performance debrief with student audiences who came to watch Information for Foreigners: Chronicles from Kashmir (2015), one of the students shared his opinion that the performance was too intense for him. “I’m still disturbed by what you showed us”, this student said. “I don’t think you should have showed us that, ma’am”. When my Kashmiri colleague (who had accompanied me to the debrief) asked this student if it was not important for young people in his generation to understand the region’s history so as to get a sense of the events that had unfolded in Kashmir in the 1990s, the student replied “But sir, this is not history. The events that you showed us — the disappearances, the pain — those things are still happening now. This is not history. This is happening now”.
Further conversation revealed that this particular student was well versed with the events that took place in Kashmir during the 1990s. From the way in which he began to reference books that he had read and movies that he had watched, I also wondered if this student possibly had family members with lived experiences of the 1990s — family members who had shared their narratives with him. I mean, for all I knew, this student could have had the lived experience of some of those events himself. While he had not lived through the violence of the early 1990s, could he have personally experienced contemporary manifestations of acts like enforced disappearances, which were also widespread in the nineties? Whatever the reason, for this student, the events that we showcased in IFF Kashmir were not from the distant past. They were from the recent past; the present, even. And as such, this student was unable to disentangle himself from the details of what was represented in IFF Kashmir and was unable to look at the more abstract ideas about war, victimhood, grey zones, and perpetration that framed the narratives in the performance… Some of the other students in the group opposed this student’s view though, and suggested that it was indeed important for them — as young people who have not lived the violence of 1990s — to engage with a play like IFF Kashmir. While I simply took these opposing viewpoints as par for the course during the post-performance debriefs, when I returned to recordings of the feedback sessions after encountering ideas from CLT, another possibility emerged. Could it be that the students who were better able to discuss the abstract questions surrounding victimhood and perpetration in IFF Kashmir saw the events of the 1990s as part of a more distant past rather than a recent one? Could it be their perception of distance from the events that shaped whether or not the students found the emotional stimuli to be ‘too much’ in IFF Kashmir?
Other student responses to IFF Kashmir also asked us to consider the ‘future’: why show us the problems; why not show us the solutions? Although I had specifically stayed away from presenting solutions and other such ‘answers’ related to the future — since I didn’t think we were positioned to suggest solutions in any way — I wonder now, as we continue to build IFF Kashmir, what kind of temporal framing of the future might be most useful to the piece that we are creating. Since IFF Kashmir might seek to ultimately target an audience of non-Kashmiris, would it be more useful to talk about the distant future i.e., to consider why things are happening the way they are in Kashmir, in a more abstract sense? Or would it be better, for local and non-local audiences alike, to think about the how i.e. to think about the proximal future and how they might (as outsiders and/or insiders) act in the face of situations of conflict in Kashmir?
In order to nuance my understanding of these questions, I keep returning to my intention with IFF Kashmir. My intention is not to evoke a tangible memorial afterlife (of making my spectators activists about the Kashmir issue, for instance) but rather, to foster an intangible memorial afterlife that creates a learning experience for spectators. A learning experience in which Kashmiri audiences might be invited to look past the ‘victim’/‘perpetrator’ binary in a way that those who actually lived the violence of 1990s cannot. A learning experience in which non-Kashmiri audiences might be invited to consider the complicated realities of Kashmir, instead of simply boiling it down into an India-Pakistan conflict.
I haven’t decided how to deal with the future in IFF Kashmir.

Time and the Spectators

16Hobart (in Ginters, 2010: 11) prompts us with this question: ‘Suppose instead of asking “what are audiences?” we ask “when are audiences?”’ Ginters takes Hobart’s question further by suggesting that ‘this notion of temporality introduces a valuable line of exploration’ in which we might situate ‘being a spectator or member of the audience as part of an on-going process (and indeed collective activity) which pre-exists the attendance at a particular live event, and may have resonances which live on for many years afterwards’ (ibid.). In a simplistic sense, theatre audiences might be understood as becoming audiences at the moment during which the spectators encounter a theatrical event — be it an event that takes place in a formal venue or a more ‘invisible’ theatrical scenario that is encountered in an unexpected location.

17However, drawing from what Ginters refers to as a pre-existing audience that occurs prior to their attendance at a performance event, my thinking about when audiences become audiences is linked to the idea of process-based spectatorship (a concept that I have mentioned earlier in this book). Furthermore, my interest in process-based spectatorship also stems from my own experiences as an audience member to theatrical performances about and from contexts of conflict — a large number of experiences in which I have come away extremely uncomfortable at not having understood the complexities and nuances of the conflict being dealt with. In many theatrical performances about war that I have been a spectator to, I have experienced acute discomfort at the over-simplified ways in which complex histories of violence were broken down into palatable narratives that fit within a ninety-minute or two-hour timeframe. As a spectator, I wanted more time to spend with a performance about war; I wanted more time to become an audience member; I wanted more time to explore the nuances of the conflict being shared with me. Drawing from Ginters’ question and from my own grievances as an audience member, my most significant temporal considerations about the intersections between time and spectatorship have manifested in two explorations: the creation of a process-based spectatorship and the design of an extended duration for the theatrical event itself. I include my thoughts on this subject as analyses rather than in the Notes, since these are proposals that I am currently exploring and have not yet fully realized through practice.

18As discussed at other points in this book, the intention with my on-going work in Kashmir is to use theatrical processes and performances to create intangible memorial afterlives for my spectators, for my co-creators, and for myself. In particular, in thinking about the afterlives that I seek to create for my audiences, I have come to realize that the work that I am developing in Kashmir — of which IFF Kashmir (2015) forms the most recent instance — might ultimately be targeted toward an audience of non-Kashmiris (particularly mainland Indians) who want to know more about what is happening in the region. I say that the piece will target audiences who want to know more about Kashmir since, over the last decade, I have come to doubt the efficacy of getting (adult) spectators who are uninterested in a topic to engage with its complexities. However, although my longer-term vision for IFF Kashmir involves targeting non-Kashmiri audiences, the short and medium term audiences remain composed of people from Kashmir: Kashmiri audiences whose continued (critical) feedback will determine when and how IFF Kashmir is ready to be shared outside the region. Written as a promenade and site-adaptive performance, IFF Kashmir asks its audience to walk around different spaces in a building while witnessing distinctive narratives in each of those spaces. The elements that make this work novel to its short, medium, and long term spectators lie both in the aesthetic strategies that the piece uses (promenade and site-adaptive works are not too common in the subcontinent) and in the content that it showcases from the grey zones of Kashmir’s conflicts. As a result of these intersecting considerations, there have emerged two ways in which ‘time’ plays an important role in my vision for IFF Kashmir: the duration for which the audiences are audiences; the duration of the performance event itself.

19In terms of the former, I experimented with an approach to process-based spectatorship in 2015 by creating an extended timeframe for when my audiences would become audiences. Instead of spectators becoming audiences only during the theatrical encounter itself, IFF Kashmir’s (2015) spectators started to become audiences during pre-performance workshops a day prior to the performance, further complicating their identity as audience members both during the course of the performance and through being participants in a post-performance debrief a day after the performance. Moreover, in addition to this durational aspect of using pre-performance, performance, and post-performance sessions to consider when spectators to IFF Kashmir became audiences, I also spent some time considering the temporal duration of the performance event itself. IFF Kashmir in 2015 was a performance that lasted an hour and a half, in addition to a two-hour workshop the day before, and a two-hour debrief the day after for its student audiences. We (my Kashmiri colleagues and I) seek to develop this into a four to six hour long performance in 2016; culminating in the piece’s manifestation as a twenty-four hour immersive experience for non-Kashmiri audiences by 2020. It is envisioned therefore, that in the long term, non-Kashmiri audiences will be engaged in a three-day process as part of IFF Kashmir: a pre-performance workshop session, a twenty-four hour immersive experience, and a post-performance workshop session. A question that I get asked when I share these plans with colleagues both within and outside Kashmir is: who will want to commit that much time to a theatrical event? Not many, perhaps, but the more interesting question to me is: why might it be necessary to commit that much time to a theatrical event?

20Apart from my personal desire to spend more time within performances that speak to wars that I am not familiar with, cognitively speaking, it has been understood that events from our short-term memories become encoded in long-term memory only through the use of what is called elaborative rehearsal — when information is stored in a way that makes sense to the learner, when the receiver of new information is able to personally engage with the material. Elaborative rehearsal is placed in comparison with maintenance rehearsal, where new information is repeated in rote form, or mentioned over and over, so as to leave an imprint on the brain. Creating experiences that expand the time for which audiences are audiences is therefore a strategy that has cognitive underpinnings. Indeed, by spending more time in the theatrical world that we create for them, audiences to IFF Kashmir can more easily engage in processes of elaborative rehearsal. While it has been proposed that ‘the probability of an item’ s retrieval from long-term store varied directly with the number of rehearsals the item received’(Craik and Watkins, 1973: 599), what is of more importance for long-term retention (my goal of a memorial afterlife) ‘is the type of rehearsal rather than the amount of rehearsal” (ibid.). As such, we can assume that if the goal ‘is to create enduring long-term memories of the material’ — the material in this case being the narratives about Kashmir that are shared in IFF Kashmir — ‘memory codes’ need to be ‘produced through elaborative rehearsal — a type of encoding that links new information to information already in the long-term store’ (Ricker, 2015).

21But what does this discussion about elaborative rehearsal, retention intervals, and memory codes mean in practical terms? How might the durational quality in IFF Kashmir be crafted to create the conditions for elaborative rehearsal to occur? At the moment, my answer to this question involves the design of interactive installations within the IFF Kashmir experience; installations in which the audience will be invited to make links between their own experiences and those that are being shared with them (an extensive example can be found in the next Notes section). For example, one particular interactive installation has been conceptualized in relation to the narratives of Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus) who are said to have left the Kashmir Valley in the late 1980s/early 1990s at the risk of persecution by militant groups (though there are others who dispute this narrative).

22In IFF Kashmir therefore, right before the scene in which the audience members are led into a room that showcases the perspective of one Kashmiri Pandit family, they are asked to enter an installation space. In one section of this space, they see an open trunk; a trunk near which the spectators are invited to write responses to this question on small pieces of paper: ‘If you had to leave Kashmir tomorrow, what would be the most difficult thing(s) for you to leave behind?’ The pieces of paper with spectators’ responses are then placed inside the trunk and the audience members move on to the next part of the installation where another prompt is provided for them to self-reflexively contribute their voices to IFF Kashmir. Although quite simple in its execution, I chose the particular strategy of interactive installations so as to increase the likelihood for elaborative rehearsal to occur by enhancing what is called the ‘self-reference effect’ (the ‘superior memory for information that has been linked to long-term memories about one’s self’(ibid.)). This particular effect is thought to galvanize elaborative rehearsals because ‘the self is a well-developed and often-used construct that promotes elaboration and organization of encoded information’ and because we rapidly encode any information related to ourselves since ‘beliefs and memories about the self are tightly integrated and frequently thought about’ (ibid.). By incorporating self-referential interactive installations in IFF Kashmir, I hope to heighten the potential for elaborative rehearsal to occur and for intangible memorial afterlives to be catalysed.

23The two dimensions to time in IFF Kashmir — extending the time for which audiences are audiences through the creation of a process-based spectatorship and increasing the duration of the performance itself — are thus closely tied to my intention of provoking an intangible memorial afterlife for the short, medium, and long term target audiences of the piece. That said, I must admit that considering ideas like elaborative rehearsals, retention intervals, and memory codes have brought to light an ethically murky dimension to time as well. In thinking about time in this way I have to ask if I am, however inadvertently, trying to brainwash my spectators. With this focus on time and the cognitive implications of duration, am I going to generate a different kind of propaganda where the lack of direct and explicit messages is overtaken by the creation of a theatrical environment that otherwise (implicitly) transmits those very same messages (like the Stanford Prison Experiment)? Shaping time so as to more accurately reflect intentions, therefore, has ethical quagmires that need to be navigated. But that is beyond the scope of this chapter.

Notes from the field
An interactive installation space from IFF Kashmir (2016).
Before entering the installation space that is described below, the audience members have witnessed a scene that functions as an adaptation of the Milgram experiment — an experiment which attempts to understand how ‘ordinary’ teachers can be brought to the point of inflicting pain on their students by an authority figure; an experiment that Griselda Gambaro also depicts in her Information for Foreigners.
In all the sections of the installation there are existing answers that have been written by the actors/director so as to give the audience members examples of the kinds of responses they might include. An appropriate sound-scape is created. Although the audience may be uncomfortable in the seating arrangements in the other scenes, it is important that the installation spaces are very comfortable; there should be spaces for the audience to sit down and to relax.
Section 1: A table with this instruction placed on it ‘Describe a time when you felt you had to be complicit within an action that you did not agree with’. Audience members are provided with pieces of paper or post-its on which they can add their responses and place them on the table.
Section 2: A large black board with the question: ‘What is discipline?’ Audience members are welcomed to write on the board with pieces of chalk.
Section 3: The poem below is displayed on a wall. Next to the poem, there is a notebook with a question next to it: ‘What questions does this poem evoke in your life?’ Audience members are encouraged to make entries in the notebook.
by Lalita Pandit
I took pride in your
natural springs,
your navigable river.
Every April we went
to Mattan, offered libations
to the dead: my father’s dead
my mother’s.
No dead of my own then,
life was eternal.
I could sense it when we
gathered blue lotuses
to lay at a gold plated
doorstep, bronze sun disk :
majestic, bedazzling.
Thirty years journeyed
past us, leaving behind
hoof taps on stone.
Spring and autumn skies
grew old , listening
to night ragas.
Un-chronicled silences
of a very cold moon.
Apple trees you planted
in the backyard are tired
of bearing fruit.
They no longer blossom
in early spring ;
their leaves look pensive,
yellowed at the edges.
Whoever opens the front gate
will close it fast in my face,
without asking my name.
Still, my expatriate feet drag me
back to you.
Evening shadows stare at me
with blind eyes. Cool breezes
say: may be, only may be,
we knew you then.
What of that? Now you are
a stranger, an enemy.
Piles of garbage along
the hospital walls, broken bottles,
blood soaked bandages.
Black curtains on windows
tell me to go where I came
from. Children stare with
suspicion. They have learnt
to hate; they are afraid.
Hollow eyed ghosts
walk the streets
beneath a thin moon , muttering
curses, adding up the dead.
The hill looks like a camel’s back.
It is haunted.
Section 4: There are different words that are cut up on small pieces of paper and placed on top of a suitcase — perhaps the same words from Pandit’s poem above. On the suitcase there is an instruction: ‘Use these words to come up with your own poem about migration’. The audience members are free to play with the pieces of paper as they see fit, to create their own poem, individually or collectively.
Section 5: An open trunk with these instructions: ‘If you had to leave your home and could only bring what you could carry, what would it be? What would be hardest to leave behind?’ Audience members write their answers on pieces of paper and put them inside the trunk.
[It must be mentioned that I have designed the installations to be as low-tech as possible, given the limited resources with which we create our performances in Kashmir].
After engaging with the installation space that is described above, the audience members enter a room in which they witness the experiences of one Kashmiri Pandit family.

24Time and temporality have come to occupy multifaceted roles in my thinking about theatre-in-war interventions. First, the notion of When has proved to be a significant consideration in thinking about the temporal zones that a place of war might be experiencing (Time and the War): of being on the verge of violence; of facing active violence; of occupying a zone of not-war-not-peace; of having moved beyond violence. Using these temporal categories to create better questions around Why, Where, Who, and What is a strategy that I have found to be particularly useful in nuancing my decisions as a practitioner-researcher. Second, When has come to be significant in considering the temporal zones that might be represented within a theatrical performance itself (Time and the Play): events from a distant/proximal past or future and their cognitive implications for spectators (and by extension, for the co-creators and the practitioner-researcher). Understanding the cognitive construal implications of the times we showcase in our plays could influence our intentions, our aesthetic choices, our choice of co-creators and spectators, and the narratives that we decide to explore. Finally, When has come to be central to my work through the notion of process-based spectatorship and through the use of targeted durational elements that might heighten the potential for elaborative rehearsal to occur (Time and the Spectator). This particular focus on time and duration, while intended to create intangible memorial afterlives about narratives from Kashmir, also comes with risks of functioning as propaganda — risks that need to be considered and theorized before the final manifestation of IFF Kashmir as a twenty-four hour performance with pre and post-performance sessions in 2020. When, and the three ways of considering time that I propose in this chapter, are therefore avenues that I continue to explore in my work as a theatre practitioner-researcher in places of war.


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