By Byrne Harrison
Name: Sergei Burbank
Play: War Crimes
Relationship to production: Playwright
How did you first get involved in theatre?
I was drafted into acting by my late, great high school director and collaborator, Marlene Clary -- but never took it seriously as a vocation. When I left high school, I claimed to be done with acting forever...and auditioned for the first show I saw in college. By the time I left college and came home to New York, I had resigned myself to the fact that I'm pretty much stuck trying to do this.
Who are your biggest influences?
Charles Bowden, Jonathan Coe, and Leah Bonvissuto
What is your show about?
War Crimes imagines a time about a decade in our future where terrorism returns to our shores; in reaction, Americans erect detainment camps for Muslims where atrocities are inevitably committed. The play begins as the former American President is about to go on trial for those deaths at the Hague, and a former camp guard risks everything to testify against him. Add some filmed scenes and the ghost of a 17th Century Dutch merchant, and that's pretty much it.
What inspired you to write it?
I wrote the first draft of this play in 2006, when I was flat-out exhausted with being angry at our then-government's actions all the time. Instead of demonizing those I disagreed with, I tried to analyze them like I would dramatic characters -- what were their motives? I envisioned the future they thought they were protecting the country from, and then set out an argument why I thought they were wrong. This is the end result.
What made you want to perform in an eco-friendly theatre festival like Planet Connections?
The central tenet of this script makes it particularly well suited for this festival, as we argue that the lives we lead are not sustainable. Having produced independent theater for a bit, I'm struck by how wasteful and short-sighted it can be -- and the constant stress of budget and schedule constraints make it seem necessarily so. I'm so grateful to the Planet Connections Festivity organizers for showing indie theater producers another way: we can produce good work and do it sustainably.
Planet Connections is fairly unique in that a portion of the box office for each show is donated to a charity. What charity have you chosen and why?
We've chosen to support the advocacy efforts of Amnesty International. Much of the play's action revolves around the International Criminal Court at The Hague; in Amnesty's efforts to promote human rights and the rule of law, a permanent international forum for justice has huge importance.
Currently, the ICC is a forum from which a large number of Americans instinctively recoil. Hopefully our script does its part to cast it in a less villainous light -- either through our message of the importance of accountability and justice, or because we show that the people inside the ICC can be petty, back-biting jerks like the rest of us.
What's next for you after Planet Connections?
We'll be recording live episodes of our bi-weekly podcast [conflicttheater.podOmatic.com] over four nights as part of the BoCoCa Arts Festival from June 23-26 at the Archip Gallery Theater [498 Court Street, Brooklyn]. Tickets are available here.
And finally, if you could go back in time and meet yourself as a kid, what advice would you give your younger self?
Hey, Younger Self: calm the hell down.
Written by Sergei Burbank
Directed by Sara Wolkowitz
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Venue: The Robert Moss Theater, 440 Lafayette Street, 3rd floor
Fri 6/4 @ 7pm
Sun 6/6 @ 9pm
Thurs 6/10 @ 9pm
Sat 6/12 @ 4pm
Tues 6/15 @ 6:30pm
Thurs 6/17 @ 6:15pm
Sat 6/19 @ 9pm
Sun 6/20 @ 6:30pm