“Veterans’ Voices Project 3” brings veterans’ stories to life

by | Nov 11, 2021 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

The “Veterans’ Voices Project” at the Majestic Theatre always has been personal for director Leigh Matthews Bock. But this year’s installment of the project – in which Bock connects local veterans with playwrights to create short plays based on the veterans’ experiences – hits even closer to home.

The inspiration for “Veterans’ Voices Project,” which returns for its third installment Thursday and Friday (with a streaming version available beginning Nov. 20), came when Bock began accompanying veterans on Honor Flights to Washington, D.C. On those trips, as the veterans relaxed among the camaraderie of their peers, they’d tell stories of their time in the military.

“All these men and women are telling me these incredible stories and it began to feel really selfish to keep them to myself,” Bock said. So, in 2019, she launched the first edition of the “Veterans’ Voices Project” – 12 short plays dramatizing real experiences of real veterans. Last year’s edition, hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic, was virtual and featured six stories.

After the 2020 project streamed, Bock was talking with her mother, Sally Callaway Whittington, about Bock’s grandfather, Frank Callaway, a World War II veteran. It was time, Bock said, to tell his story, and her mother agreed.

Working with letters written by Frank Callaway and his wife, Sara, and bolstered by additional research, Bock wrote “What I Didn’t Say,” the opening play in this year’s “Veterans’ Voices Project.”

“It has been eye-opening, emotional and healing,” Bock said about writing the play. “It’s really provided a lot of insight into my grandfather, all he went through.”

But she still wasn’t ready for the emotional wallop of seeing it performed on stage during rehearsal.  

“It never occurred to me how emotional it would be to watch it as we rehearsed,” she said. “I spent weeks researching and putting it together and editing it and editing it and editing it, and I thought I had worked through everything, but seeing it come alive before my eyes really caught me off-guard.”

Putting together the rest of the program also involves considerable work. Over the years since her first Honor Flight in 2013, Bock, who is not a veteran herself, has cultivated numerous relationships with veterans – and she’s heard plenty of stories. Sometimes, she’ll approach veterans to ask if they’d be willing to share those stories, but always makes it clear that they can decline.

“Usually, how I ask is, ‘Do you have a story from your time in the service that you would be willing to share? It doesn’t have to be anything huge, it doesn’t have to be anything really dramatic, but anything you share is going to be new information for people who never have been in the military.’”

Bock connects willing veterans with playwrights she thinks will be good matches. The initial goal is simply to foster conversation, so Bock arms her playwrights with a list of questions they can ask if the conversation falters.

Playwrights have about six weeks to finish their interviews and wrap up their plays.

Tom Martin, shown here in rehearsal, is among the actors featured in this year’s edition of the “Veterans’ Voice Project.” The show takes the stage at the Majestic Thursday and Friday.

A few days before the deadline for playwrights to submit their plays, Bock must assemble a cast. “What I’m really looking for is people who are passionate about this project and our veterans,” she said – and, in order to keep the focus on the veterans’ stories, she keeps the staging simple, in “black box” style, with no costumes or props. “When I take all those things away, I’m asking them to dig deep, and they really have,” she said.

The stories cover conflicts ranging from World War II to the Afghanistan War – and, despite the potentially dark material, Bock also works to mix in lighter stories.

“I am well aware that the audience needs to come up for air,” she said. “They need time to process. There’s a couple of heavy moments within our plays … but I think the playwrights have done a really good job of weaving heavy with light.”

This is the first theatrical performance to play to live audiences at the Majestic since the onset of the pandemic, and that’s important to Bock – but something else is more important.

“I want people to know that coming to ‘Veterans’ Voices’ is a really great way to honor our veterans,” she said. “I think their voices deserve to be heard. I know it’s enriched my life. It has created a great sense of appreciation. I think it would serve us all well to stop and acknowledge our veterans.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “Veterans’ Voices Project 3”

WHEN: The show is onstage at the Majestic Theatre, 115 SW Second St. in Corvallis, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11 and Friday, Nov. 12. A streaming version of the show will be available on the Majestic’s Facebook page beginning Nov. 20.

WHERE: Majestic Theatre, 115 SW Second St., Corvallis.

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $11 to $21; veterans and active military members get in for free. Streaming access is $11. Click here for more ticket information.

DIRECTED BY: Leigh Matthews Bock.

CAST: Lewis Franklin, Danita Hamel, Tom Martin, Harriet Nixon, Matthew Otten, Lauren Schaffner, Michael Winder, Karen Wohlwend, Michael Wren.

THE PLAYS

Not all the veterans agreed to have their full names used with their stories.

“What I Didn’t Say,” by Leigh Matthews Bock (Albany)
Based on letters between Army veteran Frank Callaway and his wife, Sara, memories from Sally Callaway Whittington and the U.S. Army 79th Infantry Division combat history from June 1942 to December 1945.

“Innocence Blown Away,” by Cristina L. White (Corvallis)
Based on the account of Air Force veteran Bruce.

Skies that Call,” by Lauren Schaffner (Albany)
Based on the account of Army veteran Jane Scully.

“The War at 25,000 Feet,” written by Michael Pungercar (Springfield)
Based on the account of Army Air Corps veteran Frank Pungercar.

“Ours to See: A Wounded Rebel’s Snapshot,” written by Sarah Sullivan (Lebanon)
Based on the account of Army veteran Shelley Williams.

“How to Fix a Chain,” written by Merridawn Duckler (Portland)
Based on the account of Navy and Army veteran Don Easdale.

“Steven’s Story,” written by Cherie Gullerud (Corvallis)
Based on the account of Army Sgt. Steven Olson, Army.

“A Story of War,” written by Danny Earl Simmons (Lebanon)
Based on the account of Army veteran Larry.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Want your art event listed?

Recent Blog Posts

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.

Comments on this website are the sole responsiblity of their writers and the writers will take full responsiblity, liability and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment.

We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason whatsoever.

More Blog Posts

This week: Art events of note

Here's my curated guide to arts and entertainment events that might be worth your time and money. I typically focus on the mid-valley, but if there's something big happening elsewhere, I'll note it here. If you want me to include your arts event in this list, click on...

read more