History before our eyes

In March 2004 Nicholas D. Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist wrote:

For decades, whenever the topic of genocide has come up, the refrain has been, ‘Never again.’

Yet right now, the government of Sudan is engaging in genocide against three large African tribes in its Darfur region here. Some 1,000 people are being killed a week, tribeswomen are being systematically raped, 700,000 people have been driven from their homes, and Sudan’s Army is even bombing the survivors.

And the world yawns.

And so began a series of searing, indispensable reports that would further distinguish Kristof’s career and, more important, shine a light on a mounting genocide.  
“One of the lessons of history,” he wrote, “is that very modest efforts can save large numbers of lives. Nothing is so effective in curbing ethnic cleansing as calling attention to it.”

And call attention he did.

Playwright Winter Miller had been working as a researcher for Kristof, and he agreed to let her accompany him on a trip to the Sudan/Chad border. There, she was immersed in bombed-out villages, watching people die and coming face-to-face with people who had lost their entire families.

She was on the ground, trying to learn, report, comprehend and aid. She also was wearing two hats—those of journalist and playwright—that often can intersect to create vibrant theater, and she started work on the script for In Darfur. She wanted to use theater to sound a rallying cry and help the people of Darfur. She has created a play admirable not only for its theatrical bravery and emotional impact but also for the activism it sparks and demands.

At TimeLine, I am indebted to my colleague David Parkes, who first called our attention to this play last year and championed it for production. Upon reading it, all of TimeLine’s Company Members were inspired to learn more. To read up. To better understand an incredibly complex situation. To find ways to make a difference. And to put this story on our stage.

As we’ve conducted research in preparation for TimeLine’s production, led by Associate Artistic Director Nick Bowling and dramaturg Maren Robinson, we’ve reached out to many extraordinary organizations and individuals doing important and tireless work. We’ve also discovered, to our discouragement, that many of the groups and movements supporting Darfur have dwindled in recent years as other worthy causes have garnered worldwide attention.

But Winter’s play, written in 2006 and set in 2004, has perhaps never been more important than now in early 2011.

As we publish this, new chapters in Darfur’s history are being written, following a referendum that began just days ago on January 9, 2011, when south Sudan—which controls more than three-quarters of the country’s oil reserves—voted on whether to secede and form a new nation. Initial results indicate that 99% of southern Sudanese voters have voted to secede. But the fallout from this vote could still ignite a new round of killing, adding to the millions of lives already lost. 
The full story is yet to be written. But history has proved that waiting for the perspective of time and distance is no answer in a time of crisis, especially amid an ethnic cleansing.

TimeLine always has aimed to be a place that brings people together to engage in a conversation about our place in history, to discuss how the past and present connect. Often our work transports you back decades or centuries. But sometimes history is being made before our eyes, in the here-and-now, with themes and storylines that ripple through time.

Our hope at TimeLine—and Winter’s hope in writing this daring play—is that you leave our theater with a hunger to learn more, talk more, do more and play an active role in impacting history. To aid that quest, we have included some starting points on where to gain information and make a difference. This information can be found online at timelinetheatre.com.

I offer my profound thanks to Winter for creating this work of art. We are proud to have her story on TimeLine’s stage.
 We look forward to welcoming you to the theatre to experience and discuss In Darfur.

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