Oh, What a Lovely War!
Pigott Theater, Stanford University, March 2016
Gianna Clark (MC) & ensemble | Photo Credit: Frank Chen
Written by Joan Littlewood & Theatre Workshop
Directed by Leslie Hill and Helen Paris
Dramaturg: Jessi Piggott
Oh, What A Lovely War! is a biting indictment of the economics of war and industrialized slaughter. Remarkable in its theatrical vision and variety, Oh What a Lovely War! juxtaposes vaudevillian music hall acts of galvanizing patriotic songs, comic turns, and satirical sketches, with darkly realistic scenes of trench life, documentary photography, and chilling ticker-tape statistics.
A creation of English director Joan Littlewood (called "the Mother of Modern Theater"), Oh, What a Lovely War! grapples with the horrors of World War I — one of history’s most significant and controversial events — while making theater history in its own right.
Press and Media:
Karla Kane, "Theater from the trenches: Stanford stages 'Oh, What a Lovely War!'" Palo Alto Weekly, 24 February 2016.
Lillian Bornstein, Bella Wilcox, Gianna Clark, Liliana Lim, Charlotte Dubach-Reinhold | Photo Credit: Frank Chen
Notes on Creating the Program
You often hear directors and performers talk about what they want an audience to take away from a production--a feeling, an impression, a question--but surprisingly little attention is paid to the object our guests will most literally take away: the program. Typically, the program serves a practical function, listing cast and crew credits, sometimes a director's note or interview with the playwright, and usually a good number of adverts for other shows and sponsors. It's light reading to leaf through as we wait for the lights to dim, and perhaps a memento to jog our memories of performances past.
As dramaturg for Oh, What a Lovely War!, I spent a lot of time thinking about different ways to use the theater as a place of learning, and the program seemed like a source of untapped potential. Inspired by the booklet-style programs of the Berliner Ensemble, I wanted to create something that our audience would take home and really read--something that could inspire spectators to continue the dialogue we hoped our show would initiate. This meant it couldn't simply be an extended director's note. It wasn't supposed to tell the audience what they were going to see, and far less what they should think. Instead, it had to somehow capture the ideas and questions the show prompted for us, not only as theater-makers, but as researchers, scholars and students. It needed to include a multitude of voices, perspectives, and forms: material that would demonstrate openness to a variety of responses.
While to this day, the Berliner Ensemble programs include the full script of the production, due to copyright issues we needed to find a different way to offer our audience points of reference. My solution was to create a timeline of major WWI events and present them together with a summary of the play (see pp. 27- 37 below). With this core of basic facts at the center of the program, the remaining pages follow various thematic tangents to map a broad network of interlocking ideas prompted by the script, its subject matter, and the production as a whole. Together with directors Leslie Hill and Helen Paris, we wrote and commissioned essays from Stanford scholars to focus on topics such as the show's history, the collective practices of Joan Littlewood's company, drag and stereotype, verbatim drama, and war and performance. As part of our collaboration with the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, assistant director Kellen Hoxworth conducted an interview with Stanford Professors Allen S. Weiner (School of Law) and Scott D. Sagan (Political Science) about using role play in classes that address ethical questions about war. This professional scholarship was placed side by side with brilliant essays and short reflections by the undergraduate cast and crew. They give readers a glimpse into a variety of student experiences arising from the rehearsal process, from the challenges of stylized acting, to feminist empowerment through song, to recognizing the classist erasure that too often accompanies memorial culture.
With photo research and a stunning design by TAPS publicist Stefanie Okuda, the final product archives some of the many experiences, ideas and questions that Oh, What a Lovely War! generated in our community.
Concept & Content Curation by Jessi Piggott, Design by Stefanie Okuda
Program, Oh, What a Lovely War!