by Laura Stephenson
Approaching this project was daunting. There is so much going on, so many layers. First though, I have to say-- It’s crazy how relevant the script is. As fortunate as we are to live here, it’s hard for us to comprehend what is actually happening in Ukraine or Gaza, right? There’s just no possible way to know what that fear, what the kind of daily life is truly like. There is a completely different mentality when you are living in a war zone. Every day things, normal boring stuff is thrown into extreme levels of danger. There is the chance that any moment can be utterly blow apart in an instant.
When you first meet my character, Dahlia, the Bosnian war is still going on literally right outside her window. There’s a large possibility that her entire family has been killed, her hometown destroyed— that she has very, very little left. And during that same moment, the man she loves is going back home to America. Back home, to be with his wife. He’s going back to safety and comfort, after having robbed her of a life she can hold on to. I mean, YIKES. That’s some pretty intense shit that I’ve certainly never been through.
So, where exactly do I begin? – I’m playing a character whose entire historical background and life alone I can barely even grasp. As an actor, my imagination has to be my greatest tool. I exercise it often, but with this show, it is hard to know if I am truly doing justice to what that must have been like. Even with research and being alive during both the Bosnian War and Invasion of Afghanistan— I watched from a television screen, or an internet media outlet. I was very distant and very safe.
We were incredibly lucky to have a Q&A session with an actual war zone reporter, Timothy McNulty. Hearing his stories sounded like something straight out of the movies. There’s no real way to comprehend the magnitude of what he saw and lived through, unless you had been there too. I left rehearsal that night thinking about what an incredible life this man has had so far, and how brave and intelligent he is— and how I could never do anything like that. I am a complete wimp! It genuinely blows my mind that he is excited about going to Israel in a couple of months. WITH his journalism students.
Not that I’m a total square, but I’m certainly not about to throw myself into a war zone.
And yet, that is exactly what my character does. Well, first Dahlia was born into the Bosnian War- but she chose to stay, write and find the humanity where there was little to none to be found.
And that… that is where I was able to find some common ground when playing Dahlia. I completely understand wanting to be a voice for those who can’t be heard. Trying to find that little bit of hope in the rubble, to feel it and bring it out into the open- that is something that makes us want to see stories like this one. I took a lot from this idea, and it created further life for the character.
I will also say that this play focuses so much on the personal relationships of these people- which is a fantastic gift to the actors. Relationships. There’s something I can understand. Maybe not all the specific layers included in this show- but it’s much easier to play make believe when you get at least 50% of what your character is going through. And those relationships really are at the center of this story. Despite the desperate circumstances surrounding it, the story is very personal and very grounded in human connection. It can be hard to understand the ways in which a person visits, or attempts to even live in a war zone. But we can access the soul of these characters because of how very human they are.
I am incredibly proud to be part of such a remarkable show. These stories feel real. These people could have actually lived. And when I watch the other scenes, I am genuinely moved by the vibrant lives and the sheer will these characters have to come alive. I only hope the audience will enjoy the journey as much as I have.