Thursday, August 18, 2016

A performance that explores and honors the experience of those who serve

by Bob Vaughn, Director of Sangamon Auditorium

Born in the base hospital at Ft. Sheridan, IL and raised by a former drill sergeant, I will never forget the sense of pride I felt as I watched Audie Murphy leap from that burning tank after gunning down enemy forces in the 1950’s film, To Hell and Back. Military exploits were front and center in the public media during those years, and young boys were engaged in war strategies on mounds of dirt with plastic soldiers, wrapped up in the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire somewhere in the Pacific Theatre so vividly illustrated in comic books, or examining the relics of war brought home by friends’ parents. Here a helmet liner, there a flashlight, ribbons, medals, and other trophies took center stage as we discussed each item carefully amongst ourselves.

My dad, friends and acquaintances who so generously served were not so anxious to discuss their experiences.  One lost his hand trying to throw back a potato masher that had landed in his vicinity. Others…well, these were not subjects that elicited more elaboration.  This was made abundantly clear.  Even Independence Day fireworks, so exciting and entertaining to my friends and I held little fascination for many whose experience with exploding fare brought back difficult and painful memories.  Many of us were unaware of the consequences of war; the loss or injury of loved ones, the day to day effects of the condition known as shell-shocked, battle fatigue, or more recently, post-traumatic stress disorder.  And what about the full range of effects on the families?

When I encountered the Basetrack Live program as a possible theatre piece to include on our series at the University of Illinois Springfield, I knew I had to include it, and I had so many reasons to do so.  A full appreciation of those who have served and the families that support them requires life-long learning for all concerned.  We cannot fully grasp their importance, pay reasonable homage, create a fair and equitable system of support, and repair the damage done without better understanding the experience of those affected and reordering our priorities to appropriately assist.

Basetrack Live is a documentary theatre piece produced by the not-for-profit theatre company En Garde Arts about the impact of war on veterans and their families.  Two actors portray the real life characters of AJ and Melissa Czubai, a young Marine and his wife.  We follow their journey through his deployment to Afghanistan and back home again, her birth of a child while he is overseas and his injury that sends him home.  Photographs and videos shot by embedded journalists bring to light the stories of other Marines with whom AJ served in Unit 1/8, their feelings about deploying and their hopes and dreams for coming home.  There is additional video footage of Marines and their families once they are back home that shows the transformation of ordinary people fundamentally changed by the extraordinary experience of fighting a war. Basetrack Live does not represent these characters as either heroes or victims.  Instead, it shows a complicated and sensitive portrayal of how war affects us all.

Perhaps unlike any other theatre piece of the last decade, Basetrack Live gives us an up-close-and-personal look at the impact of war on the families and caregivers of those who have served.  Right along with them, we come to experience the difficulty of separating from a loved one, the anxiety provoked by their long absence overseas, the angst of not knowing day-to-day whether or not a family member is safe and the tremendous adjustment families undergo when those who have served come home and begin to reintegrate back into American life in search for a place for themselves.

En Garde Arts formed an advisory committee of service members, combat veterans and other key leaders to guide and advise them through the development of Basetrack Live.  Sangamon Auditorium staff are working to make similar connections locally to help strengthen the impact of the performance in our community.  We are partnering with the University of Illinois Springfield’s department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Chancellor’s Office to develop a post-show panel discussion that will provide audience members with the opportunity to hear local service and veteran responses to the performance piece, followed by break-out sessions that will provide a forum to listen and tell personal stories.

Basetrack Live will be presented at Sangamon Auditorium on Wednesday, September 28 at 7:30 p.m.  For more information and to purchase tickets, please call 217.206.6160 or visit our website. Veterans, service personnel and their families are welcome to contact us about discounted tickets to the show, special events and opportunities to share your experiences.