Blog Posts for arts and healing

Writing Plays about the Military

Posted by Tammy Ryan, May 16, 2013 1 comment

Tammy Ryan Tammy Ryan

“Every artist worth a damn in this country was terribly opposed to that war….We formed sort of a laser beam of protest.  Every painter, every writer, every stand-up comedian, every composer, every novelist, every poet aimed in the same direction. Afterwards, the power of this incredible new weapon dissipated. Now it’s like a banana cream pie three feet in diameter dropped from a stepladder four feet high…”     

-  Kurt Vonnegut http://progressive.org/mag_intv0603

It’s been over forty years since the Vietnam War, the time of protests in the streets underscored by the visceral antiwar response that erupted from artists in the 60s and 70s. Now at the end of a decade of war, critics have complained about the dearth of new American plays about Iraq and Afghanistan, but it isn’t because they aren’t being written. Many American playwrights have been taking this subject on since the first Gulf War and while war stories still feel very much part of the male mythology grab bag, women playwrights, such as Naomi Wallace, Karen Malpede, Arlene Hutton, E. M. Lewis,  Andrea Stolowitz, Jami Brandli, Caridad Svich, and many others are writing plays that dig into this grab bag in personal and political ways.

Given the climate for politically minded plays in this country, I asked myself as I was about to write a play about rape in the military: why would I do it? Plays take a long time to research, write and get produced.  I was looking at a commitment of three to five years maybe longer and I had a number of roadblocks, not the least of which was the fact that I knew next to nothing about what it was like to be a woman in the military. What do I have to say – and maybe more importantly what good does it do? Given the coterie nature of the theater in this country, we often feel like we’re preaching to the choir. 

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The Graffiti of War: Conflict Art and Bridging the Cultural Gap between Civilian and Warfighter

Posted by Jaeson Parsons, May 16, 2013 0 comments

Jaeson Parsons Jaeson Parsons

The cultural chasm separating the civilian and the warfighter has never been wider. Most of the conflicts in 20th Century American history have relied on conscription, better known as the draft, to fill the ranks of our armed forces. The Global War on Terror of the 21st Century has been and continues to be fought by an all-volunteer force and because of this, the gap continues to grow as more and more professional soldiers shoulder the weight of a decade of conflict.

The typical soldier joins the military right out of high school, most have never lived outside of the town they grew up in and even fewer have visited another country. These men and women are just out of childhood when they join the military and many of them have fired a weapon in combat multiple times before their first drink in a bar at age 21. The military culture is all they know of adult life and once they are separated from this family of sorts, the civilian world is as alien to them as the sands of Iraq were when their boots first hit the ground. After multiple years in combat, witnessing man’s inhumanity to man, they are forever changed and trying to relate to their generational civilian counterparts is almost mission impossible. This is the divide, the cultural gap that separates those who have witnessed the horrors of combat firsthand and those who have simply watched the events unfold on CNN. We, as a nation, must construct a bridge over this divide to bring together this fractured generation and not let yet another war separate so many of our military heroes from their civilian brothers and sisters. Art, in its many forms, can be that bridge we so desperately need and art is what inspired our project, the Graffiti of War, which aims to bridge the divide and join our nation together like never before.

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Tragedies Help Communities Heal from Timeless Wounds

Posted by Bryan Doerries, May 16, 2013 0 comments

Bryan Doerries Bryan Doerries

One of the first people to speak after a Theater of War performance was a perfectly kempt military spouse with blonde hair, striking blue eyes, and a soft, unassuming voice. She leaned into the microphone, took in the crowd of nearly 400 Marines and their spouses seated shoulder-to-shoulder in a dimly lit Hyatt Regency Ballroom in San Diego, cleared her throat, and said: “I am the proud mother of a Marine, and the wife of a Navy Seal. My husband went away four times to war, and each time—like Ajax—he came back dragging invisible bodies into our house. The war came home with him. And to quote from the play, ‘Our home is a slaughterhouse.’”

The Marines all held their breath, as if kicked in the gut with a steel-toed boot. In the back, a small group congregated around a cash bar, nursing Budweisers, staring at the floor and waiting out the silence. In the far back, there was even a dinner buffet, though no one seemed in the mood for eating.

Those Marines who had elected to attend the reading of scenes from Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes, or as one Marine called it, our “little skit,” had been attending a conference in August of 2008 on Combat Operational Stress Control, the Marine Corps’ way of referring to post-traumatic stress without pathologizing it. They had freely chosen ancient Greek dinner theater over tickets to a San Diego Padres game, and many of them had brought their spouses and girlfriends to the performance. The bar and buffet certainly helped draw the crowd, as did the presence of several well known actors, including Jesse Eisenberg and David Strathairn, but no one who showed up that night had any idea of what was about to happen.

Many of the Marines came expecting to see a fully staged reenactment of the 300 Spartans bravely standing down the Persian Army at the Battle of Thermopylae, featuring hack-and-slash swordplay and pyrotechnics. But when they discovered four actors in their street clothes sitting at a long table in front of microphones, wielding scripts instead of battle-axes or spears, many of them were visibly disappointed.

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Soldiers on Stage

Posted by David Diamond, May 15, 2013 0 comments

David Diamond David Diamond

First of all, who knew that there were theatre companies on US Army bases? Who knew they had annual one-act play and full-length play competitions? Who knew that working as a mentor to the directors of those plays existed as a job?

My supervisor, Jim Sohre, recently retired as Chief, Entertainment (Music and Theatre) Program, U.S. Army Europe, created the Mentoring Program in 1995: I started the concept when we got actor, director (and personality!) Charles Nelson Reilly here to judge our Army Europe One Act Play Festival in Heidelberg.  He not only critiqued, he got right up on stage and re-worked scenes with the groups.  So it was more a working Masters Class.

I began working as a Mentor Director for the same Festival. This involved traveling from base-to-base throughout Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey and Northern Italy. There are about 20 bases that participate in the annual competition; I visited 14 of them. As Jim explains, Well, first, by bringing in mentors/judges from the US we are able to get top notch industry professionals who can provide contemporary input and training that is not available here in the English language.”

Each base I visited has a theatre company that regularly presents plays and musicals for the residents of the base. These companies include not only soldiers, but their families, other military personnel, non-military base workers, etc. Since the funding for the theatre companies and their facilities is at the discretion of the base commander, they operate under wildly different conditions. In Stuttgart, you have an entire performing arts complex with theatres, rehearsal spaces, everything state-of-the-art; in Grafenwoehr, plays are presented in a corner of a former basketball court using only clip lights and a boom box for tech. Still, it is remarkable what they are able to produce.

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The French Lieutenant's iPod (excerpt)

Posted by Tim Mikulski, May 14, 2013 0 comments

...And now, just now, there is something about the way the light hits the glass or the smell of the dust in the air or the shudder of the helicopter as it turns, something, and I know that this is my last field mission. I'm done. I've seen enough.

So the French Lieutenant and I sit side by side in the aircraft flying back to Abeche, both settling into the recesses of our iPods. I choose "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones; he chooses "Civil War" by Guns 'N Roses. I'm sure this means something, but I'll have to wait to think about it. This place is complex enough without trying to draw some great metaphorical significance out of the music two westerners choose to listen to while we fly away from the problem.

-excerpt from Ron Capps' “The French Lieutenant’s iPod”

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Walking Wounded

Posted by Tim Mikulski, May 14, 2013 0 comments

Walking Wounded
By Maritza Rivera

I used to dance
and carry your weight
effortlessly across
the floor.

I used to walk
the distance of your gaze
keep cadence when you marched
kick a soccer ball past the goalie
score winning runs
dash to the finish line.

A bullet whispered your name
before you heard the shot
before you felt the sting of it.
When you regain consciousness
I will be a ghost of searing pain
reminding you of how I felt
before the lights dimmed.

In time I will be replaced
by a robotic facsimile
that will never tire
as I once did.
You will walk and run and dance
again without my support
and wonder what became of me.

Now I lay me down on a heap
of other amputated limbs
a mangled mess of bone and blood and skin
missing the flex of your muscles.

Maritza Rivera is a former Army Military Intelligence officer who served from June 1974 to August 1978. She is the author of About You and A Mother’s War, written during her son’s two tours in Iraq. She is also a regular contributor to Poets Responding to SB 1070, participates in the Memorial Day Writer’s Project and hosts the annual Mariposa Poetry Retreat in Waynesboro, PA.

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