“Measure Back” was inspired by the theatrical strategies invented for the 2010 production of Jon Lipsky’s play “Living in Exile” at the Under the Radar Festival in NYC.

Lipsky’s script, written in the 1970’s but never professionally produced, imagined a pre-history of Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad”, set in a world evocative of 1970’s Vietnam. It was written to be performed by two actors in a real living room.

Co-directors Christopher McElroen and T. Ryder Smith staged the play to include various forms live media, audience-interaction, and actor improvisations, as well as extensive stage business and a third performer. These elements were not suggested or intended by Mr. Lipsky, and the play’s text was adapted to accommodate them.

At the conclusion of the run, Smith and McElroen decided to create an entirely new work and text based on the physical production and interactive strategies, and to expand their focus beyond “The Iliad” or any specific past conflict in an attempt to “measure back” to the origins of war in general. (They were happy to learn that Jon’s play received a production in Boston shortly after their own, which adhered more strictly to the form and style he had originally imagined.)

The new play was written by T. Ryder Smith, and received two productions in 2013, both co-directed by Mr. Smith and Mr. McElroen. (The Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, and Duke Performance Series, at Duke University.)

Following the 2013 performances, Mr. Smith substantially rewrote the play, and changed the subtitle from “a theatre event” to “a rehearsal for the end of war”.

Development of the project continues, with Mr. Smith working with new creative collaborators.

See “Productions” page for updates on performances.




Photos from the NYC production of “Living in Exile”.

IMG_6948 exile_31_2 IMG_6931 IMG_6933 exile_53_2_4 IMG_6940 exile_37 exile_13 IMG_6937 exile_24_2  exile_46_4 jay_7319exile exile_49_2 exile_19

Photos by Jason Goodman

Living in Exile, a play by Jon Lipsky
Under the Radar Festival,  NYC,  January, 2011
Directed by Christopher McElroen and T. Ryder Smith

Cast: Carmen Chaplin, T. Ryder Smith, Rasha Zamamiri

Stage Manager: Conrad Kluck
Production Assistant: Danielle Petrizzo
Scenic Design: Tijana Bjelalac
Lighting Design: Kate Ashton
Costume Design: Mia Bieonovich
Sound Design: Benjamin Furgia
Video Design: Alex Koch
Assistant Video Design: David Tirosh
Casting: Judy Bowman

A review of the NYC production of Jon Lipsky’s “Living in Exile”:

“Sunday afternoon took us to LaMama to see the final performance of Living in Exile by Jon Lipsky, directed by Christopher McElroen and T. Ryder Smith.
It was a disturbing and exciting show – very powerful, intimate and thought- provoking.
The audience is ushered into an apartment (there are only 17 people at a time) where they are seated around a living room table and surrounded by TVs, each playing something different. The hostesses offer us food and wine, take our coats and make sure we’re comfortable. We are encouraged to keep our phones on and, in fact, production assistants come by and take our phone numbers. As the banalities play in sensory overload on the television screens, everyone’s phones ring and we pick them up to hear a voice reciting The Iliad in ancient Greek.
That’s, essentially, where Smith takes over – narrating the story of The Iliad, playing the parts alternately of Achilles and Patrocles. In his effort he is supported by two lovely and talented actresses – Carmen Chaplin and Rasha Zamamiri – playing conquered women/priestesses. All of the actors acquit themselves admirably, balancing intimacy and “acting”, finding just the right tones at the right moments to bring these difficult scenes to life.
I admit, I’ve never read The Iliad (I know, I know) but what ensues in Living In Exile is as harrowing account of war as I have ever imagined. And not just any war but a brutal war of attrition that grinds on and on for ten years. (Much like America’s current wars).
In close quarters we learn of the depredations of war, the brutality inflicted on the conquered by the invaders, we learn of futile resistance and sheer inhumanity. All of it acted out, symbolically and viscerally, in front of you. Smith as actor is literally bringing the war into your living room. He transforms from new recruit to grizzled veteran before our eyes, slowly transforming from man to beast, from farmer to destroyer. It is an impressive performance. The actresses are also a powerful presence. In one sequence Ms. Zamamiri says her lines in what seemed to be Arabic. This added not only a layer of contemporary relevance but also reinforced the clash of cultures and misunderstanding in the original text. It is a simple effect but beautiful and disarming nonetheless. It is unclear at times whether the two women are playing one character or multiple characters, their identities shift, as does T. Ryder Smith’s and overall it reinforces the sense of bewilderment, alienation and confusion of war.
And all this is happening with the TV monitors silently and accusingly flickering in the background. We have been given video cameras and are videotaping the whole thing as it unfurls in front of us. The entire production is a conflation of the comfort of the living room and the violence of war and it definitely indicts us for our indifference and disengagement from the horrors our government is inflicting on others in our name. Or in the name of Democracy.
Of all the politically charged work I saw in Under The Radar, this one seemed to be the most disruptive and upending. It is partially a show, partially a ritual and exorcism and accusation. It marries all the technology of the moment to one of Western civilization’s oldest and starkest accounts of war to make the connection between past and present, to reveal how little has changed and to challenge us, finally, to learn from our history and try to take action.
Good stuff. Hopefully the show will come back in some form so more people can get a chance to see it.”
– Andy Horwitz, Culturebot, January, 2011


development of measure back 

Developmental reading
June 22, 2012
With Soraya Broukhim, Nick Hepsoe, and T. Ryder Smith. Sound by Ryan Downey. At The Invisible Dog Arts Center, Brooklyn.

November 11 – 14, 2012
With Susan Hyon, Lisette Medina, Meera Kumbhani, Nick Hepsoe, Hahn Tran, T. Ryder Smith and Christopher McElroen. At The Invisible Dog Arts Center, Brooklyn.

Developmental reading
June 23, 2013
With Meera Kumbhani, Marie Polizzano, Nick Hepsoe, T. Ryder Smith and Chris McElroen. At Local 61, Brooklyn.

Rehearsed in Brooklyn, NY, September 2013.

Performances at the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, October 2013.

Performances at Duke University Stages, Durham, NC, November 2013.

Performance of excerpts from new version at Dixon Place, NYC, October, 2014.

Performances of excerpts from new version at Dixon Place, NYC, January – March, 2015




contact us at: measurebacktalk@gmail.com