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July 27 – August 25, 2018

In The Way Things Can Happen, extras from The Day After, a 1983 made-for-TV movie depicting a nuclear attack on the United States, recollect their original scenes, now 34 years later. Having been filmed in the midst of the Cold War on location in Lawrence, Kansas and with a cast of five thousand locals, The Day After blurred the distinction between extras’ everyday existence and the movie and in doing so achieved the urgency and magnitude of live coverage of a national crisis – all with vast political and social implications.

In their retelling of their scenes from The Day After, extras omit references to the movie itself, further obfuscating the distinction between what happened in the film and in reality. A portrait of a city that once performed its own fictional destruction, The Way Things Can Happen queers time by stepping outside of linearity, creating a space for considering life where our country was destroyed by nuclear war and choosing a different path.

July 27  |  5-9pm Final Friday Reception

Artist Erin Johnson asked extras from The Day After to continue their 1983 performance, now 34 years later, by recollecting their original scenes from during and after the fictional nuclear explosion. The Day After was filmed on location in Lawrence, KS and director Nicholas Meyer cast 5,000 largely unknown local actors and extras for the film, so as not to distract viewers with prior associations. “For all intents and purposes,” he said, “they might as well have been the characters they played.” They often embodied their roles entirely – wearing tattered clothes, shaving their heads bald, not bathing, and in a scene portraying life in a disaster relief camp – filling their tents with actual belongings from their homes. Ultimately, they blurred the distinction between their everyday existence and the movie, between reality and fantasy. This blurring extended to viewers and their experience watching the movie. In this piece, Johnson asks: What arises when a city’s population participates in performing its own destruction and, in doing so, enacts a national nightmare?

In addition to recollecting their scenes, extras share their perspectives on Lawrence’s LGBTQ and activist history, the Cold War era, Midwest politics, and the recently renewed call for an arms race – providing insight to their lives during the making of the film and now. How can their reflections on enacting the unimaginable help us better understand our contemporary anxieties? Through applied theater techniques in a decontextualized black box theater, students addressed immigration, xenophobia, homophobia, and geopolitical conflict through the lens of The Day After’s scenes.


July 27 @ 5:00 pm
August 25 @ 9:00 pm
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Lawrence Arts Center