SitRep Notes from the Field

This blog series will follow the development of TCGs new Veterans & Theatre Institute. It will investigate the role play writing and technical theatre might offer as modes of interface between theatres and military/veteran communities, with the ultimate impact of increasing participation in theatre, within these communities.

In the military a “SitRep,” or a Situation Report, is “a periodic report of the current military situation.” The Marine Corps, my own branch, defines SitRep as “the unit Commander's certification of a unit's operational situation to include operational status of forces, manning, intelligence, logistics, and communications. The SITREP is the Commander's primary means of official communication with the unit's higher operational/administrative headquarters and Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC).”

In the context of this blog series, SitRep is a periodic report of the current state of the Veterans and Theatre Institute (VTI) and this first SitRep will layout the history, thesis, and goals of VTI.

Back in 2014, I had a conversation with Paula Vogel about facilitating writing workshops for military veterans. It was the end of her famous “boot-camp” series, which she facilitated with The Wilma Theater, Artistic Director Blanka Zizka, Literary Manager Walter Bilderback, and TCG’s Blue Star Theatre program. It was also during the development of Paula’s play Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq.

After a year of writing together, our vet playwriting group would be breaking up. Bryon was headed back to New Orleans; Jake, Susie, and I would head back to New York; while Jenny, Madison, Michael, and Kevin were heading home to different parts in Pennsylvania. Steve was headed overseas again on another deployment. And Paula was headed back to Rhode Island. It was then that Paula mentioned to me her desire to continue bringing veterans together “in beautiful places” to write.

I thought about our conversation for a long while, thinking through different solutions…knowing that a need exists for this sort of thing. My own writing origin story had begun in a similar classroom at New York University in the Creative Writing Program’s “Veterans Writing Workshop,” a few years before I met Paula. NYU’s classroom was filled with veterans fresh from Iraq and Afghanistan. Back then, we were all, for the most part new to writing, but shared a need to tell stories about what we knew, mostly in fiction, memoir, and poetry. Out of NYU’s workshop, a community of writers developed, writers who have gone onto write some of the most noteworthy books related to our most recent wars.

The workshops constitute a space in which veterans will be offered the opportunity to learn new skills or adapt their existing skillsets to the work of the theatre. 

Flash forward one year and a half after my conversation with Paula, TCG’s Executive Director Teresa Eyring phoned me about working on a project together. Teresa’s timing was impeccable, and as we spoke on the phone that morning, the scaffolding for what would become the Veterans and Theatre Institute (VTI) began to take shape. 

What we came up with was an innovative spin on Paula’s original idea. As the TCG team (Teresa Eyring, Laurie Baskin, Meredith Suttles, Allison Whitehall, and Allissa Moore) and I brainstormed, we came to the idea of collaborating with TCG member Blue Star Theatres, universities, colleges and veterans service organizations to offer free workshops on playwriting, acting, directing, and technical theatre to veterans in their local communities.

We applied for and secured funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Building Demand for the Arts program to develop and evaluate VTI in Providence, Rhode Island; San Diego, California; Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Phoenix/Tempe, Arizona as pilot sites. 

A lot has happened since those initial conversations, but I’m glad to say that the workshops have begun in Providence, Rhode Island. Our partners are Trinity Repertory Company, Brown University’s Theatre Arts and Performance Studies (TAPS), the Providence Community Library, and of course, the participants.

library exterior
Outside the Providence Community Library following a VTI class. Photo by Maurice Decaul.

As we build the workshops nationally, it is important to remember that the workshops will be community spaces. Beyond that, the workshops constitute a space in which veterans will be offered the opportunity to learn new skills or adapt their existing skillsets to the work of the theatre. For example, if one is a military engineer and has spent years building infrastructure, there is a space for that person. If one has spent a career in the combat arms, in military finance, in communications, in aviation, or in one of the thousands of other military occupational specialties, there will be a space for that person.

When I walked into the writers’ room at NYU all those years ago, I had no thought that I would become a poet and then a playwright. I was looking for something to do with my Saturday afternoons, but instead I found an art practice which changed my life.

We anticipate our ultimate impact being the creation of opportunities for Veterans to attend and participate in theatre with increased frequency over time. To do so, we believe activities inclusive of active participation, social support, adult education strategies and community partnerships will lead to outcomes such as military vets learning the craft of storytelling, new social and emotional bonds being fostered; military vets creating their own opportunities for collaboration outside of VTI and increased resiliency within participants, along the way to our desired impact.  We will be evaluating VTI, gathering both anecdotal and quantitative data to test our thesis and I will share periodic updates on our findings.

When I walked into the writers’ room at NYU all those years ago, I had no thought that I would become a poet and then a playwright. I was looking for something to do with my Saturday afternoons, but instead I found an art practice which changed my life. I believe the same could be said of the other writers in the room, and from that room has come short story writers, novelists, memoirists, The veterans I met and befriended at NYU and at other similar workshops in New York City have begun to compose  what is recognized as noteworthy fiction, prose, and poetry, , but with the exception of my own work, no plays. 

Through VTI, TCG, and participating member Blue Star Theatres, local community partners have the unique opportunity to develop new theatremakers; thus, ensuring talented people, whether they work on the creative side or the technical side of theatre, have an opportunity to pursue careers in our field.

I encourage you to check in frequently as we peer into VTI’s classrooms, focusing on the challenges and triumphs of teachers and participants working towards making theatre more accessible to members of the military veterans community. 

Thank you for reading this first SitRep.

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Thoughts from the curator

This blog follows the development of TCG's new Veterans and Theatre Institute.

SitRep: Veterans and Theatre

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Thanks for the SitRep, Maurice! I look forward to keeping updated on VTI's progress.Are there plans for a VTI workshop happening in Pittsburgh?