A Public Advocate Takes the Stage | Sojourners

A Public Advocate Takes the Stage

Through Theater of War, Brooklyn's Jumaane Williams helps audiences process tragedy.
Jumaane Williams walks in front of a group of masked Black people crossing the Brooklyn Bridge
Jumaane Williams (center) leads a silent March for Black Lives across the Brooklyn Bridge in June 2020 / Shutterstock / Kevin RC Wilson

AS NEW YORK CITY'S elected public advocate since 2019, Brooklyn native Jumaane Williams is the ombudsman for more than 8 million people in all five boroughs, charged with overseeing city agencies and investigating citizen complaints. And, starting in 2016, when he was a member of the New York City Council, he has performed in more than 40 staged readings of plays, most of them classical tragedies, with Theater of War Productions.

Starting in 2009 with a performance of scenes from “Ajax” and “Philoctetes” by Sophocles that highlighted the issue of military PTSD, Theater of War Productions has presented dramatic readings of classical Greek tragedies and other plays followed by guided discussions linking their themes to contemporary social issues. It now has a repertory of more than 20 works addressing a wide range of complex social issues—from racism to refugees, gun violence to sexual assault, frontline medical worker mental health to criminal justice, and more. Essential to the experience are post-performance discussions in which audiences engage with the play’s themes, creating cathartic release and deepening understanding. During the pandemic, Theater of War has gone online, reaching a vast international audience.

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