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.