About the project
The COVID-19 pandemic demands bold and decisive action in order to meet the needs of the medical community throughout the nation and the world, who may have few outlets to engage in healing, constructive dialogue with peers about the challenges they now face. In light of this, Theater of War Productions has retooled as a company to produce dynamic, online performances and discussions on Zoom’s webinar platform, in the style of its live events. The goal of these performances is to create free, easily-accessible opportunities for individuals, who may be struggling in isolation with trauma, loss, illness, grief, and distress, to name and communalize their experiences, connect with colleagues, and access available resources.
Theater of War Frontline is an innovative project—developed by Theater of War Productions, the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and the Johns Hopkins Program in Arts, Humanities & Health—that presents dramatic readings by acclaimed actors of scenes from ancient Greek plays for audiences of frontline medical professionals to open up powerful dialogue about difficult subjects, fostering a sense of connection and promoting health-seeking behavior. By presenting ancient plays to doctors, nurses, EMTs, respiratory therapists, and the frontline community about emotionally-charged, ethically complex situations, Theater of War Frontline aims to create a brave space for open, candid dialogue and reflection, fostering compassion, a renewed sense of community, and positive action.
Over the past decade, Theater of War Productions has honed its method and approach, through more than a thousand performances in medical and military settings, utilizing the power of the arts and humanities to dissolve hierarchies and generate a shared vocabulary for professional audiences to discuss stigmatized subjects. It is precisely because Theater of War Frontline does not feel like medicine that it is an effective intervention for medical professionals, who are often reluctant to express vulnerability, acknowledge error, or seek resources or help. Theater War Frontline presents a healthy alternative to standard medical debriefings and offers a dynamic way for clinicians to step back from their professional roles, bear witness to their own experiences, and come together as a community—without having to narrate their trauma—by discussing and interpreting empowering online performances of ancient plays.
About the plays
Ajax by Sophocles
Sophocles’ Ajax tells the story of a fierce warrior who is passed over for recognition by his command after losing his cousin Achilles in battle during the Trojan War. Feeling betrayed, Ajax attempts to murder his superior officers, fails, and—ultimately—takes his own life. The play tells the story of the events leading up to Ajax’ suicide, as well as the story of his wife and troops’ attempt to intervene before it's too late. The play also depicts the devastating impact of Ajax’ suicide upon his wife, son, brother, troops, and chain of command.
Oedipus the King by Sophocles
Sophocles’ Oedipus the King tells the story of an overconfident ruler during the time of a great plague, who refuses to listen to trusted advisors, ignores prophecy, and—after launching an investigation—discovers that he is the source of the contagion that is ravaging his people and his land. Upon uncovering the truth about himself and his role in the disaster, the king loses nearly everything—his crown, his wife, his power, his country, his honor—and wanders off into exile, a fate worse than death in ancient Greece. Oedipus the King is a timeless story about leadership, accountability, and the challenges faced by citizens and elected officials during pandemics and plagues.
Philoctetes by Sophocles
Sophocles’ Philoctetes tells the story of decorated warrior who is abandoned on a deserted island because of mysterious chronic illness that he contracts on the way to the Trojan War. Nine years later, the Greeks learn from an oracle that in order to win the war they must rescue him from island. When they finally come for him, the wounded warrior must overcome nine long years of festering resentment and shame in order to accept help from the very men who betrayed him.
Women of Trachis by Sophocles
Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, tells the story of Heracles—the strongest of all Greek heroes—who has been unintentionally poisoned by his wife, Deineira, after she discovers that he has fallen in love with a younger woman. In an attempt to win back her husband’s affection mistakes a lethal toxin, which was given to her by a dying centaur years ago for a love potion. Deineira sends him a robe dipped in the liquid. When Heracles puts on the robe it immediately eats through his skin, muscle tissue, down through his bones to the marrow. Heracles falls to the ground, clutching his sides, crying out in pain, calling for his teenage son, Hyllus, to come to his aid and to help him put an end to the seemingly endless waves of pain.
Theater of War Frontline Trailer
Throughout 2020, under a grant from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, we have presented Theater of War Frontline to the following frontline communities: The Johns Hopkins Hospital, NYC Uniformed EMS Officers Union, American College of Emergency Physicians, NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens, NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, Mount Sinai Health System, Doctors Without Borders, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler, Lenox Hill Hospital, NYU Langone Health, and Montefiore Medical Center.
Theater of War Frontline: Mount Sinai
On Zoom / 2020
Frances McDormand, Frankie Faison, and Marjolaine Goldsmith in Theater of War Frontline: Mount Sinai on November 19, 2020. Read the article in The Washington Post.
Theater Of War: Using Greek Tragedy To Help Frontline Medical Workers Cope During Covid-19
Forbes / 2020
Read the feature about Theater of War Frontline in Forbes. Amy Ryan, Anthony Almojera, and Chad Coleman in Theater of War Frontline EMS on July 30 2020.
Dramatic interventions in the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic
The Lancet / 2020
Read the feature in The Lancet
Frances McDormand plays Hercules in The Women of Trachis
on Zoom / 2020
Frances McDormand plays Hercules in The Women of Trachis presented to the Baltimore and Johns Hopkins medical community in June 2020 with The Berman Institute of Bioethics in response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Frankie Faison plays the Chorus in Philoctetes and The Women of Trachis
on Zoom / 2020
Frankie Faison plays the Chorus in Philoctetes and The Women of Trachis, presented to the Baltimore and Johns Hopkins medical community in June 2020 with The Berman Institute of Bioethics in response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
David Strathairn plays Philoctetes
on Zoom / 2020
David Strathairn plays Philoctetes presented to the Baltimore and Johns Hopkins medical community in June 2020 with The Berman Institute of Bioethics in response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Hyllus in The Women of Trachis
on Zoom / 2020
Jesse Eisenberg plays Hyllus in The Women of Trachis presented to the Baltimore and Johns Hopkins medical community in June 2020 with The Berman Institute of Bioethics in response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Theater of War for Frontline
Panel in Theater of War Frontline with Johns Hopkins Bermen Institute of Bioethics. This panel includes a nurse, a respiratory therapist, a medical student, and an ER doctor.
A conversation about death, begun 2,500 years ago in Greece
UCSF / 2018
Theater of War for Medical Communities was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle
Jesse Eisenberg, David Zayas, and Frances McDormand
On Zoom / 2020
Presenting Sophocles' Women of Trachis during Theater of War Frontline at Lincoln Medical Center.
Frankie Faison, Jesse Eisenberg, and David Zayas
on Zoom / 2020
Presenting Sophocles' Philoctetes during Theater of War for Frontline Medical Providers at Lincoln Medical Center.
Frontline: Doctors Without Borders/MSF
On Zoom / 2020
Frances McDormand, Nyasha Hatendi, and Frankie Faison in Theater of War Frontline: Doctors Without Borders/MSF.
Pandemic & Climate CrisisThe Oedipus Project
The Oedipus Project presents acclaimed actors reading scenes from Sophocles’ Oedipus the King as a catalyst for powerful, constructive, global conversations about the climate crisis, ecological disaster, environmental justice, and healing online conversations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon diverse communities throughout the world. Sophocles’ ancient play, first performed in 429 BC, just after the first wave of a plague that killed nearly one-third of the Athenian population, is a story of arrogant leadership, ignored prophecy, intergenerational curses, and a pestilence and ecological collapse that ravages the archaic city of Thebes. Seen through this lens, Oedipus the King appears to have been a powerful tool for helping Athenians communalize trauma and loss, while interrogating their own complicit role in the suffering, not just of those around them but of generations to come.
Caregiving & DeathKing Lear Project
The King Lear Project presents streamlined readings of scenes from Shakespeare’s King Lear to engage diverse audiences—including older adults, caregivers, and family members—in open, healing, constructive, discussions about the challenges of aging, dementia, and caring for friends and loved ones.
HomelessnessThe Oedipus at Colonus Project
The Oedipus at Colonus Project presents readings of scenes from Sophocles’ final play, Oedipus at Colonus, as catalyst for powerful, community-driven conversations about homelessness, the immigration and refugee crisis, and the challenges of eldercare during and after the pandemic.