A group of San Quentin veterans joined with Shakespearean actors on Nov. 29 to portray the experience of service and sacrifice.
A banner greeted the audience VETERANS HEALING VETERANS FROM THE INSIDE OUT (VHV-FTIO), a group with a mission to represent the imprint each generation of veterans leaves on the next. Lesley Currier directed the performance, a joint enterprise between VHV and the Marin Shakespeare Company (MSC).
“Taking that leap of faith with us and try something new,” said Currier to the expectant audience.
The theme of “Patriotism and Politics” had the mixed cast performing emotional scenes of injury to taking of life with choreography to demonstrate loyalty, liberty, service and sacrifice.
VHV seeks to provide vets the opportunities to practice self-expression. In combination with MSC, these men wrote their own autobiographical skits.
Often the skits required veterans to recreate the most traumatic moments in their lives.
There was no lighting apart from the standard florescent tubes overhead, the only stage props were extra chairs, a podium, and the water fountain used to serve as a drum.
The plain environment matched the stark monologues used to reveal the truths experienced by veterans seeking to heal veterans in the present.
The veterans shared their stories with re-enactments of the full military life from recruitment, training, deployment, combat, return and retirement.
“Forged in the crucible of training,” said the narrator to set up various skits dealing with overcoming fears to move toward the sounds of chaos. He referred to honest fears of every-day skills like swimming, teamwork, discipline and gunfire.
Marines, Navy, Army and Air force was honored with the common call of WE HAVE EACH OTHERS BACKS.”
The contradictions of what recruiters promise the experiences of military life were shared with skits over generations of military service.
Promises don’t live up to the PR…
When I joined the military…
WE ALL GOT different things than we expected….
Yet, always friendship, maturity, honor.
The dramatic monologues included exploring the complex emotions and experiences of fear, guilt and racism.
The audience listened intently as they took in the raw manifestation of both patriotism and pain of a skit of a woman’s experience of rape and the failure of the service, both female and male officers to investigate or punish the rapist.
Music too conveyed the experience of “promises promises promises”–interspaced with the reality of wounds, physical and psychic.
Who will hear me….
The whole cast provided the chance to hear real experience of rape and a shared commitment by the whole cast to “protect honor and respect all women always.”
Letters, poetry and prose brought to life service and sacrifices from the Civil War through World War II and express that physical are not the worst wounds.
Concepts that weave throughout the generations, racism, abuse of authority, fear, bravery, patriotism, loyalty, service and sacrifice.
Personal experiences from Rhodesia, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq expressed the full range of difficult to process emotions from personal fear to the guilt of taking of lives.
George Orwell was quoted “in time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
The cast shared truths for the living and the dead. A common emotion was hatred for those that profited from war from corporations to illegal drugs. Another was the importance of ritual a to respect the dead.
Of the living, the themes of mental health and racism were faced by the cast.
– No medals of honor to blacks in WWII, until Pres. Bill Clinton in 1997. As with most such medals, of the seven given, six were posthumously awarded.
– Vets are 16 percent of the homeless in the U.S.
– half of Vets with PTSD are currently getting treatment (often because of the stigma of mental health)
– Vets are incarcerated at twice the national average
– Vets commit suicide at twice the average
While acknowledging the ideals of our great nation “life liberty and pursuit of happiness,” still America “CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT.”
“I am so grateful to these men for giving of themselves and their hearts. Often the performance expresses events the participants may not wish to remember or re-live,” said Currier as she opened the floor to questions from the audience.
Audience Q & A
Q – What was the most difficult regarding the creative process?
A – Being able to share my story, without losing control – more we worked, the easier it became to live it without living it…
A – Very difficult to tell my story, even the ugly things, it was a new way to be courageous to perform.
A – We went through seven versions to prepare these powerful and true stories. It was a grinder. For us men doing time, we have to take this type of dedication to take these skills out to the world.
A – Military service kind of the opposite from the ‘creative processes of performing.
Q – How can others in prison see this performance?
A – MSC had a full filming crew and will post it on the Marin Shakespeare company website.
A – When we can talk about it, we stop being victims or victimizing others.
Q –Do you encourage joining or avoiding military?
A – Despite what we’ve been through, we all still love our country.
A – Every citizen has to serve, therefore have a stake. This brings us together as a people. Military not perfect, it’s full of people and we bring our flaws with us. Good outweighs the bad.
VHV-FTIO will have groups in the ARC building on the Main Yard.