stories of genocide told on stage

Another person is wearing your clothes...

Another person is drinking from your cups, eating from your plates, and sleeping in your bed. Another person is living in your house. You’ve just returned from a concentration camp, and your life is not your own.

“Wouldn’t that make a great play?”

This was the question that Trina Davies’ father asked her when he sent her an article from The Guardian back in 2004. A Bosnian judge had just returned home and found her apartment, clothes, and life being occupied by a former typist named Ankica.

Fast forward to 2017, 13 years after the initial inception of “The Apartment”, the scene created from the initial article that began the life of the play, and The Bone Bridge finds its world premiere performance at the University of New Hampshire.

How did the The Bone Bridge, a play about men and women living through their pain and moving on after the wake of

the Bosnian War and attempted ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims come to be? How does someone react to the story of one person stealing another’s life, only to have them return from the concentration camp they thought there was no coming back from?

“What comes to mind first are questions,” said Davies. “To come back thinking only of your own home, having been expelled, having had these terrible experiences.”

She grew silent for a moment.

“It must feel like you’re mad”

This was 2004, before those responsible for the crimes were held accountable in world court. On July 21, 2008 and May 26, 2011, Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić, two of the most notorious names behind the Bosnian War and Genocide during the 1900’s, were arrested and tried at War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague in Netherlands.

After news spread, stories of death, genocide, concentration camps, and ethnic warfare were flooding in from Bosnia and Herzegovina. All were terrible, all were important. Bosnian Muslims were being targeted, sent to concentration camps, or outright killed throughout many parts of the country.

Another story, this time from British Columbia, Canada. A man named Branko Rogan once served as a prison guard in a concentration camp for Bosnian Muslims. He was recognized by a refugee while shopping in Vancouver, and put on trial in 2011.

From stories like this, The Bone Bridge slowly came together.

“My head just goes to ‘what is that like?’” said Davies.

“What happens when you come home from this… experience and you have to decide whether you open that up or don’t? Am I just going to pretend and put it all behind me, or do I make that a part of my life that I have to relive?”

Reliving past memories, especially those of pain and suffering, is a common theme in the play. How do the characters move on? How can they rebuild their life when they have endured this unimaginable pain?

Pain, is a motif that created the turning point in an unlikely character.

In The Bone Bridge, Davies created a character, named The Leader, who was an amalgamation of Mladić and Karadžić. It’s easy to write an evil character with no human attributes, but in order for the character to work, he needed to be believable. He needed to be human.

“There was a video of [Mladić] at his daughter’s funeral, and it’s fairly common to have a coffin with a viewing window for the face. He was standing over it and he just kept wiping the window, wiping the window over his daughters face, and he just couldn’t stop,” said Davies.

“And I thought to myself, ‘ahh, there’s the human’.”

Humanity is a core value at the center of The Bone Bridge- a woman comes back from a concentration camp only to find an old friend had assumed her life, a refugee who only wants to forget the pain of their past finds one of the people who helped cause it out shopping on an ordinary afternoon.

Davies got her first chance to fully develop the opening scene she had written, “The Apartment”, alongside the rest of the play while working with The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta. The company asked her to work on anything she wanted, and thoughts about the stories she had heard about the Bosnian War were compiled in a notebook. “It’s minus 30 degrees and I’m literally sitting in a coffee shop near the public library watching trial videos from The Hague on my laptop,” said Davies with a laugh. The first complete draft of The Bone Bridge was completed in 2013. Now, in 2017,

Davies has two completed drafts, a Canadian and American version, and one fully staged production here at UNH. Before coming to production, The Bone Bridge had to beat out over 240 other plays in the Woodward Playwriting Competition, which is a part of the Cultural Stages project. This project aims to bring in a deeper understanding of international cultures through the arts of theater and dance, and teach them to both the audience, and the cast and crew of the play.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Davies. “It’s a crazy awesome opportunity.” For senior Isabelle Beagen, the process was a little different. “It became a lot of trying to understand a war and genocide that I knew very little about,” said Beagen, the co-director of The Bone Bridge.

“This is the second Cultural Stages play I’ve been involved with that was about a genocide that no one knew happened.”

Her first, Sematakaki, was created by the Indonesian Papermoon Puppet Theater and produced in 2015. It dealt heavily with the Indonesian genocide of the 1960’s. Actor Serena Lockhart, who played the role of Branka in The Bone Bridge, had a similar experience.

“We did not hear about this, and most of the cast didn’t know this happened,” said Lockhart.

This was the first foreign piece that Lockhart had ever acted in, and she was amazed at the ability of the play to reach not only the actors, but also the audience every night. “It’s important to not only show people the different sides of the situation, but to show it in its entirety.”

To both Beagen and Lockhart, theater is a tool that can be used to transcend the differences in cultures, in order to create a story that both sides can learn from. “It’s crucial because it opens your eyes.” How do you see your life? How do you view your culture? How does it reflect among others? These are all questions that Beagen believes are important for the audience to consider when viewing a play like The Bone Bridge.

“It is a very specific play, in that it’s looking at very specific moments in a very widespread and complex issue.”

Beagen cites islamophobia as an example. In both history and the play, islamophobia was a key factor of the beginning of the Bosnian War, and the mass genocide of Bosnian Muslims. To Beagen, not reflecting on what is happening now in the world around us does injustice to the play itself. “Why this play? Why now?”

These were the key questions to Beagen, who started off her role in The Bone Bridge as a part of the selection committee in charge of choosing the winner of the Woodward Playwriting Competition. What is the role of cultural theater? Does it truly have the power to open people’s minds; To make them ask the hard questions they might not want to ask?

“Watching other cultures makes you understand [them] in a way that you wouldn’t from just watching the news or reading a book,” Beagen says. “It makes you think. It makes you think about your role in the world, and it makes you think about your connection to other people in the world.”


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