‘ReEntry' bridges the gap between veterans and civilians

by Sarah Scully | 4/3/12 10:00pm

Courtesy of Smithsonian magazine

This disconnect is exactly what "ReEntry" is about. The performance, held at Moore Theater tonight and tomorrow at 7 p.m., attempts to bridge this gap by conveying the experiences of servicemen and women through a series of monologues based on hundreds of hours of interviews with Marines and their families. In the style of "documentary theater," the show features monologues by five actors who speak interview-style with the audience about experiences returning home from war. KJ Sanchez and Emily Ackerman wrote the play, taking dialogue directly from the interviews they conducted.

While reading the script, Sotak said he could empathize and identify with the emotions portrayed in the interviews. Sotak said he hopes the show will spark a discussion he sees as acutely lacking at Dartmouth. Students should learn the reality, not just the theory, of war, and he said he believes that "ReEntry" can help offer that reality. "[ReEntry'] seems like something that makes the conversation about soldiers, about veterans, about coming home, tangible for people," he said. "I think that theater is a really great medium to have that conversation." When Sanchez and Ackerman began to prepare "ReEntry," they turned to their families, Ackerman said in an interview with The Dartmouth. Both women have brothers who are Marines Sanchez's five brothers served in the Vietnam War, and Ackerman's two brothers have completed multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. They chose to focus the performance on Marines because of the access they had to this section of the military through their brothers. They also found that each branch of the military had its own subculture and that concentrating on one allowed them to construct a more authentic picture of the stories they heard, Ackerman said.

The show originated when Sanchez was commissioned by the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, N.J. to create a performance about coming home from war. She asked Ackerman to take on the project with her, and after its initial success Sanchez founded the American Records Theater in 2010 for the purpose of taking "ReEntry" on tour. The theater company's mission is "to make plays, musicals and other works that chronicle our time" and "to create work about real people," according to its website.

The performance provides a means by which family members can grapple with their feelings and learn to cope, Sanchez said. Actors have performed "ReEntry" at several military bases, and the military has even incorporated the show into some post-traumatic stress disorder briefings, according to Ackerman.

In "ReEntry," the actors portray servicemen and women as well as family members. The original cast in 2009 included a Marine Corps drill instructor, who Ackerman says was essential to helping the actors gain an understanding of the Marines. He would lead the cast through drills, Ackerman said, and explain the importance and use of each drill. Ackerman and Sanchez's ultimate goal was to have the actors represent the experiences of service members as accurately as possible.

The performance is decidedly apolitical, focusing instead on what men and women, deal with what they have seen and done and their experiences returning to civilian life. Sometimes telling personal stories highlights the political issues at hand, making the message all the more powerful, Ackerman said.

Members of the military often have a difficult time sharing the events of war with loved ones and desire to better relate to them, Sanchez said on a panel yesterday in Filene Auditorium, titled "Fallout: What We Think About the Military Matters."

One focus of yesterday's panel was the topic of "thank you" and expressing gratitude to veterans.

"We like to speak in absolutes Thank you, heroes, for your service,'" Sotak said in the panel, explaining that most veterans have mixed feelings about their service. "It's more complicated than that."

Another panelist in yesterday's discussion, Nancy Sherman author of "The Untold War" said that society must think about what it means when we make a decision to send our citizens to war.

Echoeing Sherman's remark, Sotak said that in addition to expanding conversations between veterans and civilians, we also need to have conversations with soldiers before we send them to war about what to expect in combat zones. He said he hopes students will consider "what our responsibility is as young people to think about war."