Newswise — The transition to the battlefield and back home again is a long and, at times, bumpy road for our war veterans. "Voices of Student Veterans" chronicles those sometimes long journeys home in a documentary drama about the transitions of student veterans returning to the Commonwealth and a college campus. Kentuckians around the state can hear these personal stories of service as a tour of this production travels to five of the state's public universities April 4-21.
"Voices of Student Veterans" was developed in 2010 as part of an interdisciplinary arts and creativity project at the University of Kentucky through a unique collaboration between the university's Department of Theatre, Veterans Resource Center and Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. The tour of this production and scholarships for the student actors are being made possible with funding from UK Women and Philanthropy.
In January 2010 at UK, Doug Boyd, director of the Nunn Center for Oral History, working with veteran and doctoral student Tyler Gayheart and Tony Dotson, director of the Veterans Resource Center, launched the oral history project "From Combat to Kentucky" to chronicle the stories of student veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Subsequently, Herman Farrell, associate professor of theatre at UK, and students in his "Staging History" Department of Theatre course, devised a verbatim theatre piece drawn from the oral history transcripts.
Boyd is happy to see the Nunn Center's work shared not only on the center's website, but on a stage as well. "So many different ground level descriptions are coming out of the interviews of shortcomings and triumphs in these experiences. I think the more those can be expressed and articulated to the general public, the better, because that is how we grow and learn as a society." Through the interdisciplinary collaboration, the three programs hoped to provide some insight into a veteran's experience. "Our stated purpose in creating this piece was to bridge the gap between student veterans and the greater UK community," said Farrell. The stories UK Theatre brings to the stage in "Voices of Student Veterans" were edited down directly from 10 hours of recorded interviews collected by the Nunn Center with UK student veterans. Through a cast of eight actors, the audience will follow local veterans' stories through such periods as boot camp and deployment to their transition back into society on a university campus and all the emotions stirred up during those points in time. "Following the innovative and experimental theatrical form of Anna Deavere Smith and Moises Kaufman, we have crafted a documentary drama based on interviews of UK student veterans that were conducted by the Nunn Center for Oral History. Audiences will bear witness to a piece of 'verbatim theatre' – a play that is created completely from the words, the voices of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Farrell said. 'Voices of Student Veterans" aims to directly engage its audience in this collection of personal life stories. In addition to the production, the play will be followed with a question and answer session with Dotson, Boyd, Farrell and mental health professionals and representatives of the respective universities in order to foster a conversation about replicating this unique oral history and theatre project on campuses across Kentucky and perhaps, the United States.
"Voices of Student Veterans" will be presented at Morehead State University, Northern Kentucky University, University of Louisville, UK Eastern Kentucky University.
"The members of the UK Women and Philanthropy Network were moved by the powerful message told in 'Voices of Student Veterans,' and we felt the proposal to take the play around the state and share it on other college campuses was important and merited funding by W and P. We are proud to showcase the talent of our UK students and the Department of Theatre in this very special production," said Paula Pope, director of special projects, UK Office of Development.
Dotson agreed, "I am excited to be a part of something so powerful. This is a unique opportunity for the average American to get a look at war from the perspective of the warrior and not CNN. If this doesn’t make you want to thank a veteran for their service, nothing will." The Veterans Resource Center was established in June 2009 to assist the growing number of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. The focus of the center is to coordinate and make available all of the necessary resources to ensure a smooth transition and successful academic career for the veterans and their families.
UK Libraries’ Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History is internationally recognized for its outstanding collection of more than 9,000 oral history interviews. Among these historical interviews, the center has a collection of interviews with veterans of World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. To read more about the veterans' interviews and other projects at the center, visit their blog "Saving Stories" at www.nunncenter.org. The UK Department of Theatre at UK College of Fine Arts has played an active role in the performance scene in Central Kentucky for more than 100 years. Students in the program get hands-on training and one-on-one mentorship from a renowned professional theatre faculty. The liberal arts focus of their bachelor's degree program is coupled with ongoing career counseling to ensure a successful transition from campus to professional life.