It’s Not a Manifesto

An interview with Ben Turk and Tracy Doyle

If you’ve been approached by a young man carrying a red suitcase and asked to buy a T-shirt featuring George Bush’s face and the words, “Mess with Texas,” you’ve met Ben Turk. Likely his comrade Tracy Doyle was with him, peddling their goods. They may have even tried to sell you model cars and other toys painted red and emblazoned with the hammer and sickle logo of the former Soviet Union. For a moment of your time, they’ll tell you about their idea of entrepreneurial communism and their discontent with W. However, Turk and Doyle’s endeavors have evolved beyond T-shirts and toys. In 2003 they wrote, produced and directed their own play, ReVerb, a modern adaptation of Sartre’s No Exit. Combining art and activism with a touch of style and humor, their second play, Bring the War Home, written by Turk and directed by Doyle, will be staged this month at the Astor Theater.

Bring the War Home takes on some of our era’s most pressing political questions by using a template from another troubled time in America’s past. The play is loosely based on the lives and actions of the infamous Vietnam era radical group the Weathermen. Set in the near future when the current conflict in Iraq has escalated, a core group of radicals ponder violence as the only means to further their cause. For those familiar with the documentary The Weather Underground, the characters’ names should strike a note. Playwright Turk took the liberty of using some of the real Weathermen’s names for his characters. Turk insists the play isn’t about the war as much as it is about asking what the next step is to cause political change.

Noize: Why theater? Do you think it’s as effective of a vehicle for change and commentary as it once was?

Tracy Doyle: Yes. I think it can be a beautiful vehicle. To me theater can be very emotional. I just saw Miss Saigon in London and at the end, there was not a dry eye in the house. The entire huge place, everyone’s crying. Some movies can get people to react like that, but to get people to laugh and respond and to really interact, it’s [difficult] … Laughing and crying is more shallow than what we want. What we want is to get people to get up and to think, which is much harder.

N: So it’s more organic. There’s an actual interaction between human beings as opposed to just a projection on a screen.

TD: Yes. There is definitely interaction. The actors play off of the audience and the audience feeds. It goes back and forth.

Ben Turk: Theater is the best medium, and I think that it can be as effective as it has been in the past. I don’t see movies, I don’t see Michael Moore’s documentary as being anything other than a commodity. It’s just another thing that people go and watch and buy. And it doesn’t really put that many people into action. Look at Fahrenheit 9/11. How effective was that movie? I really feel like if that movie was truly successful, then we would have had a better Democratic candidate and we would have had a different election result.

TD: Do you think this play is really going to be that successful?

BT: If this play reached the same number of people as that film did, yeah.

N: Who do you see as your target audience?

TD: Young people.

BT: Yeah. Activists.

TD: Some people who still have a chance; I mean, activism has always targeted young people because young people are the ones who still have energy and the desire.

BT: I would like if anybody came and saw it, but I think it’s mostly written for people who already think about these things, who already have their position on the war. I want them to kind of change the way they think about things. The play is not about the war; the play is about what we should do about the war. It’s a statement about America and what we should do in the face of a war that we already know is wrong.

N: Your press release is explicit about the dissatisfaction with the electoral process and the current war. If there had been different election results, would you still have put this on?

BT: Yes.

TD: I say no. I bet you wouldn’t have because he was writing this play before he went to Europe. He had been working on the idea for a really long time, and then the election results happened and it was like, “Okay. Should we leave the country? Well, what are we going to do if we stay here? I guess we could put on a play and that’s a good enough reason to stay.” If [Bush] hadn’t won, then we probably wouldn’t have that motivation to do it.

BT: Yeah. We wouldn’t be doing it now if the results were different, but I was writing it about six to eight months ago; right after I saw the documentary. I was working on a play with similar themes right at the end of Reverb, but it was stagnant. It wasn’t going anywhere. Then I saw the documentary and I thought, “That’s a much simpler package for these themes.” And I realized I could just put this together and put it out that way. Then I started doing some research and [the script] languished again. Then Tracy saw the documentary at the end of August, and she said, “We have to do that play. This is good. This is really important.” So I started working on it much more in earnest. The basic outline was written before the election results. When the election happened, we got this place booked.

TD: Like within a week and then we committed to it.

BT: So we made that decision and since then, we’ve been running and living on the edge of financial ruin and lack of sleep and everything for the play. Making the decision really kicked us into high gear.

N: Are you using this play as a call to action, and if so, what do you recommend as audience members’ first step from just being vocal to being active?

BT: It’s a call to action but it’s not a straightforward call to action. It’s not a manifesto. It’s a call to action in that more action needs to be taken. As far as what, specifically, people should be doing, it’s much more up in the air. How could the current anti-war movement be more effective? It could raise the stakes, and raise what they’re talking about. The war in Iraq has nothing to do with American people’s security; the war in Iraq is making us less secure as American people. It’s creating a haven for terrorists. The justification the Bush administration uses for this as the war on terror is complete bullshit. The war on terror is just a way for them to pursue an aggressive international foreign policy. It’s the same thing as the Cold War and the left isn’t talking about that. They’re just talking about how peace is beautiful and we should be peaceful, instead of talking about the real actualities of what’s going on with this war. They’re turning up the rhetoric, but that’s not enough either.

Bring the War Home will be performed at the Astor Theater, on the first floor of the Brady Street Pharmacy, 1696 N. Astor St. Showtime is 8 p.m., January 14-16, 21-23 and 28-30, 2006. $6 suggested donation.