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Reflecting on the Value of Telling Your Story

by Circe Olson Woessner

Over two weekends in September 2014, seven Albuquerque veterans and military family members told their stories to the Albuquerque community in a staged theater performance, Telling, Albuquerque.  Albuquerque was the third host for The Telling Project’s 2014 season, and was co-produced by the Museum of the American Military Family, in collaboration with Working Group Theater, underwritten by the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

Cast members included veterans and military family members who were interviewed and their stories transcribed and shaped into a play script. They received less than two weeks performance training and rehearsal in readiness for their public telling of their stories and reflections.

Rehearsals were fast and furious–so much to learn in a short time….

Caroline LeBlanc, MFA, MS, RN, and the Writer in Residence at the Museum of the American Military Family since 2012, co-produced Telling, Albuquerque. She spent many hours transcribing the cast member’s oral stories and working them into the script.

IMG_4528Co-Producers Caroline LeBlanc and Max Reynard (Telling Project) coordinate the interview schedules…

Telling, Albuquerque, was timed to coincide with the anniversary of September 11th, and was an opportunity to engage the Albuquerque metro in an intimate, complex, and rich conversation about military experience, veterans, military families, and war in a moment when the nation is contemplating these matters.

The six performances at the South Broadway Cultural Center didn’t disappoint.  Audiences heard stories from Vietnam combatants and conscientious objectors, career military personnel, as well as from military family members.

Vietnam veteran Ernest Garcia says this about his experience participating in Telling, Albuquerque,

“[Doing this] and educating the public was a privilege and an honor.  It’s an experience of a lifetime for any veteran to leave a legacy behind.  It gives us a chance to tell our story.  I felt while performing, that I was performing for all veterans to release what we all hold inside.”

Veteran performer Allen Whitt agrees.

“The words that first come to mind are ‘opening up.’ The performers open up about their experiences, and in turn can feel–actually feel–the response of the audience as they open up to the stories being told. Because the stories are true and personal, the communication between the performers and the audience, as well as among the performers themselves, is intense–maybe even transformative.”

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As an audience member, I was astonished at how silent the audience was for the entire two-hour performance. It was as if they were breathless with listening.  Because of the silence, it was easy to hear the raw, genuine emotion as each cast member told his or her story.

Army Brat Iain Woessner acknowledges the transformative quality of Telling, Albuquerque.

“I think the Telling Project is immeasurably valuable. It was an experience that I’ll treasure my entire life. It was cathartic to share my story to an audience, and more than that, it helped me realize a lot more about who I was and what I wanted to become. “

Telling, Albuquerque is part of the national The Telling Project whose mission is to “deepen an understanding of the military and veterans’ experience. This understanding fosters receptivity, easing veterans’ transitions back to civil society, and allowing communities to benefit from the skills and experience they bring with them. Through this understanding, a community deepens its connection to its veterans, itself, and its place in the nation and the world”.

Allen Whitt expands, “War seems to be a constant in human history, and with the so-called professional military replacing the citizen-soldier, it is essential that the stone walls between the public and the military and politicians be torn down…Today only about three percent of our political leaders have military experience…Telling is a small but powerful step toward greater mutual understanding. It deserves to be continued, expanded, and be made even more widely available through not only stage presentations, but perhaps other forms of outreach, as well as modern media.”

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With each new City, the veterans and stories change, so each venue is a totally new experience. For more information on the Telling Project,  click here.

Upcoming Performance and Cities:

2014

University of Texas; November 7-9, Austin Playhouse

Telling: NYC 2014 – November 9, Fashion Institute of Technology

2015

Telling: Minnesota 2015 – Guthrie Theater; March 6-15, Dowling Studio Theater

Telling: Jackson, MS – New Stage Theater, Aug. 6-16

Telling: Chicago, IL – TBD

Telling: Tampa Bay – TBD

Telling: Detroit – TBD

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