Feeling The Great War

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The Great War

Wednesday marks the opening of yet another innovative theater company using video to enhance their artistic vernacular. The group is called Hotel Modern. It will perform a theater piece called The Great War. The group does something they call "live-animation performance" in which they create an entire miniature world, in this case the trench warfare of World War I, which killed off an entire generation of Frenchmen, on a table in front of an audience and project it onto a movie screen.

Here's a snippet from today's feature:

The Great War entails using stalks of parsley as trees, cardboard boxes as houses, and toy soldiers as infantrymen to recreate a miniature tableau of trench warfare on a table located in front of a live audience while photographing and projecting the devastation and horror of it all onto a wide movie screen.

By making us constantly aware of the representation's artificiality — that is, by recreating live mini-scenes of No Man's Land in real time with readings from letters home by real soldiers — Hotel Modern pierces the numbness of our desensitized minds and refreshes, as it were, our sense of the ghastliness of war.

Unlike cinema, it never tries to seem real. The Great War is different from, say, The Great Debaters. While the latter wants us to forget we're watching a representation of reality, the former wants us to remember, and in making us remember it's not real, it makes the casualties of war seem more real.

"It makes the inconceivable conceivable," says Pauline Kalker, co-founder of the group. "You can show the scale of the war's devastation. You can show hundreds of soldiers dying. So many died. So many more were wounded."

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