MSIM/nh Library Series a success!

I want to report that ACT ONE’s Make Sure It’s Me/nh Library Series concluded successfully this week in Hampton! In March and April, our library teams visited Portsmouth, Stratham, Manchester, Nashua and Hampton presenting information about Traumatic Brain Injury in the military, illustrated by scenes from Kate Wenner’s play Make Sure It’s Me.The turnout for these library events wasn’t huge, averaging between 20 and 35 participants. But, in every case, we felt that the people we addressed were positively affected by our presentation and that it was well worth doing. (Below, LTC Steph Riley, Leslie Pasternack, and Conan Marchi [SGT US Army, ret.] at the Nashua Library.)

Each library audience was different and received the information in diverse ways. In Stratham and Manchester, the presence of OEF/OIF and Vietnam vets led to deeply involved discussion. In the other venues, more civilians were present with questions, and if we had veterans with us they did not self-identify. Many of the attendees turned out to be health care providers of some sort, which was great. In Nashua, which was the least vocally responsive group, several silent audience members asked to take stacks of TBI Fact Sheets with them–clearly, a need was being served! Also present in Nashua was the mother of a veteran she suspects has a TBI, but whom she can’t get to the doctor’s office quite yet. She asked for guidance on which resources could help her as a family member trying to cope, so we helped her narrow down our list of resources even further so she had a clear sense of direction.

At every presentation, I felt proud and quite relieved to be able to emphasize our two key messages:

  1. Combat veterans may be injured and not know it.
  2. Many people in New Hampshire are available to help right now.

Again and again, I was able to cite examples of actions taken by the New Hampshire Commission on PTSD and TBI and the Military-Civilian TBI Collaborative, as well as the other organizations I’ve gotten to know from tagging along for the past year. Several times I discussed the work of Jo Moncher, the NH Department of Health and Human Services Bureau Chief for Community Based Military Programs, a role that is unique to New Hampshire. I spoke often of the NH National Guard’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. William Reddel’s commitment to partnering with the community to support the state’s citizen soldiers. I was able to speak a bit about initiatives to combat homelessness, and about outreach to the health care community, and about State Trooper Seth Gahr’s tremendous, multi-faceted work educating law enforcement. I spoke of BIANH and the Krempels Center as resources for anyone with brain injury, no matter the cause.

Along the way, we caught the attention of WOKQ news reporter Sam Adams, who brought us into the studio for a radio interview, which he says has garnered more response than any other he’s filed in 7 years! Hopefully that will be re-run before our show opens in June. (Below, Jenny Freeman and Leslie Pasternack in Stratham.)

I could never have been so effective in guiding our MSIM library teams to this success without all the access, information, and involvement of the many individuals and organizations who work day in and day out in service of NH veterans. These folks have welcomed me to their meetings, patiently educated me on military culture, and helped me to understand the medical and social issues around TBI. A couple of months back, Jo Moncher asked me what I would be doing next to serve New Hampshire’s vets. (No pressure, right?)

Well, we’ve learned a lot about the library presentations. We have ideas for improving them. And (dramatic pause), there is interest in helping ACT ONE to fund future MSIM/nh events. Our efforts to expand the program are actually spearheaded by playwright Kate Wenner, who is really impressed with our local, community-based approach. She wants to pursue significant financial support to do more presentations in varied venues, but always with the local focus we’ve used thus far.

So! A proposal is taking shape. Somehow, even if our progress is modest, we will move forward. My visionary Executive Director Stephanie Nugent has put tremendous personal faith and love for community into this pledge to support MSIM, and I can’t thank her enough for making all of this possible. Think about where you would like to see a Make Sure It’s Me presentation in the months to come. And . . . (another dramatic pause). . .

Mark your calendars for the full production of Make Sure It’s Me at the West End Studio Theatre in Portsmouth in June! Tickets will go officially on sale online on May 1, but you can call for reservations any time now at (603) 300-2986 (you’ll talk to Steph Nugent and she’s be delighted to hear from you!). Please tell everyone you know to come to the show, but DO MAKE RESERVATIONS! You can check out schedule details here.

Thanks again for your support of MSIM/nh! Phase One is complete! OO-RAH!!!

Former Cpl. USMC Angela Molihan, Sgt. US Army (ret.) Conan Marchi, & Leslie Pasternack beginning stage combat rehearsals for MAKE SURE IT’S ME. 

Jason C. talks MSIM on 106.1!

Hey! Jason Crigler was a guest on 106.1’s “Local Folk” show last night. He opened with a clip from his new composition for the Make Sure It’s Me soundscape, and then went on to talk about our production, as well as his own experiences with brain injury (and music, and family and more). Give this warm, funny, fascinating interview, with songs, a listen where it’s archived:


Thanks, Jason, and thanks to host Steve Carrigan!


CLEAN ROOM wins Spotlight Awards!

I’m thrilled to say that I’ve won two 2012 Seacoast Spotlight on the Arts awards for last fall’s run of Clean Room at WEST! I’m grateful for the recognition by the Portsmouth arts community, and also for the support of all my loved ones and colleagues who have made Clean Room a success through several patient years of development. But the awards were one bright, personal note in a week dominated by stress and concern on a wider scale.

Last Thursday night, I was presenting with the MAKE SURE IT’S ME/nh team at the Nashua Public Library. It had been a peculiar week: I learned about the Boston marathon violence while on the phone with NHPR’s Virginia Prescott–how bizarre to hear such news delivered right into my ear by a journalist I admire and usually listen to on my car radio! The scene in Boston mirrored all too closely the experiences of our characters in Make Sure It’s Me who have suffered blast-induced traumatic brain injury. So, as I prepared for Nashua on Thursday, I worried about framing our presentation in light of the current situation in Boston.

The presentation wasn’t easy that night, but we seemed to provide information and inspiration to some people who needed help. We distributed a lot of our TBI Fact Sheets, so that must be a good sign that something resonated with our audience.

But, as the library team debriefed about the presentation before splitting up for the night, something else was distracting me. My dear friend and MSIM cast member Pam Battin-Sacks was attending the Spotlight Awards show on my behalf that same night, just in case I won anything. I had written her an acceptance speech that explained why I was absent–giving a brief moment of attention to the MSIM project.

So, on the drive back from Nashua, I asked my cast member and car-pooler Conan Marchi to dig out my phone and check my text messages. Pam’s texts popped up: First, “You won Best Original Script!” Conan whooped, I shrieked, and much was the pandemonium as we (slowly and carefully) rolled through Newfields! Then, as we entered Newmarket: “You won Best Actress!

All I can say is, if you have to get great news, do it with a two-time Iraq War vet around. They know how to fist-pump and holler!

So, we rolled triumphantly into my driveway, where my geriatric hound was let loose for a happy bound around the backyard. Sadly, my husband Paul was in an airport in California waiting for a red-eye flight home, so he missed this whooping and bounding frenzy and had to celebrate with me telephonically a little while later.

Such is the life of a passionate but somewhat reclusive theatre artist and country mouse. I’m likely to grab any work-related excuse to avoid the social stress of schmoozing. I had been THRILLED that the awards show was on an MSIM night–I had a righteous reason to keep the scrutiny off me and to place the focus on military families. So there I was, after Conan took off. My dog resumed his place on his bed, and I waited a moment before I picked up the phone to call Paul. It was so, so quiet. In Portsmouth, I knew, the awards show was still wrapping up. In Cambridge and Watertown, I was to learn the next morning, a series of fatal shootings and a police chase were unfolding. The library presentation had been hard work and the faces of several of the attendees stayed with me. They hadn’t spoken, so I couldn’t know–did they suffer brain injury? Were they grieving someone injured, or dead? What had attracted them to the presentation? Why did they sit so silently, staring? When we spoke about TBI, what did they hear?

I called Paul and shared my wins. I called Pam and got all the details about the awards show and her role in it as my proxy. The funniest part, to me: I had been asked to provide a headshot for the Best Actress category. I had provided my standard headshot, but also a picture of me in mask as Stupino. The producers chose Stupino. And so, as Pam came up to collect my award, those in the audience who hadn’t seen Clean Room and don’t know me personally might have asked themselves,

“Who was that masked woman?”

Luckily, they will have the chance to find out in October. My Executive Director Stephanie Nugent has invited me to bring Clean Room back to WEST for Festival 2013. I’m honored and I look forward to sharing Brighina and Stupino with new audiences, as well as old friends. If you’ve never caught my act and would like to know what the fuss is about, check out the Clean Room trailer, created by Shay Willard.

Thanks again for your support, everyone. Stay safe. Protect your head. An award-winning actress told you so.

MSIM in the news, on the airwaves!

WHERE DO I START? The MSIM/nh event series has continued to move across the state. Through our Library Presentations based on Kate Wenner’s play, Make Sure It’s Me, we are sharing facts about blast-induced Traumatic Brain Injury and helping to connect military families with resources that can help. Most importantly, it turns out, we are creating safe spaces for veterans and their families to talk about their experiences with TBI, PTSD, and their journeys through recovery. Our library team is made up of an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient (Conan Marchi); the Joint Medical Planner and Occupational Health Nurse for the NH National Guard (Lt. Col. Steph Riley); a certified brain injury specialist from the Krempels Center (Jenny Freeman); and two deeply moved theatre artists who are honored to be of service to military families (my ACT ONE Executive Director Stephanie Voss Nugent and me).

As you may have read in my previous post, our visits to the Portsmouth and Stratham libraries were warmly received and eye-opening. They also garnered us some media attention! Sam Adams, news reporter from WOKQ, attended the Portsmouth presentation and promptly invited us into the radio booth for an interview. And so, last week, I brought Steph Riley and Conan Marchi with me to the WOKQ studio and we recorded a 27-minute interview which aired yesterday, April 7th, at 6:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. Sadly, it is not available as a podcast, but I hope to wrangle a recording out of Sam that we can post here. Stay tuned for that! Sam was a marvelous interviewer. He made us feel really comfortable as we talked about the issues surrounding TBI in service members. Then we read one scene from Kate’s play–I think it sounded great, and we’ve heard good reviews from those hardy souls who started their day really early or were awake really late to catch the show! Big thanks to WOKQ for the opportunity and to Steph R. and Conan for their willingness to follow this project wherever it needs to go. . .

The same afternoon as the radio interview, we headed over to Manchester for our library presentation there. That’s when we learned that Barbara Taormina, a reporter who had attended the Stratham event, had gotten a great article placed in the Union Leader! So you don’t have to take my word for how powerful these events are turning out to be, you can read all about it here. Thanks so much to Barbara for this coverage, and for the wonderful photo of Jon “Chief” Worrall and his daughter Krista which illustrated the story.

The Manchester visit itself deserves a moment of quiet reflection. There, we were gratified by the participation of a young Iraq War veteran and his mother. (His service dog came, too!) This bright, determined little family shared with us their stories of his injuries, the personality changes that followed, and the hard, hard work of negotiating treatment through the VA. Although he has finally received helpful diagnosis and care, this veteran illustrated for us how overworked and understaffed the VA is, and how stressful it is to endure the paperwork, the phone calls, the questions, the repetitions, and the plain old red tape of the VA’s health care system. It is difficult to imagine how anyone manages to jump through those hoops while coping with combat-induced stress or brain injury. Clearly, having his mother by his side was crucial to his recovery.

In dialogue with our team, and with that brave Iraq veteran, was a group of Vietnam vets who also took the opportunity to open up about their pain and losses in the wake of war. As the conversation expanded, I was able to step back a bit as mediator and listen to the young veteran and his older counterparts swap stories. Two of the Vietnam vets told the young man, “We didn’t have the courage to go back–we could never have done these multiple deployments like you did.” And he said, “But you didn’t have the choice, you were drafted–that was worse.” Back and forth it went, the comparing and contrasting of experiences, the finding of common ground, and the expressions of mutual respect. There were tears. It was a tough discussion–but, once again, we had to be booted from the library when closing time came!

Woven through these amazing experiences of the past week have been my first three rehearsals with the full cast of Make Sure It’s Me, which takes to the West End Studio Theatre in its full glory in June. I can’t properly express my gratitude to playwright Kate Wenner and my “boss” Steph Nugent for trusting me to direct this project. We have lots to accomplish–choreography of stage combat with a wheelchair included? Check! Costuming characters from various branches of the service in a time period (2005) when uniforms were changing? Gotta get it right! Keeping the former Marine and former Army members of my cast from breaking out in a fist-fight? Just kidding, that won’t happen, it’s a total love fest on the set of MSIM. Sound good to you? Then stay tuned.

And join us in Nashua on April 18 and Hampton on April 23rd for our final (and free!) library presentations. You can check out the whole event schedule, and more MSIM/nh information here. Or you can call 603-300-2986 or visit the ACT ONE site for reservations.