We see them on the TV news, stepping off airplanes and into their families’ arms. They carry great, big duffle bags. They carry flowers for their wives. They carry memories of friends who weren’t nearly as lucky.
The soldiers are coming home.
They carry stories with them, too — some so heavy that it takes months, even years, even lifetimes, to lift them off their chests.
But tomorrow night, an innovative, inspiring effort called The Telling Project will take over a stage in Frederick, and local men and women who have protected this country and fought for it will stand up and bravely tell an audience what it was like.
The goal of the play is simple in theory but complicated in reality: to connect veterans — and their stories — in an intimate setting with civilians who often struggle to understand the military experience.
“There is plenty of information out there, but not a lot of contact between the two communities,” said Jonathan Wei, a writer and executive director of The Telling Project. “There’s a membrane, a barrier between the veteran experience and the civilian experience.”
Wei has been trying to pop that membrane with performances around the country, starting in 2008. He interviews local veterans, transcribes what they say and then cuts and pastes the stories into a script for the veterans to perform in a three-act play.
There are monologues, interaction between the veterans, and the audience gets involved too. The stories are raw and funny and moving. You can see some video clips of previous performances here. The veterans overcome their fears of not just standing on stage, but of telling complicated stories that civilians are often fearful of broaching.
“Civilians often don’t want to ask for fear of provoking bad memories but I think that displays a certain level of ignorance on our part,” Wei said. “So this is like social counseling. It’s allowing a community to be more eloquent about itself.”
“The Telling Project,” presented by the Veteran Artist Program, has performed several times in the Baltimore area, and tomorrow at 8 p.m. the production can be seen at the Cultural Arts Center of Frederick County. Tickets are $20. The play will be performed in Annapolis on Jan. 21.
Jeremy Johnson, a Baltimore veteran of the Navy, will be on stage.
I spoke to him last night about his story, and because I don’t want to ruin the event for those who plan to attend, I’m not going to print the details, except to say that I found myself incredibly moved, thankful for Johnson’s courage and proud to be an American.
“Each of us is able to remind the people in the audience that we are normal people,” Johnson said, “but there is something that has complicated our lives and given us unique experiences.”
Go see this play.