With the question-and-answer portion of the on-Broadway Arts in the Armed Forces event drawing to a close on Nov. 7, an Army explosive ordinance disposal veteran stood and gripped the microphone. His voice and hands were shaking.
The veteran, who did not give his name, turned to Star Wars actor and Marine Corps veteran Adam Driver, who was sitting in the wing of the theater, and thanked him and the event’s cast for what the organization and the evening had given him.
His best friend had been killed during his last deployment, he said, and seeing “Larry” — a character portraying a Marine home from war — address the violence inside of himself on stage struck a chord within the former EOD technician.
“I didn’t deal with [my emotions] until I saw Mr. Driver’s TEDTalk,” he said. “So, I decided to get into acting because therapy wasn’t working. ... I found out that I do have emotions besides being angry all the time. And so, seeing that TEDTalk did change my life. ... You did have a positive impact on my life.”
The veteran also shared that after finding an outlet in the arts to address feelings and trauma, he had pulled himself together and recently filmed his own work in Los Angeles.
Every year, the non-profit organization run by Driver and his wife, actor Joanne Tucker, provides active duty, reserve, veteran and other military-affiliated personnel the chance to experience theatre professionals on Broadway.
This year’s production featured playwright James Ijames’ Pulitzer Prize winning reinvigoration of one of Shakespeare’s most famous works with a showing of “Fat Ham.” The play follows Juicy, “a queer Southern college kid” grappling with the recent death of his father and the subsequent impact on his personal identity and sense of family and responsibility.
Based on Hamlet, the story was adapted to appeal to a modern audience, with each character taking on a slightly different role than their original iterations.
As a young Black man aware of generational trauma, Juicy leads the cast through the ordeal of attempting to reconcile with his father’s murder at the hands of his uncle and the revenge that might entail. But within this retelling is also Juicy’s closest friend, Larry, a Marine home from war struggling with his own sexuality while coping with the conflicting identities military service can cast on service members from all walks of life.
Choosing harm over pleasure to fulfill expectations or meet imposed obligations, as one of the characters noted, would only lead to pain, like the kind the EOD veteran said he was experiencing post-service.
Since its inception, AITAF has grown into providing academic opportunities for service members through intern and fellowship opportunities. It also offers financial support for military men and women hoping to get their written scripts to the silver screen or the stage.
Over the years, the organization has even offered writing retreats and performed shows for troops throughout the world, from bases in Kuwait and California to military hospitals like Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
AITAF is currently accepting submissions from military-affiliated individuals for the Bridge Award for Screenwriting, with the winner granted select resources, including a $10,000 prize, to help refine their work and deliver it into the world.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.