On the morning of Jan. 25, 2006, a middle-aged woman was seen outside of Lincoln Hall attempting to tear down a PSU banner. She was visibly agitated as she tried to pull down the large red vinyl banner that read, “Oh, What a Lovely War.” The sign was advertising the upcoming PSU theater department winter production. A nearby student rushed in to intercede and was told by the woman that the banner was promoting the U.S. war in Iraq and that the U.S. occupation in that country was wrong. Coleman, a PSU student and cast member, approached her and explained that the poster’s images of rifles, helmets, barbed wire and musical notes were in fact an advertisement for the musical set in WWI and that the show was ironic and not promoting war in any way. Upon hearing this, the woman declared that the theater department was profiting off the Iraq war. As she left she began yelling at students in the plaza telling them they needed to do something about the people in the theater. Normally sleepy Lincoln had come to life and soon all the students in the area knew about the protesting woman.
Why had she tried to rip down a tall banner tied to a piece of steel piping? Did she understand that this was an advertisement for an artistic piece and not a promotion of current U.S. policies? Are the students taking advantage of the war for their own purposes? As students retold the story, these questions kept surfacing. When I heard about the hubbub, I though it was so weird. I am a new grad student at PSU and had just moved across the country from North Carolina, a “red state” filled with military bases. Back home, the vocal activists who protest about the war are usually in favor of a U.S. military presence in Iraq. But, I guess no matter how people feel about the war, most folks these days have an opinion about the war and feel passionately about “what we should be doing.” That passion is where the arts come in. Art ?” when it is at its best ?” reflects life. An artist’s job is to tap into those forces that move people and use them to explore real human dilemmas. Real life struggle is our inspiration. We may be calling to attention the lack of wisdom and the tragic lessons of the past, which have become stagnant in our minds, that war is not pretty nor is it good business. Social commentary lives in art and is free to make the expressions of the unheard known, whether they be the people of the country or the soldiers who carry out orders with diligence even when they disagree with the policies. When art strikes a chord in a way that a member of the community feels that they must express their opinions, we embrace that passion and encourage them to learn more about what theater is doing and why. I would like to invite the person who felt so strongly about “Oh, What a Lovely War” to come see the show. If you still feel strongly about our direction, well, then I look forward to hearing from you – and I am sure we will.
I encourage you, the people, to judge for yourself whether or not the theater department is out of line. We want you to come and check out “Oh, What a Lovely War.” The play runs from Feb. 16 ?” 18 and 22 ?” 25 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday the 19th at 2 p.m. in Lincoln Hall. You can get tickets by contacting the box office at 503-725-3307.