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The ‘Suppliants’ Project : Ukraine comes to ND for annual forum

On Monday, Notre Dame will host its annual forum at the stadium. Because of this year’s theme is war and peace, Notre Dame has made its keynote event a presentation from the Theater of War Productions — specifically, their project The “Suppliants” Project: Ukraine.

Theater of War Productions uses ancient texts to draw attention to current turmoil and spark discussion. They do so by working with accomplished and awarded actors such as Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Jesse Eisenberg and many others, according to the group’s website. In addition, the company partners with multiple government agencies, universities and museums. Notre Dame partnered with the company for last year’s forum on environmental issues.

This year the company will be turning its focus to war and peace with a special focus on the crisis in Ukraine by doing a dramatic reading of “The Suppliants” by Aeschylus. The play portrays the story of refugees seeking asylum from violence and forced marriages. In addition, it shows the varying sides of a refugee crisis. 

“The play is as much about humanizing the perspectives of those refugees as they seek assistance as it is about interrogating the cost of providing assistance to those refugees within the city that ultimately accepts and protects them,” Bryan Doerries, the group’s artistic director said. “The reason we chose it is because of the fact that it really spans both topics of war and peace.”

The project, with its set focus on Ukraine, premiered in July, however, other cultures and conflicts have been highlighted by the company in the past. The idea behind the project is that it can show universal to the struggles faced by many people.

However, the performance is just a small part to stimulate meaningful discussion and allow people to discuss their own stories, according to Doerries.

“There was a woman … I remember speaking [to] from Nicaragua, and she spoke of the revolution there, and she spoke of living within an autocracy and a police state,” Doerries said. “When she was speaking during the discussion, it became clear that she was also saying things or entering into a space where the words had significance beyond just saying that she could be endangering herself or saying those words that she was meeting the Ukrainians in a certain space that wasn’t necessarily a safe space.”

The showing of the performance at Notre Dame will hit close to home for exchange students from Ukraine, like Yaryna Pysko, a first-year Master’s Ukrainian exchange student.

“It is my personal experience with the war in Ukraine that is going to be on display as the 2500-year-old text resonates with current events. But I believe taking part in it would be more therapeutic and cathartic rather than triggering,” Pysko wrote in an email. “I fully support the project and believe its mission to be connected to peacebuilding as it spreads awareness about and commences public discussion on global issues associated with violence, which can connect with a lot of people in the audience who went through similar experiences in different settings. This project allows voices and perspectives to be heard, for which I am thankful.”  

To Doerries, the location of the performance has profound implications. Notre Dame is known for a plethora of reasons, however, football is one of its main landmarks. Doerries feels that by having the performance in the stadium, Notre Dame is making a bold statement. 

“This [is a] protected place within this Catholic institution, where we’re now going to have this very challenging conversation about what we’re willing to sacrifice for people,” he said. 

Doerries noted the performance allows students to hear about real-world issues from the people affected.

“I think it’s also kind of great for Notre Dame to engage with us to do something that perhaps it couldn’t do otherwise, to create a different hierarchy of exchange,” Doerries said. “If we’ve done our work, the people who are speaking in the audience, in ordinary settings, would not necessarily feel empowered to be the ones who are speaking. … Perhaps they’ve never spoken before in public in their lives.”

In addition, Doerries stated the Catholic nature of the University is also able to play an important role in this production

“For me, there’s something tied to Catholicism, especially Notre Dame … and their interest and commitment to social justice and to protecting others who may not have the advantages that we have,” Doerries said. 

At the event, there will be food trucks with free food. Additionally, the first 500 students will receive free Notre Dame blankets. The performance will include actors Tate Donovan, Keith David and Anthony Edwards.

Doerries said the content of the project is applicable to all.

“This war in Ukraine and related wars across the country and the world not only are having an impact on people, which we should care about, but in this globalized world in which we live, we’re all interdependently connected, and it’s having an impact on us,” Doerries said.

Contact Emma Duffy at eduffy5@nd.edu