Last Thursday I was pleased to return to the Manchester Vet Center in Hooksett for the third year in a row to present excerpts from Kate Wenner’s MAKE SURE IT’S ME read by veterans and Vet Center Staff. Once again, Vet Center counselor and coordinator of this event Mearlene Filkins made me warmly welcome and lined up a great group of readers. Colleen Moriarty, director of the Vet Center, even stepped in to read as a last-minute replacement and knocked it out of the park! We were honored to have Don, a Vietnam veteran, return for his third year in a row, as well as some new faces in the group. After the presentation and some snacks, Manchester VA TBI clinicians Sherry Thrasher and Nina Romano were on hand, along with a social worker named Erica, to kick off the post-presentation talk back. This script continues to yield great conversations, increase awareness of military-related TBI, and encourage military families to seek support from a variety of sources across the state. Thanks to all the readers, to Mearlene, Colleen, Sherry and Nina for making it happen. And thanks once again to the playwright, Kate Wenner, for giving us the words knit together from her interviews with veterans, caregivers and clinicians dealing with TBI. Without these words, the growing conversation would not be possible. Love to all!
My writing mentee, Keith Sanders, has racked up another win! He has been working for some time on a full-length play called PUSHING UP DAISY, which I love and have been rooting for through several drafts. As part of his process, he took a break from dialogue and wrote a short story encapsulating the characters and the action he hoped to put on stage. The resulting short story was so excellent that he submitted it for The Insider Prize at AMERICAN SHORT FICTION. The judge was the amazing Lydia Davis, and she chose his story to share first place. Keith’s “Pushing Up Daisy” is published in its entirety here: Insider Prize Winners.
I want to emphasize that, although I have been corresponding with Keith for years about his writing and this project in particular, his decision to use fiction as a way back into his playwriting of the piece was entirely his. Although I read one draft of the story, I gave no significant input–this is his work and his alone. I am deeply proud of him and pleased, as well, that he is back to work on the script so we can continue to shepherd Daisy and Glenn to the stage. It’s marvelous to have these interesting, peculiar, yet endearing characters live in more than one medium.
Enjoy the read!
In August I was honored to give a workshop to theatre KAPOW, a superb company of NH theatre artists who bring both classic and new plays to life, and also generate original material through communal devising. Each summer they have a retreat in which they bring in specialists to explore particular performance techniques, and this year I was asked to lead a workshop in mask. Company founders Matt and Carey Cahoon, along with company member and Board President Peter Josephson and others donned hats, scarves and half-masks of my own construction to improvise solo and duo turns in the beautiful converted barn that serves as their retreat studio. We had a marvelous two hours together creating new characters and exploring the technical challenges and surprising freedoms that come when you work in mask.
tKAPOW has worked in mask in the past and plans to incorporate masks in several ways throughout this year’s season. Check out their 2017-18 lineup here. And scroll down for pictures of the tKAPOW players (plus Peter’s dog, Henry) in mask:
It’s officially autumn, but my summer was pretty busy with theatre! Last spring I was asked to direct Mike Kimball’s new play, PATIENCE BOSTON, a historical drama set in York, Maine and based on the lives (and deaths) of real people. PB tells the story of a Native American servant woman who claimed to have killed a child and demanded to be hung for the crime. But after she was sentenced, it was discovered that she was pregnant, so the Sheriff and his wife, as well as Pastors Samuel and Joseph Moody, were charged with caring for her until the baby was born–and then executing her.
We rehearsed throughout the summer, working around folks’ vacations and other shows, and opened on September 15th at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth. The show is going extremely well and will close on October 1. I’m immensely proud of the playwright, the cast (Liz Locke, David Houlden, Charles Bradley, Pam Battin-Sacks, Greg Chabot, Whitney Smith, Paul Benford-Bruce and Steve Sacks) and our dear stage manager, Deb Barry and board operator, Kate Quisumbing. We also had impeccable stage design by D. Cary Wendell, lighting by John Stewart, costumes by Barbara Newton, and sound design by the impeccable Mike Kimball himself! Scroll down for more great images from PATIENCE BOSTON.
There is much news to share in the coming weeks, as I’ve been directing the premiere of PATIENCE BOSTON at Player’s Ring, which opens September 15, and I’ve recently taught a mask workshop for theatre KAPOW. But for now, I want to share a little piece of joy we took time for this afternoon. Hope you enjoyed your view, wherever you are!
On May 4th, The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., came to UNH campus to spend five days. I had the honor of joining UNH’s Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration Committee in pulling this event together. Denny Byrne had gotten the ball rolling and remained an integral part of the huge team effort required, but I had plenty to do as I coordinated with Paul and Kim Chen, the Moving Wall team who drove the memorial to us from Michigan, as well as with many offices across UNH campus and in the Durham and Portsmouth communities who helped create, promote and execute the event.
I thought I would write about this extraordinary experience sooner, but I have been at a loss for words. But I’ll just start now. Two important men in my life served in Vietnam: my father Jonathan Pasternack; and my mother’s longtime boyfriend, Gary Delong. Both are lost to me now. I have never visited the Wall in D.C. but I have been aware of its significance, controversy, and beauty. The Moving Wall, while only half the size of the original, allows people all over the country to experience the profound impact of the memorial’s design, which currently displays 58,315 names of those who died in combat in Vietnam. Its reflective surface allows the viewer to see him or herself reflected, as well as anyone else simultaneously looking, as well as the surrounding environment. The names are not arranged alphabetically, but in a circular chronological order by date of death, with the earliest deaths in the center of the V-shaped memorial, and the dates moving outward to the East, then jumping to the far West edge and working back to the center. The V becomes a circle in which the end is the beginning all over again. I did feel deeply shaken by the reflections of people, trees, clouds, and my own frowning face overlaid upon the names engraved on the Wall. And I did mourn for the circle of combat-related death that is still turning in its groove.
The long weekend of the Wall’s visit was an emotional rollercoaster. It was inspiring to see the crowds brave the rain to show their respect and confront their losses–Paul Chen estimated that we had 8-10,000 people come through during the installation. It was also heart-warming to work with so many volunteers, from on-campus and across NH, MA and ME, who made it a point to honor a generation of veterans who suffered terribly in combat and when they returned home. I also met and talked to many veterans and their families and heard their stories. A key part of the job for anyone bringing the Wall to their town is providing guidance to visitors looking for names to see, to touch, and even do a name rubbing to bring home. Many people don’t realize how hard it will be to navigate among all those names. So we had one paper directory, two laptops, and several Wall apps on our smart phones, which helped us locate the panel and line number for a specific name. Not everyone could find the name they sought–only combat fatalities are on the Wall, so sometimes after looking we’d realize the veteran in question had died of combat-related injuries after coming home. (At the D.C. memorial there is a plaque dedicated In Memory of some of these deaths, and loved ones can request that their lost veteran be added to it.) Other times a veteran would be horrified to realize he knew his buddy’s nickname but not his full name. Sometimes we could play detective and narrow things down by the birth city or state of the loved one. Several times, I found a fallen warrior’s profile information on the computer database after a prolonged search, only to have his buddy dissolve into tears at my side when a picture popped up, inevitably a grainy black and white of a 19- or 20-year-old boy. “He didn’t have nothing,” one man said to me through tears. “He had nothing until he joined the service. And then he got himself together, he even got married, and then he went over. I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said, wiping his cheeks. “He was my best friend in high school.” We took him to the Wall to see his friend’s name.
That’s how it was. At night, there were beautiful lights pointed at the Wall, provided by UNH Facilities, and lights on the flags, provided by the NH Patriot Guard Riders. Overnight security and quite a bit of daytime camaraderie was provided by several motorcycle clubs–so huge thanks to the NH PGR, Combat Warriors MC, and the Blue Reapers, as well as individual bikers who joined the procession or signed up for overnights. UNH ROTC cadets were on hand and the UNH Trumpet Studio played gorgeous, stirring Taps each night. There are too many people to thank, but you can read the brochure I designed for more information and acknowledgements.
For more about the DC memorial’s history and design, click here. For more about The Moving Wall, click here. And for a marvelous video created by DCAT’s Phil Kincade, click here. Let’s keep this generation’s awful losses in mind as we consider how we deploy our troops in the future, and how we will welcome them home.
It’s been a busy fall and at some future point I will post updates about the great MAKE SURE IT’S ME and COMMUNITY STORIES events I’ve been hosting, as well as my fascinating (and sometimes funny) work with POWER PLAY. But today I mourn the loss of Gary Delong, my mother’s longtime boyfriend. He died yesterday after a terrifying six weeks during which he learned he had bladder cancer and succumbed quickly. His nephew Jim and I coordinated his care, doing all we could to minimize his pain. I send huge thanks to Jim and his family for their warm support at this moment of crisis and loss. I know they are a large and tightly knit clan and I have enjoyed learning more about the Delong family history, in spite of these sad circumstances. My love and respect goes out to them.
Mom and Gary were “an item” for almost 30 years. He taught me to drive my car with a trailer hitched to the back. He argued with me (and everyone) about politics. He attended my plays and always found thoughtful critiques to show me how closely he was paying attention. He could talk for hours with my husband about engineering and computers. And he was deeply in love with my mother, for which I was enormously happy and grateful. He was one of those guys who chose his own moment and his own way to say “I love you.” You would never get a holiday card from Gary, but you might find that a new generator mysteriously appeared in your garage. He wasn’t big on birthdays, but he knew my Mom got blue in the dark days of winter, so he would send her a bouquet of yellow flowers in late February or early March with a card that said, “Spring is coming!” He wasn’t quite sure how to help during the years when Mom was dying, partly because she was so independent. But he was steadfastly present and loving. Early on in their relationship, when I was still a twenty-something, I started calling Gary “Bear,” first as a teasing rhyme on his name, and then because he seemed to like it. It suited the Gary I knew: he could get angry at times, sure, and he was increasingly grizzly, but he was also a big, huggable, powerful man. I loved him and I will always cherish his memory.
Here are some pictures of Gary, with me at my wedding; with my dog Boris; and with my Mom. Enjoy them, and thank you for taking this moment to honor Gary with me.
I’m honored to be holding a discussion with Terry Farish of her glorious book, Either the Beginning or the End of World at the Hampstead Library on October 27 at 7 pm. This free presentation, called “Coming Home,” will focus on how combat veterans and civilian survivors of war struggle to re-integrate into our communities. Sponsored in part by the New Hampshire Humanities, our talk is part of Community Stories: Soldiers Home & Away, a nine-week event series of book discussions, film screenings, historical talks and performances focused on veterans’ experiences.
I first met Terry during my 2013 development and run of MAKE SURE IT’S ME at the West End Studio Theatre in Portsmouth. She is one of many audience members and supporters of that project who work with veterans and military families to heal from war trauma. But she also works closely with refugees in our communities, and with school children of all backgrounds to explore cultural diversity and self-expression. Terry’s first job was with the Red Cross in Vietnam during the war, and she has worn numerous hats as an advocate, educator and author since then, so she combines a lifetime of “boots on the ground” experience with a deep wellspring of compassion. When I learned she’d written a novel set in Portsmouth about the daughter of a New Hampshire fisherman and a Cambodian refugee who herself falls in love with a veteran recently returned from Afghanistan, I was intrigued. But once I began reading the book, I was positively enthralled! My husband and I loved the book so much that we took ourselves on an afternoon tour of all the Portsmouth locations Terry mentions in the story. Please join us for our discussion at the Hampstead Library on the 27th . . . and even if you can’t attend, give yourself a real treat by reading EITHER THE BEGINNING OR THE END OF THE WORLD!
2016 has been a busy year, so busy that I haven’t been writing on this blog too much. Most of the work I have been doing involves upcoming events supporting veterans and their families. I’m thrilled to say that my traveling version of MAKE SURE IT’S ME will return to the Manchester Vet Center on September 29th. I will be joined there by a cast of 5 veterans to read dramatic scenes from Kate Wenner’s play, as well as VA Manchester clinicians to help me address questions about Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD. Then, on October 20th I will take it to UNH, where my readers will be members of the Student Armed Forces Association, joined by some Theatre majors. That promises to be a winning combination! The research and treatment options for TBI and PTSD keep evolving, so whenever I pull this presentation out I retool my framing material to reflect recent developments. It’s also extremely fun for me to work with the coordinators and readers as different venues, as well as to meet the audiences and mediate the conversation on performance day. So I’m looking forward to both of those events.
I have also had the honor of serving as Humanities Expert for Community Stories: Soldiers Home & Away, a nine-week event series celebrating, commemorating and supporting veterans and military families across 8 libraries in Southern NH, as well as Timberlane School District. The event series runs September 16 through November 12. My duties to this project have included helping the amazing group of library officials on the committee to write the grant proposal for the New Hampshire Humanities (which was successful, thank you NHH!); helping to identify presenters and keep a “humanities” angle across the event series; and I’ll be contributing to the “after-action” report to NHH about how Community Stories fulfilled its mission. I am also involved in three of the events: I will present a brand new presentation, “Staging War: Veterans’ Voices in Post-9/11 Theatre” at the Plaistow Public Library on October 4; I will mediate a book discussion of “Either the Beginning or the End of the World” will the glorious author Terry Farish on October 27th in Hampstead; and I will be co-presenting the final keynote presentation on November 12th, “War Trauma: A Changing Story”, with neurologist Dr. James Whitlock. That final presentation will include some readings from MSIM, aided by veteran and former Vet Center counselor Al Porsche.
So that’s a lot of exciting work I’ve been putting together, with fantastic and inspiring collaborators.
I have also been invited to do several more ongoing projects: The NHH Humanities To Go program has selected my new presentation for their catalog. In response to their feedback, the title is slightly different from the one in Community Stories, but it will be effectively the same format: “Speaking of War: How Theatre Gives Voice to Combat Veterans.” (It’s always tricky to figure out appealing titles.) Once the presentation is in the catalog, it remains to be seen if anyone wants me to bring it to their library or meeting hall. So stay tuned!
I have also been hired as an actor by PowerPlay Interactive Development. PowerPlay was founded by UNH Theatre Department Chair David Kaye. It is a UNH sponsored business that uses Applied Theatre techniques to address issues like corporate culture, gender bias, harassment, and diversity for clients who include university departments, nonprofits and corporations. So far, I have worked on four improv-based workshops for Easter Seals in Manchester; in November, I will be traveling to the University of Virginia to present a combination of scripted material and improv addressing biases and potential conflicts in faculty hiring. This is extremely challenging, fascinating work! I am learning a lot and, once again, working with a great group of people that includes David Kaye, CJ Lewis and Susan Poulin.
Lastly for now, I am pleased to have been cast in New Hampshire Theatre Project‘s winter show, METAMORPHOSES, directed by Genevieve Aichele. Rehearsals begin in November. Phew, that’s a lot!!!
In the meantime, my Board work for HAVEN is ongoing, so don’t be surprised if I tap your shoulder in a fundraising campaign. Best wishes to all as we move into Autumn!