By Scott Prater
Bryan Doerries spent the better part of two years attempting to convince military leaders that his Theater of War project could somehow provide value to active duty Soldiers, Airmen and their families.
During the long arduous process he was tasked with explaining his motives, dispelling skepticism and showing how Theater of War might assist servicemembers as they transition between the war zone and home.
Eventually, he succeeded in his efforts, and Theater of War began performing at military installations around the nation, as well as a few stops overseas.
Sponsored by the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, Theater of War has been presented to more than 20,000 servicemembers .
“I’m convinced that people who live lives of mythical proportion, where the stakes are life and death, have no trouble relating to ancient myth,” Mr. Doerries said.
Theater of War covers the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder and its effects on military members as they return home from deployment. It is an innovative, participatory event, intended to increase awareness of post-deployment psychological health issues, provide information regarding available resources and cultivate greater family and troop resilience.
The production begins with a performance from professional actors, who read a modern translation of two plays written by Sophocles, an ancient Greek general officer and renowned playwright.
These aren’t stuffy, pretentious theater plays. According to Mr. Doerries, they timelessly depict the psychological and physical wounds inflicted by war upon warriors.
As the founder and director of Theater of War, Mr. Doerries conjured the idea for the production when he began hearing stories about service members who were returning home from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Details of their experiences, their thoughts and feelings, seemed oddly familiar.
The son of psychologists and a student and practitioner of the psychology profession, he read Sophocles’ plays on more than a few occasions.
“I went back, researched and studied these plays and found the topics and themes were related in a huge way, so I thought, maybe today’s combat veterans could benefit from them,” he said. “I was struck by the connection across time. These plays describe an experience that only those who have been to war or those who have cared for those who have been to war could possibly understand.”
Obviously, the reading of Ajax and Philoctetes represent an important part of the Theater of War production, but what occurs afterward is key to the experience: The panel discussion.
The panel is core to the event because it allows for multiple perspectives from within the audience. Wherever Theater of War is performed, Mr. Doerries attempts to draw an officer, an enlisted member, a military spouse, a chaplain and a mental health professional from the community.
The panel members respond without prepared or rehearsed remarks. Instead, they are implored to speak from the gut about what they saw and heard in the plays that connected with their own experiences at war and at home.
“The panel is everything from my perspective because it opens the audience up and allows for a real discussion to take place,” Mr. Doerries said. “This is not an academic exercise, it’s people responding, many times emotionally, to what was stirred in them by the performance.”
Schriever will host Theater of War with two performances today from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at the fitness center.
“We are excited and honored to have the opportunity for this production to be offered here at Schriever,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Glenn Gresham. “Theater of War has toured extensively to many military installations and has received great reviews. The performance offers people the opportunity to discuss the effects of PTSD, as well as the challenges of reintegration following a deployment.”