Preview: University theater’s production of ‘Scorched’ bound to stir audiences
The house lights fall, only to be replaced by brighter lights illuminating the stage. The bright colors of costumes bounce off huge video projection screens; a masked stage chorus sings as piercing live gunfire interrupts. Scorched is not your typical play. It is full of fantastical elements and serves as a glimpse into the life-changing reality of war.
With a large cast and crew of about 30 people, Scorched aims to bring audiences in and make them understand the realities of the emotional, physical and mental trauma that those who’ve been affected by war experience every day. More specifically, the play portrays what those overseas in Syria are enduring in the wake of the country’s civil war.
“What [Scorched] does is it takes this interpersonal family conflict and uses it as a setting for the greater issues that come with war, like refugees, war trauma, children suffering from war,” said director Michael Malek Najjar, who spent years going to bat to be able to bring this play to the university level. “And it also deals with what happens when a war is over. How do you go on living after going through something like that? It has many deep issues in it, and we often leave rehearsals weeping.”
The play has been in production since the beginning of fall term, with acting rehearsals beginning at the start of winter term. The hours of practice are necessary in order to bring the play to life in the most historically accurate and emotionally connective way possible.
“There’s no way to do a play like this without [having] a deep sense of empathy for the characters,” Najjar said. “It’s not enough to “act” the play, you have to read survivor accounts, you have to read what’s going on in the war, you have to read testimonies from those who’ve survived and witnessed the war.”
This goes as far as watching the horrific massacres, reading about human rights violations in Syrian jails and having to think about these events as if they were happening to the actors themselves. This type of method acting often leaves the cast shaken and emotional, but with a better understanding of the purpose behind the show.
“My hopes are that [the audience] will go on this emotional journey with the characters and come out the other side empathizing more with people who they may not have and understanding there’s another way out of this, and it doesn’t always have to be dealt with the way we do militarily,” Najjar said.
Scorched is set up so audience members are close, surrounding the stage rather than watching from a distance, and will watch scenes of violence unfold in front of them. While this may leave some feeling uncomfortable or upset, it is an honest truth of what so many people have experienced in their lifetime.
“I don’t want it to feel like a story about ‘over there,’ ” Najjar said. “I want it to feel like it’s happening over here.”
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