A classic play, a modern tragedy

first_imgFor the past four years, the social justice-oriented troupe the Theater of War has brought together the worlds of ancient Greece and contemporary American Midwest in “Antigone in Ferguson,” created after Black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed in 2014 by white police officer Darren Wilson.This year, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the production team’s work online, creating virtual performances of Sophocles’ 2,500-year-old text and honoring Brown’s memory.Dated to 442 or 441 B.C., “Antigone” tells the story of Oedipus’ daughter and her quest to honorably bury her brother Polynices, killed during a civil war, against the decree of her uncle Creon, Thebes’ new king. The play deals with themes of divine justice and human law, family and civic loyalty, and gendered power dynamics. In the Theater of War production, which premiered in 2016, actors perform a staged reading of the work alongside a chorus of community members; the reading is followed by a facilitated public discussion about racism and police violence.On Friday, Theater of War will mount their second digital performance of “Antigone in Ferguson,” sponsored by Harvard’s departments of Theater, Dance & Media and the Classics, as well as other universities, including Duke and Georgetown. A related artist talk and Q&A session with Bryan Doerries and Phil Woodmore, respectively the show’s artistic director and composer/conductor, will take place Monday and is open to affiliates of Harvard affiliates and other sponsoring institutions.This week’s production features a one-hour reading of “Antigone” with actors including Tracie Thoms and Nyasha Hatendi, as well as New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. The performance also includes music from the “Antigone in Ferguson” choir, led by De-Rance Blaylock, a former teacher of Michael Brown. Doerries and social worker De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson will facilitate a community panel discussion on the play’s themes and their connection to racism and police violence, with a panel that includes Shamell Bell, a Harvard lecturer on somatic performance and contemporary global performance. “Michael Brown was not the thug that everyone claimed him to be … he was a kid who just graduated from high school and was ready to take care of business when it came to his life.” — De-Rance Blaylock For many involved in “Antigone in Ferguson,” the Theater of War production was personal: Both lead vocalist Blaylock and soloist Duane Foster taught Brown at Normandy High School, where the show premiered.“His murder took a huge toll on me,” said Blaylock, who now sings professionally in St. Louis. “So when I was given this opportunity to be a part of ‘Antigone in Ferguson,’ I jumped on the chance, because I wanted to let people know that Michael Brown was human. Michael Brown was not the thug that everyone claimed him to be. He was a human being, he was a kid who just graduated from high school and was ready to take care of business when it came to his life.“To be able to perform Greek mythology and compare it to what happened to Mike is amazing. To hear the responses from so many people around the world and still [be] hearing responses from people who saw our previous performance in August is amazing,” she said. “I’m glad that his name and his life are not, and were not, in vain.”Naomi A. Weiss, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of the Humanities, and Debra Levine , a lecturer on Theater, Dance & Media, spearheaded Harvard’s sponsorship of the production. They said they wanted to support a project that engaged audiences with classical texts at the same time it offered an avenue for artistic expression and community engagement on urgent social issues.,“The play itself is so fertile because its messages regarding justice, gender, and death are quite ambiguous. It’s quite difficult to disentangle,” said Weiss, the Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of the Humanities, noting that “Antigone” has been used in many media in the 21st century to explore questions of power and resistance. “I think that’s also what makes the production of ‘Antigone in Ferguson’ potentially very powerful, because it gives rise to these questions of interpretation, which can then hopefully challenge and complicate our views and actions concerning racialized violence and social injustice.”Weiss highlighted the importance of the chorus, which is made up of educators, police officers, faith leaders, and activists from St. Louis and New York City. While separated by the pandemic, the chorus continued their work over Zoom for the performances, including Woodmore’s powerful hymn “I’m Covered.”“These sorts of performances are very powerful, precisely because of the chorus. When these plays were originally performed in Athens … the chorus sang, and it danced, and it was made up of community members. So, in the ancient context, there’s a very strong connection between the audience and the chorus,” said Weiss. “It’s striking that ‘Antigone in Ferguson’ not only embraces the musicality and musical potential of the chorus, but also embraces its role as a communal voice and how the audience could have a deep relationship with it. That then works in turn to make the questions the production raises much more powerful.”Levine added that her department welcomed the chance to share resources to convene an audience for “Antigone” and help ensure that Brown’s life is remembered.“Theatrical collaborations that include community members and professional actors, that bring in gospel choruses and classical Greeks texts and Q&A conversations, are ways to imagine assembly differently, rather than valuing the work only as a perfectly realized aesthetic object,” said Levine. “I think that letting go of those aesthetic and commercial values and having different goals for what online performance can achieve helps us understand what is and is not successful about digital performance. The best digital performances help us transcend our feelings of isolation during the pandemic.”“Antigone in Ferguson” is designed to prompt serious and uncomfortable conversations about societal problems, but for Blaylock, it is also a space for healing.“I dedicate every performance to Mike, because I would not have this platform if it weren’t for his life and death,” she said. “I use my gifts and let people know that even throughout this pandemic, we still have to maintain that there is a little bit of hope left.”last_img read more

GAO looks abroad for food-safety oversight lessons

first_imgJul 17, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report examining the results several developed nations and the European Union achieved when they consolidated oversight of food safety in a single agency, a step often advocated in the United State for solving some of the problems linked to contaminated imported and domestic food.The report was requested by members of congressional food safety committees that are considering—amid widespread complaints that regulatory fragmentation hobbles the country’s food safety system—whether sweeping changes are needed to reduce the number and speed the investigation of foodborne illness outbreaks. The 101-page report was released Jul 14 but is dated Jun 2008.Coming amid the nation’s largest produce-related outbreak, in which tomatoes and jalapeno peppers are the top suspects, the report’s release is designed to assist lawmakers who face renewed pressure to consolidate food safety oversight under one agency. Several high-profile food contamination incidents have unfolded over the past 2 years, such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 in fresh spinach and ground beef and toxic chemicals from imported ingredients used in pet foods.In January 2007 the GAO added federal oversight of food safety to its high-risk series list, which marks it as a high priority for broad transformation to make the process more efficient, effective, and accountable.Within the last year the two federal agencies that handle most of the nation’s food safety efforts have issued their own safety plans. In October the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a list of proposals to reverse the upswing in ground-beef recalls and E coli illnesses. The following month the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an Import Safety Plan and a Food Protection Plan that proposed features such as enhanced inspection of high-risk imports and authority for mandatory recalls.The GAO said its report isn’t meant to compare the food safety systems of other countries with the United States, but rather to explore the processes other countries use and the challenges they face. The report looks at import safety and outbreak response methods in Canada, the European Union, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The GAO did not evaluate countries’ management of their food safety systems.Common themes emergeGAO inspectors pointed out that the United States shares some of the same food safety challenges as other nations, including the ones surveyed in the report. For example, imported food accounts for a growing portion of the food supply, consumers are eating more raw foods, and aging populations mean more people will be more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.”All [of the selected countries] are high-income counties where consumers have high expectations for food safety,” GAO officials wrote.The authors said the report follows up on a 2005 GAO report that described the approaches and challenges that seven countries (Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom) faced as they reorganized and consolidated their food safety systems into a single agency.Some members of Congress and consumer groups have called for a similar consolidation of the US food safety system, which is now divided among more than a dozen federal agencies.The GAO found several common themes in the national food safety systems:Farm-to-table oversight that focuses on avoiding problems throughout the food chainProducer responsibility for food safety, for both domestic and imported goodsSeparate risk-assessment and risk-management agencies, with some cases countries separating risk management from industry-promotion functionsCooperation between government veterinarians and public health officialsMandatory recall authorityIn examining how countries handle imports, the GAO found a high degree of coordination among the European Union, its member countries, and some nonmember countries. When food safety problems are found at one of the 300 EU inspection posts, a rapid alert is sent electronically, detailing the risk to human health or animal feed.The auditors also found that Japan sets yearly goals for import inspections of targeted food groups and places the burden of additional inspections on the importers.Most of the countries told the GAO that their procedures for tracing foodborne illness outbreaks are generally similar to those used in the United States. However, the EU has a traceability requirement for all foods that is designed to help speed outbreak investigations; producers at each manufacturing stage must document where a particular food came from and where it is going next—”one step forward and one step back.” Also, Canada, Japan, and the EU have mandatory identification programs for certain animals that document where the animals came from and where they were sent for slaughter. The countries use a variety of tools, such as ear tags, “passports,” or bar codes.Some of the nations said coordination between government veterinarians and public health officials is crucial, particularly when investigating zoonotic diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or avian influenza. For example, the GAO said a 2004 outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in cattle in the United Kingdom never struck humans, thanks to rapid communication between the country’s Health Protection Agency and the Veterinary Laboratory Agency.All the countries have mandatory recall authority, but said they rarely need to use it. For example, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said the authority is effective “because it is there,” contributing to better industry cooperation. The CFIA said it has ordered only seven recalls.Are system reorganizations effective?The countries the GAO looked at said they have not done comprehensive evaluations of their reorganized food safety systems. “One food safety expert noted that it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of a food safety system because it involves proving that something did not happen, i.e., that exporters did not try to ship unsafe food to a country,” the report says.However, several countries did track indicators such as number of inspections performed, number of enforcement actions taken, number of foodborne illnesses, and consumer satisfaction. For example, in the United Kingdom, the public’s confidence in the government’s ability to protect against foodborne illnesses was 60%, as compared with about 44% in 2001.In Japan, however, a consumer survey of the government’s risk communications found that the public did not understand the concept of assessing risk, which has prompted the government to try to better communicate its food safety role to the public and clarify its risk messages.Meanwhile, German officials sought feedback from stakeholders, who have suggested improvements in the country’s food safety system. Some of the stakeholders told GAO auditors that one benefit of food safety system reorganization is having a single contact point.Nations voice future concernsThe GAO queried experts in the countries about the challenges they expect to face over the next decade. The answers included:Climate change effects such the emergence of new pathogens and new patterns of disease spreadDemographic changes, such as an aging population and greater immigrationNew food trends and technology, such as new convenience items and the rise of processing systems that involve nanotechnology, genetic modification, and decontaminationIndustry changes that include consolidation in the food industry and an increase in global food trade.See also:GAO report on food import safety and foodborne illness outbreak response in selected countrieslast_img read more