Theatre of War, an event co-produced by the Spektral Quartet and High Concept Laboratories, is an artistic investigation of the contemporary disconnect between the experiences of most citizens and those of people directly impacted by war.  Hosted by Chicago’s historic Chopin Theatre, this theatrical concert takes place just days after the city bids farewell to the NATO summit and aims to raise funds for the Vet Art Project. 

A collaboration between the disciplines of music, film, theater and the written word, Theatre of War is borne from a place of not-knowing.   The program does not provide a consistent position statement so much as it constitutes an inquiry into the alienation felt by many Americans: the alienation of the soldier from civilian life, of the average US citizen from victims of torture, of the dissociative, technological methods of remote-control weaponry from its human casualties —  and the notable lack of spiritual disquiet in our society at large as so much destruction occurs around the world.

“Stress Position”, by Chicago composer Drew Baker, is a fully-staged composition for solo amplified piano in which the performer, eighth blackbird’s Lisa Kaplan, is the subject of a kind of torture, stretched to physical limits at the extremes of the keyboard.  The audience first becomes aware of the pianists’ distress and soon experiences its own discomfort as the amplified sound of the piano increasingly overwhelms the space.  The piece demands that the audience question its own complicity in the persecution of the pianist and illuminates the contradiction of humankind’s most barbaric practices played out on an instrument symbolizing the ingenuity and refinement of our civilization.


The short films of Iraq and Afghanistan-embedded filmmaker Richard Mosse explore the theme of disconnection through three distinct points of view.  “Theatre of War” depicts a group of soldiers in repose, waiting for events unknown. The strange, silent majesty of the remnants of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces frames an otherwise mundane moment. Distanced as it is from combat, the audience is asked to contemplate a place called “Iraq,” something each has come to know largely by way of media coverage. This landscape, however, is depicted from the point of view of the soldier: a precarious exercise in waiting, in which quiet moments can be free of violence but frustratingly tedious.  “Gaza Pastoral” projects the anxiety and disorientation of an environment reduced to rubble, and the people compromised by the destruction of their surroundings.  The camera tracks across once-steadfast monuments of society now battered and in disarray.  At home, we may see this kind of devastation following a hurricane or earthquake, but here the deliberateness of the demolition here is unnerving.  Finally, “Killcam” juxtaposes scenes of soldiers playing combat-themed video games at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with leaked footage of remote-controlled, long-range missile attacks and helicopter strafing.  The psychological chasm between drone operators and their targets is apparent, as is the desensitization to violence embodied by the video games.  A wounded soldier captures the parallel in the final seconds of the film: 
“Over here is more of a computer game, because there’s less reality.  People only see and hear what they want to hear.”

A still from "Theatre of War" by Richard Mosse


 “Blackbird,” a short story written by Virginia Konchan and adapted for the stage by High Concept Laboratory’s Molly Feingold, explores the divide between those bearing the scars of war, both visible and invisible, and the psychologists rehabilitating them once home.  Venturing inside the mind of the soldier, tattooed with indelible memories, Konchan exposes the insufficiency of therapy as well as our synonymy with the doctor, sitting safely at a remove.  The limits of healing, however well-intentioned, are revealed to be rooted as much in the emotional permanence of war for soldiers as in our inability to comprehend this experience.


The poetry of Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska has been praised for an “ironic precision [that] allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”.  Her two devastatingly beautiful poems “Hatred” and The End and the Beginning employ precise, plain-spoken language to reveal deep truths about the nature of conflict and restoration.


  George Crumb’s quartet “Black Angels” forms the nucleus of the Theatre of War project as originally envisioned by the Spektral Quartet.  Inspired by the mood of the country at the time of the Vietnam War, the piece follows the journey of a soul through a fall from grace, to spiritual annihilation and finally to redemption.  For the members of Spektral, the battle evoked musically conveys the spiritual chaos surrounding war with its fragmentary writing and wide sonic palette.  The stateside unrest represented in the work appears largely absent from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Crumb’s quartet brings into contrast the protests and demonstrations of wars past with our own relative detachment.  Scored for amplified quartet and including numerological vocalizations, tam tams, maracas and water-tuned glasses, the effect is elevated, even surreal.  


At a singular moment in Chicago’s history, as world leaders discuss issues in global terms, the Spektral Quartet and their collaborators intend to bring a human-scale focus to the recent and ongoing operations in the Middle East.  We also endeavor to create a space in which the questions posited by the program’s works may be discussed after the curtain drops.  Following Black Angels, audience members will be encouraged to join the artists in the Chopin Theater’s lobby to share their reactions to the evening’s offering of music, poetry, theater, and film.




We are pleased to name the Vet Art Project as our beneficiary. All ticket-sale proceeds will be donated to this very worthy organization.

The Vet Art Project provides opportunities for veterans and their families to work in collaboration with artists to create art about war and service, and to foster discussion about how war and service affect us all.

Founded by drama therapist and social artist Lisa Rosenthal, this grassroots network of creative art therapists and artists offer therapeutic creative arts workshops, community discussions, and public performances of new art by veterans, and by veteran and artist collaborative teams, followed by talkbacks with veteran participants. The Vet Art Project is growing across the United States and around the world.

Read more about the Vet Art Project on their website: