Veterans Making Strides


by: Maurice Decaul

A few weeks before the start of classes, Anthony gave me a call to ask about the schedule, syllabus, and goal of the class. I was glad to be on the phone with him, and as we talked, he casually mentioned that he would travel from NYC every week to take the workshop. I live in NYC, and I also live in Providence, so I know this commute intimately. It can take up to five hours depending on the condition of I-95. The shortest time I’ve taken to complete the commute was right around three hours, and that was a Saturday morning leaving Rhode Island at 5:30 am. After Anthony and I got off the phone, I started thinking about Sylvia. Sylvia attended a test VTI workshop at La Jolla Playhouse in May 2016. Much like Anthony, she traveled. Her commute brought her from Chico, California to San Diego. By car, Chico is about ten hours away. By plane it is right at three. She and her husband flew. It is amazing to me that people are willing to travel these distances to be in the workshop. I think this points to the need for the expressive arts in Mil/Vet communities and the roles programs such as VTI might be able to play.

What I have noticed time and again in veteran art communities is a willingness to engage and to do the work necessary to learn and then master the art and the craft.

The more I reflected, the more I remembered observing people make the same types of commutes from Pennsylvania and from Connecticut for writing and theatre programs based in New York; as a matter of fact, I made the commute from NYC to the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia to attend veteran writing workshops with Paula Vogel because I wanted to learn how to tell stories for the stage, stories I couldn’t tell as poems or fiction.

I have heard people make the claim that the theatre and the military have a lot in common. Though they are not exact analogs, there is a nugget of truth to that notion. To be successful in the theatre, one has to be able to meet deadlines, accomplish the tasks at hand, and most importantly, be flexible, adaptable, improvisational, and able to overcome obstacles. These are the same tools Marines are trained to cultivate in themselves in order to fulfill the commander’s intent.

Many of the people I am fortunate to meet through VTI are coming to the workshop because they are committed to sharing their distinct stories with the stage. People like Anthony and Sylvia do not have to travel across states to take this class. Others, undergraduates at Brown who are studying sciences, do not have to take this class. Still others long retired from the military after decades of service do not have to take this class either. All of these folks could think of other ways to spend a Wednesday evening, but still they come to tell their stories, to write them down, to hear them read aloud.

This energizes me to work with TCG and our partners to build VTI so that Mil/Vets across the country are presented with the opportunity to fully engage with theatre, and I trust through this process we will discover some truly exceptional artists.

MAURICE EMERSON DECAUL, a former Marine, is a poet, essayist, and playwright, whose writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Sierra Magazine, Epiphany, Callaloo, Narrative, The Common, and others. His poems have been translated into French and Arabic, and his theatre pieces have been produced at New York City’s Harlem Stage; Poetic License Festival in New York City; Washington DC’s Atlas INTERSECTIONS FESTIVAL in 2013 and 2014; l’Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe in Paris; The Paris Banlieues Bleues Festival; The Middelhein Jazz Festival in Antwerp; The Avignon Theatre Festival in France and Détours de Babel; The Grenoble Festival of Grenoble, France; Arizona State University Gammage Memorial Auditorium; The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; The David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center; and the Park Avenue Armory in NYC. Forthcoming productions include The Mary L Welch Theatre at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania; The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Brown University. His album, Holding it Down, a collaboration with Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd, was the LA Times Jazz Album of the Year in 2013. Maurice, a Callaloo and Cave Canem Fellow, is a graduate of Columbia University [BA] and New York University [MFA] and is an MFA candidate in playwriting at Brown University.

For more information about VTI, please email Maurice Decaul.

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