Sky Theatre Group explores modern warfare’s psychological effects on individuals and communities with an original new play, Soldierland, written and directed by Rzgar Hama.

Playing the Orpheum Annex in May, Soldierland is the story of three soldiers who have just survived a war but missed the last train home. Left behind in a desolate area near the front lines, they find themselves in a demolished train station.

Exploring the crippling changes war can bring to society and the environment, Soldierland questions love and humanity in the digital age.

In this Q&A, Vancouver Presents spoke with Soldierland writer & director, Rzgar Hama, and actor John Macanas, who plays Siya.

Soldierland plays the Annex (823 Seymour St, Vancouver) until May 24. Visit skytheatregroup.com for tickets and information. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What is Soldierland about?

Rzgar Hama
Rzgar Hama directs his own play, Soldierland, at the Annex in downtown Vancouver until May 24.

Rzgar Hama: Soldierland is a shout against war; it goes deep into the general effects of war on those who participated, civilians and all other organisms in the world. I have many friends who support saving nature organisations, speaking about climate changes, worried about environment pollution, but there was something important missing in their arguments. The real reason behind all those issues is war.

Soldierland reminds us that a war in Afghanistan, in Syria, or anywhere else, testing nuclear weapons, and basically all kinds of war has a serious effect on all the world including pollution, global warming and climate changes. Let alone all the obvious effect of wars on demographics, mass destruction of cities, sickness and that 70 million people who are displaced as a result of wars around the world.

What was the biggest challenge rehearsing this show?

Rzgar Hama: The greatest challenge was in finding the right actors for all the characters, who can accept the symbolic, poetic and simple language in different parts of the script.

Also, being a foreign artist and producing this play alone and as a visible minority in Vancouver, introduced my abilities as an instructor and play director to the actors who never saw me or my work. For the first four months, besides being a director, I had to be the stage manager and occupy all the other responsibilities as well.

What has been a major joy working on this show?

Rzgar Hama: After a few months working with the actors, we have decided to have an open rehearsal to celebrate the World Theatre Day. We have invited theatre friends, and after the rehearsal they stayed to talk about the play and then Dr. Marv Westwood, and Dr. George Belliveau, made a video to talk and give expert commentary on the play.

What did you tackle first with the actors given the subject matter?

Rzgar Hama: It was very important to encourage the actors, who don’t have any physical experience in the army or war, to search and study wars, get in touch with their relatives who might has been to war. I asked the actors to find any veterans to speak with and ask them about what they’ve been through out there, asked them to read biography books by army people. I had to encourage them to find the importance of the script’s subject for our time, and they come back with many inspiring ideas to make them the bases of building their characters.

Tell me about your character?

John Macanas plays Siya in the Sky Theatre Group production of Soliderland.
John Macanas plays Siya in the Sky Theatre Group production of Soliderland.

John Macanas: He is definitely a complex character who I will still be thinking about after this play is over.

Imagine living in a world where there has not been much choice given to you. A world where the choices in society have been suppressed, from the type of education you can have, the way you are disciplined, the types of job you can have, where you live, what you can say, that’s all been planned out for Siya.  Dreams are for losers in Siya’s world. Patriarchy, militarism, how to be man, what it is to be a man, is the way to have lived a good life.

In order to achieve that, war is the path. In geographical regions of war, which could be Afghanistan, it could be Israel, Lebanon, Chechnya, Somalia, Mindanao in the Philippines etc. I can go on and on, these are the plight of characters like Siya who live in places like these.

Why should people come see this show?

John Macanas: I believe in valid points of views. A subject matter can have various opinions, but a valid point of view with a stance from someone who has lived through things related to the subject matter can provide people coming to this show something to think about.

Soldierland may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but some teas are hard to swallow. Sometimes humanity and the things we do to each other as humans are hard to swallow. Theatre and in particular, this piece of theatre, is a reminder of our humanity and our responsibility to each other no matter how hard it is to swallow.