Voice of the Warrior: Excerpts, Endings, and The Way Forward

Voice of the Warrior covers the winter and spring phases of 2018 Warrior Chorus in 2018, where four previous Warrior Chorus Fellows will take new groups through three phases: readings and education of Greek theater, a new interpretation which these Fellows compose, and then performance.

This final episode is the conclusion of the project, in a packed house at Federal Hall in NYC, where the four groups share excerpts of their Veteran-written interpretations of the ancient Greek works…

Federal Hall in New York City is an impressive space. Originally built and still harboring the influences of Greek architecture, the rotunda echoes impressively as one might expect in a place of such historical significance. It was on this site where the proclamation of revolution against the British Stamp Act was given, and the site of the first US Capitol and Congress. George Washington stands on the steps facing the New York Stock Exchange as a reminder of the independence the country sought in not only taxation, but art and expression.

The Veterans and Families stand in the rotunda for last minute lessons on how to project in a two story, stone ampitheater. It is a different type of lesson from their usual talks of confidence, but the technical aspects now being learned on the fly during the short rehearsal time does not faze the cast. Veterans do what they do from service: adapt and overcome, and now they are taking the families with them. As a team, they coach and direct each other and make sense of the echoes.

The audience arrives early, and takes nearly every seat well before show time. Friends and supporters, theater students, random passers-by, the mix is eclectic and isn’t sure what to expect. To help provide clarity and context, each piece in this showcase will entail a brief snippet of the Greek text that inspired the new work and then a ten minute excerpt of the Veteran-written piece.

First to perform is Team Dan (US Marine Corps), adapting Aeschylus’ Persians into their collectively written Bring Us a Goat, a Lamb, Any Damn Thing. Highlighting the aspects in the Greek play of wartime decisions, relationships, survivor’s guilt, and the feeling of loss and having done enough, the adaptation puts those who felt the same losses lamented in Persians into a modern bar attempting to deal with the pain of recovering a friend from a war they aren’t sure they are winning.

Next, Team Neath (US Navy) tells a story of military sexual trauma in Discredited, adapted in part and developed from Aeschylus’ Suppliants which highlights – or perhaps lowlights – the plight of a group of women conquered in battle. The group took the topic into the future, to a projection of integrated Marine combat unit deployments. The story is one of pride and duty, pressure and leadership, and of protecting the mission while protecting the self and weighing whether we can always make the best decisions for the whole.

Team Johnny (US Army) follows with an excerpt of Euripides’ Hippolytus, which his team has combined with influences of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and their imaginations to transform into a modern sequel: Autumn Ever After. Set in a combined world of Gods and humans, the piece retains some of the politics of Hippolytus while attacking the challenging concept of preventing conflict in the face of questionable leadership and where such a sense of duty and obligation might lead.

To close the evening of readings, Team Jenny (US Army) modernizes and adapts Euipides’ Bacchae. Two powers about to go to war, each believing they are in the moral right because of a perceived (or real) moral wrong, the adaptation pulls the Greek Gods and families out of Athens and into the current wars. Jenny and her team saw something missing from the original work, a sense of completion with the lack of the war lament. Her chosen excerpt is the painful feeling of the mother realizing her son will not return from a battle he waged, for better or worse.

The room is beyond capacity, with supportive Warrior Chorus members and additional audience standing around the perimeter since the seats are full. The acoustics and numbers in the rotunda make the talk-back more challenging than the theater, but the audience is immediately eager to ask questions of the four team leaders. How does theater help? What was the experience like? What lessons are you using off-stage?

Team responses are united in positive experiences. Johnny stresses that the theater experience doesn’t have to necessarily heal, but provides a resource and outlet which helps. It’s not treatment, but it’s lessons and a release, and can be different for everyone. Neath and Dan are able to compare the cohesion and respect of their theater fellows to that of the military life, expressing a sense of familiarity and unity which drew them into this process and keep them going, and Jenny emphasizes how the stage has become a big part of her life and how much she learns about herself.

But the main theme is the group and the team, and the strong desire to see the Warrior Chorus continue. Each of the productions has some plans to further develop their work and showcase it down the road, which seems to perk up the audience and indicates the talent and potential they saw in the excerpts. But the teams, as well as Desiree and Peter, also encourage new faces to get involved – both Veterans and Families – and keep building the Warrior Chorus community.

This concludes the spring 2018 iteration of Warrior Chorus. Thank you so much to all the donors and grantors who make Warrior Chorus possible. Follow Aquila on FacebookTwitter, and this blog for more information. Help this critical program grow and develop: if you attended a reading, please review your experience here. If you are a NYC Warrior Chorus fellow past or present, share your experience here.