She’s 18, loves horses, argues with her mom, and executes drone strikes for the US military.
Unblinking Eye is a “concert theater” experience led by Iris, a teenager who tells the story of her transformation into a drone operator for the US Air Force and later into an artist-activist. Inspired by Homer’s Iliad and epic poetry, the text weaves a story of war with heightened language grounded in Iris’s gritty, youthful point of view.
“Unblinking Eye immediately grabbed me with its human story anchored in a larger and very timely conversation about the ethics of war. Iris, the protagonist, feels like a strikingly original combination of the archetypal and the particular, navigating an American landscape presented in a way that I have not seen before. The language is so precise and emotionally resonant. The silences are deeply effective. The synthesis of colloquial and poetic language is profound. The way Justin uses spoken language to build the characters and the world of the play is mesmerizing.”
The script is the winner of a JM Kaplan writing grant and a Walter E Dakin Fellowship at the Sewanee Conference. It was also a finalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, The Stratford New Works Lab, the Playwright’s Realm Fellowship and the Jerome NYC Fellowship. The project was also a featured project with Creative Capital and a finalist for Map Fund support. Featured in American Theater Magazine.
Here is a “music video” adaptation of one scene, with music by Paul Kerekes. by Michael McQuilken.
Iris (Karen Light) and a chorus of two actors tell the story of her conflict of conscience at the helm of this new form of warfare – all while Iris lives at home with her mom. In this video, Paul Kerekes and New Morse Code (Hannah Collins, Mike Compitello) heighten each moment with Paul’s bracing, original score.
The text pays homage to epic poetry while depicting a 21st century conflict. Iris lives a hero’s journey, but, unlike most war heroes, comes home every day. Phrases, images and musical motifs repeat and revise with the 24-hour rhythm of Iris’ job. The setting in front of her crisscrosses Nevada, the Pakistani steppe, American shopping centers, and rural marketplaces in Pakistani villages while Iris remains mostly isolated in her dark trailer. She shares the work-induced distress with her anti-war mother and a major conflict of conscience ensues. Frightening images haunt her to the point when she resolves to infiltrate her base and hunt for the truth behind her last mission.
Unblinking Eye Development History
Summer 2013 – Initial experiments and pages
Fall 2014 – research trip to Holloman Air Force Base to interview drone pilots; first draft written.
Spring 2015 – self-produced readings at Lucid Body House (NYC) and Piano Fight (SF). JM Kaplan Grant awarded.
Summer 2015 – short “music video” adaptation produced; next draft written, research into epic poetry started
Fall 2015 – self-produced reading directed by Jessi Hill at Dixon Place (NYC)
Summer 2016 – Dakin Fellowship to Sewanee Conference
Winter 2018 – Presentation at Luna Stage directed by Jessi Hill
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