This is a guest post from Senior Producer Luke Heikkila , who shares his reaction to the performance of Telling: Minnesota now playing at the Guthrie Theater.
In my tenure with Twin Cities Public Television I have been able to tell stories about our veterans and military by traveling to Iraq, Italy, and Afghanistan. Closer to home I have met men and women in Minnesota who have served in during wars and peacetime dating back to the 1940s. They’ve all had stories to share. I’ve been fortunate to be able to ask questions, listen and present their stories to our viewers.
The stories are all different. They come from different branches, eras and most significantly, different people.
These differences, and many of the similarities experienced by military members, are illustrated during Telling: Minnesota, a 70-minute one-act performance playing March 6-15 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Since 2008, The Telling Project has staged 26 productions, helping over 120 veterans to share their firsthand testimonials with audiences nationwide.
This weekend at the Guthrie Theater, seven more veterans will share their story. The concept is simple: they speak, we listen. The veterans answer our questions. In the end, we walk away with the clear idea that veterans do appreciate being thanked for their service. At times they may feel awkward accepting our thanks, but they will accept our thanks.
However, if we (and I use the term ‘we’ because I am not a veteran) go one step further and follow up with a sincere question about what veterans experienced during their time serving us and our country, we can create a dialogue, a conversation, and a little more understanding.
These stories of Telling: Minnesota are told by the man who spent his years in the Navy cooking; the barrel-chested infantryman; the public affairs officer who busts her butt to deliver stories of soldiers to their hometowns and the soldier who clawed his way out of a shallow grave and crawled to a village to get help. They all have their story. They’re all unique, yet they echo one other.
The performance of Telling: Minnesota I saw this weekend was raw. It was powerful. It was heartfelt. The seven men and women before me and 70 others in the Dowling Studio are not actors. Some of them had never been on a stage before meeting with the Telling Project’s co-directors Max Reyneard and Jonathan Wei a mere week ago to begin rehearsals.
Prior to the rehearsals, each veteran met with Max and Jonathan for an extensive interview. The two then wove what they learned from the seven veterans into a series of monologues that illuminate each veterans’ decision to join the military. Some joined for the GI Bill benefits, some were drafted. Others were looking for a promise of a better future. We learn about basic training, and through the veterans’ voices, “meet” their drill sergeants and buddies. We get a taste of the fun moments, the horrific moments, the brutal moments, and the moments filled with pride. Iraq housed those moments. Vietnam housed those moments. Bosnia, Kuwait and Afghanistan housed those moments. Wherever the service took them, each veteran experienced moments that represented the depths of hell and the highest of highs.
I do not think I can accurately sum up the performance in a few words, or quotes. As I sat, mesmerized by what I was seeing, I did scribble a few notes. These will give a sense of the expansive ground Telling: Minnesota covers.
- Lynette brings the family perspective of a deployment to the forefront by saying, “It’s easier to leave for a deployment than it is to be left behind.”
- Stu has seen a lot of pain and suffering. He recounts a conversation he had with his best friend and fellow veteran, saying that “at one point, we learned there’s no real difference between realism and cynicism.”
- Lynn watches and reads stories about ISIL, and wonders if her service during Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn was all vain.
- Shelby, both a veteran and the wife of a veteran, says that as she prepared for missions to Bosnia and Iraq many people asked, “How can you leave your babies?” “Funny,” she says, “nobody ever asked my husband that question.”
- Richard chimes in late in the performance with the observation that “whether you sorted mail or shot Bin Laden, we’re all similar.”
- Ken was in the Navy from 1968 to 1972. A passage from one of his monologues fit the era he served: “You don’t aspire to be a veteran. You just are one. If you survive you become one.”
- Richard’s monologue contains the chilling line, “I killed a family that night.” Richard, who claims to be a work in progress, has been through a lot. His advice is simple: “Ask questions,” he says. “When you ask them, be sincere about it.” About that night, he says with raw emotion, “I’ve gotten a lot of shit for this story, but they weren’t there.”
The setting is sparse. Seven chairs. A 20’ x 20’ stage. A few subtle lighting cues. The stories are thought-provoking. The shows are free. Just bring an open mind, and be willing to challenge yourself to continue the dialogue.
For ticket information visit https://www.guthrietheater.org/plays_events/plays/telling_minnesota_2015.
For more information on our initiative dedicated to honoring our local veterans, visit our Veterans Coming Home website http://veterans.tpt.org/.