On March 7th, I had the good fortune to present the traveling version of Kate Wenner’s MAKE SURE IT’S ME at the Manchester VA Medical Center as part of Brain Injury Awareness Month. Thanks once again to Nina Romano and Erica Rowe for organizing the event, and to John, Matt, Martin and Kim for reading with me and sharing your reactions and personal reflections on the challenges of coping with combat-related trauma. As always, it wouldn’t be possible without playwright Kate Wenner’s permission to use her work royalty-free in support of the veterans grappling with TBI and PTSD–Kate, you are still my hero! I have to let my bias show now by saying that one of the best parts was the company of Jasmine, a service dog specializing in mitigating the effects of PTSD. She certainly helped soothe the atmosphere as we discussed troubling topics. Here’s a picture of Jasmine getting ready for the presentation, to help smooth your way today!
It’s been a busy month so I’m tardy reporting about our extremely moving MAKE SURE IT’S ME presentation at the VA Medical Center in Manchester on March 2nd! Our star reader was Sean Carrier, who survived seven IED blasts and a plane crash while serving in Iraq. Sean gave a great reading, pushing courageously past any pain or nervousness to share insights from Kate Wenner’s play about combat-related Traumatic Brain Injury. Sean and I were joined on our little “stage” by VA staff members, many of whom were also veterans. The event was organized by VA TBI clinician Nina Romano and social worker Erica Rowe and was introduced by the Medical Center Director Al Montoya, who awarded us all with Director’s coins for bringing this important conversation to the VA. The post-reading discussion lasted nearly 90 minutes and allowed veterans, family members, and service providers to share their observations and feelings about the complicated effects of TBI. As we wound up the event, Nina said they’d love to make MSIM an annual event as part of the March Brain Injury Awareness month. So it’s on my calendar for 2019! If you want to know more about this event, Sean and I were interviewed by the marvelous Peter Biello, who is the NHPR anchor for “All Things Considered.” You can listen to that interview or read the transcript here. Stay tuned for more MSIM news . . . plans are in the works to return to the Manchester Vet Center in September.
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!
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!
Last Thursday, October 8th, a group of veterans helped me present my traveling version of Kate Wenner’s MAKE SURE IT’S ME at the Manchester Vet Center in Hooksett, NH. With the help of counselor Mearlene Filkins, who joined me in reading the educational material about Traumatic Brain Injury, and the coordination of Team Leader Colleen Moriarty, we presented to a group of about fifty in the Vet Center’s welcoming, well-appointed conference room.
This was my second time using the model of directing a group of volunteer readers nominated by the venue itself. The first time my readers were members of the student veterans’ group at the campus of Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, MA. This time, Mearlene invited community members who attend the Manchester Vet Center regularly for various kinds of support to step up and share their time and talents by acting in this reading. I was blown away by the intelligence and emotional courage of these readers. These two men and two women, who clearly had put their hearts, minds and bodies on the line in service to their country, were serving again by spreading the word about the effects of TBI on veterans and their families. The audience was extremely responsive to their portrayals of injured veterans and their struggling caregivers. Maybe it was the dueling apple crisps baked by two community members and enjoyed during intermission, but I swear the audience did not want to leave! Many observations and questions were shared during a talkback with Susan Burns, Nina Romano, and Sherry Thrasher, all clinicians from the Manchester VA Medical Center with expertise in treating TBIs. We were even able to connect an audience member on the spot with resources for TBI screening. Thanks again to Colleen, Mearlene and all the staff at the Vet Center for making this event possible.
As always with the MSIM project, I was thrilled and humbled by this experience. There was a lot of support in the room for more MSIM programming, so stay tuned for news as I follow up with my new contacts and continue to spread the word. For more information on the history of the project, or to find resources, visit the MSIM home page.
What a fantastic spring for ACT ONE and MSIM! In March, we gave a great presentation at the Red River Theatres in Concord, NH. In April I traveled to Greenfield, MA to lead the student veterans of Greenfield Community College in their own reading from Make Sure It’s Me. Then, in early May, I received a call from Ron Snow of the Brain Injury Association of NH, inviting Stephanie Nugent and I to their annual conference the following week. Why? To be presented with the Ellen Hayes Award!
BIANH’s Ellen Hayes Award is granted each year to the individual or organization who has done the most to advocate for and improve the lives of the brain injured and their families. We were chosen for our work on ACT ONE’s MAKE SURE IT’S ME/nh event series, which consisted of eight traveling presentations and fifteen fully produced performances based on Kate Wenner’s play about Traumatic Brain Injury in the military. Through MAKE SURE IT’S ME/nh, we reached over 800 audience members across New Hampshire and into Massachusetts, including civilians, veterans of several generations, military family members, and health care providers. Our presentations included the creation of the TBI Fact Sheets, created in collaboration with veterans service providers and sponsored by the American Red Cross and BIANH.
At the award presentation, BIANH president Laura Flashman shared extensive and glowing observations of our work: “The difference in making a good production into a great production is the knowledge of the subject matter. Leslie embedded herself in as many TBI-related commissions, collaboratives, and events as humanly possible. While admittedly a greenhorn in the beginning, she dedicated herself to learning as much as possible about this invisible wound. She spent countless hours visiting day centers, neuropsychologists, and speaking directly to veterans. Leslie’s smile is infectious, her passion is obvious, and her motives are full of sincerity and caring.
“While most of us saw Leslie in the forefront, her partner Stephanie was quite often behind the scenes. After seeing the final production in Portsmouth, it was obvious that Stephanie’s theatrical production talents are immense. When you put two amazing people together on a project like Make Sure It’s Me, the results change lives.
“Thank you ACT ONE for your tireless efforts on Make Sure It’s Me, and for helping to break down the barriers caused by Traumatic Brain Injury in New Hampshire.”
We are deeply thankful to BIANH for this recognition, and for their support throughout the implementation of this successful performance outreach series. We look forward to continuing to serve our state in the seasons to come, in various ways. So stay tuned!
Hey, all! The snow is not yet gone and I’m hitting the road already, sharing ACT ONE’s traveling presentation based on Kate Wenner’s MAKE SURE IT’S ME. This Wednesday, March 19th, we’ll be at the Red River Theatres in Concord, NH. Click here for an article from yesterday’s Concord Monitor about how we’re raising awareness about Traumatic Brain Injury affecting combat veterans and their families. My Executive Director Steph Nugent and I will be joined for this presentation by retired Navy Corpsman Nick Tolentino, former Marine Angela Molihan, and actor and MSIM supporter Paul Yarborough. Register to attend by writing to Ron “at” BIANH.org. Huge thanks to the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire for sponsoring this event!
Then, on April 10th, I’ll be leading members of the student veterans group of Greenfield Community College in another version of the presentation I shaped just for them. I was invited to GCC because Joshua Carnes is a student there–he’s the multi-talented photographer and Army veteran behind the images ACT ONE uses for our posters and TBI Fact Sheets. (His original photos accompany this post.) I’ll be joined there by MSIM playwright Kate Wenner and several of the veterans service providers I’ve met during this journey. . . and I’ll be sure to report back! For info on the GCC event, call 413-775-1868. I’m delighted and humbled to have the chance to bring so many people together around this powerful issue, using such a powerful script. So, if you are going to be in Concord or Greenfield, give us a look!
Phew, where did the end of 2013 go? Like many folks, I spent the holiday season rushing about between blizzards, visiting with family while dodging second and third helpings of dessert. Also, there’s the issue of a new, boisterous voice in the house:
But, in addition to such chaotic fun, I do have a few exciting theatre accomplishments and upcoming events to report.
My trip to the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts in Concord, MA reunited me with my former student Brian Boruta, who is now doing a marvelous job directing the Performing Arts department of this impressive organization. I performed CLEAN ROOM in the new “Downstage” space, and I also gave a three-hour workshop on Clowning to high schoolers. The workshop was a blast–what an intelligent and courageous group of young performers they were! I warmed them up with a few minutes of Brighina and Stupino, who laid out some basic concepts and got them talking and laughing. Then I just set the exercises in motion and watched the kids unfold. I love this work. . . you see brand new characters with physical mannerisms, postures, walks, and burbling sound tracks emerge in just minutes and then grow and refine themselves over the course of an hour or two as they interact with other creatures. It’s extremely empowering for actors of any age to discover that they don’t always need to be picked by a director to play a role written by a playwright in order to make theatre. All you need is your own self, no matter what physical shape you are in or how fluently you speak. And it allows us to let go of the pressure to look pretty or confident or sexy as we explore the more truthful realms of goofy and even grotesque. Love it! The kids seemed to really enjoy it, too, and they were courteous to me and each other. Kudos to Emerson Umbrella for inspiring such professional, joyful creativity in these young people.
So, that revived my love of workshop teaching and I hope 2014 will bring more of that! Stay tuned.
I rounded out 2013’s CLEAN ROOM work with a surprise invitation from Bill Humphreys to be interviewed by him for airing on Portsmouth Public Media TV, the local cable station for Portsmouth, NH. I brought my masks along and we had a fun and finely detailed conversation about acting, mask technique, and the process of devising CLEAN ROOM. That segment will air sometime soon, so again–stay tuned!
Lastly, MAKE SURE IT’S ME marches on in March, up to Concord, NH! The Brain Injury Association of NH is bringing ACT ONE’s traveling team to do a beefed-up version of our library presentation at the Red River Theatre on Wednesay, March 19th from 5-7 pm. The event will include a pre-show reception and talkback. Admission is free, but please register by visiting: http://www.bianh.org/awareness1.html
I have another MSIM opportunity in the works, and Steph Nugent and I have been hard at work crafting Festival 2014. So I look forward to sharing more news with you soon. Be well and stay cozy!
Wow, August just blew by as ACT ONE rolled out the first four weeks of Festival 2013! As Associate Director, I’ve had only administrative duties behind the scenes so far, helping my “boss” Steph Nugent to promote the shows and serving as cheerleader while she produced On Golden Pond and directed Last Train to Nibroc. I did some curtain speeches, too, which gave me the chance to meet some more of ACT ONE’s loyal audience members. Both of these shows received stellar reviews and I could not be more proud of the casts and crews! More shows are coming down the pike, of course, in this ten-week festival of theatre and concerts. You can read all about it at www.actonenh.org.
As for my own work, well, it’s rehearsal time for Clean Room again! You might remember that last year’s run garnered me the 2012 Spotlight Awards for Best Original Script and Best Actress. So, by all means, come and see this AWARD-WINNING show! I’m doing two runs this fall: I’ll be at the Festival at WEST on September 29, October 5, October 11 and October 12. For reservations, call (603) 300-2986, or visit www.actonenh.org to purchase tickets.
Then, I’ll be bringing the show to the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts in Concord, MA, November 14-16. I’ll give three performances and a clown workshop for teens down there. Click here for details and tickets!
As a last note for now: MAKE SURE IT’S ME composer Jason Crigler is bringing his sister Marjorie to Festival to present their show Defying the Odds. You may know that Jason is a brain injury survivor, and DTO tells the remarkable story about how the Crigler clan helped Jason find his way back to his life and his music. I’m deeply inspired by this family. They aren’t just kind, generous, and brave, they are also incredibly cool, in the “groovy” sense of the word. Their lives are full of color and texture and art and love, and so is their show. So, if all that sounds good to you, join us at WEST for Defying the Odds in September and October. Again, visit www.actonenh.org for all those dates and details. SEE YOU AT WEST, MY FRIENDS!
Well, it’s finally here, the moment when I can say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED after the successful conclusion of MAKE SURE IT’S ME/nh–part 1!
ACT ONE’s 2012-2013 season included TWENTY-TWO events inspired by and based on Kate Wenner’s play about Traumatic Brain Injury in the military:
- a meet-the-playwright teaser event last October at WEST
- a full reading of the script at Portsmouth Public Library last November
- FIVE library presentations in March and April
- FIFTEEN performances of the world premiere production at WEST in June!
Angela Molihan as SSG Annie Nichols and Christian Maurice as HM Jackson Cantrell
We hosted 590 audience members for the WEST production, and more than 200 for our teaser and library events–that’s a total of 800 people who participated in MSIM/nh!
Our audiences included military veterans of the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, and even WWII. Post-9/11 veterans were offered free tickets and all others were offered discounts. Many took us up on our offers–over 12% of our audience claimed veterans’ tickets. But even more told us they had served but wanted to pay full price to support our mission of serving military families coping with blast-related TBI. So the actual number of veterans who came to watch, to learn, and to share their stories and opinions with us was closer to 15%. We were delighted and humbled to host so many who had served, as well as their family members.
Kim Holliday as Sandy Ames
We also met audience members living with brain injury, or working in the health care or teaching fields where they advocated for the injured. We spoke with numerous concerned civilians who said we made the news reports they had been hearing for years suddenly come alive with meaning for them. I personally received so many hugs, so many hand shakes, and so many confidences from brave, struggling people of all backgrounds that it was difficult to take it all in. But we knew from the very first MSIM/nh event that we were doing important work and it was affecting people in positive ways.
Alissa Cordeiro as Angel Rodriguez
Well, our community is not letting us off the hook now. ACT ONE has been asked by our audience members, and the NH National Guard, and the NH Commission on PTSD & TBI, and the Military-Civilian TBI Collaborative, and numerous other organizations with whom we’ve come to partner with in the past year and a half, to please continue this work in some fashion in the year to come. And so we are putting plans in place to do just that, by expanding and refining our traveling presentation to reach the far corners of our state (and maybe beyond?). Playwright Kate Wenner is collaborating with us on all aspects of this effort, and I will keep you posted on our development process and event schedule.
To read more about all things MSIM/nh, and to see more great pictures, visit the MSIM/nh page. Thanks again to all of you for joining me and ACT ONE in what has been an extraordinary theatrical outreach initiative. Stay tuned. . . and in the meantime. . .
Come see some great theatre at WEST during ACT ONE’s Festival 2013!