Photo by Bruce Silcox
Group of six people part of The Veterans Play Project
The Veterans Play Project
Director Leah Cooper has had a long interest in community-based theater. After training with Cornerstone Theater in L.A., leading specialists in this genre, she was contacted by Jack Reuler, artistic director of Mixed Blood Theatre, to partner on a play that told the stories of Minnesota veterans. What emerged from this collaboration was a new theater company, Footprints Collective, and a new production, The Veterans Play Project—an ambitious undertaking that employs veterans to communicate the human complexity of military service.
“We were keenly aware that the country has been at war for 10 years,” Cooper says. “But returning soldiers are frequently alienated from the rest of society. The communities are isolated from one another. This play is an attempt to bridge that gap.” It’s not only about post-9/11 veterans, she says—it features veterans of “every age, every branch, every conflict.”
Gathering the stories took almost two years. “We had to earn the trust of organizations like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and National Guard before they would connect us with their members,” Cooper explains. “We had to convince them that we didn’t have a political agenda.” A special effort was made to contact marginalized vets—such as people of color and the disabled—that the Collective felt needed to be heard from.
The script itself was a community effort, written by members of the Collective and workshopped to get feedback from the veterans. The acting company is also community based. In addition to some familiar professional actors, 14 members of the 21-member cast are veterans, many of whom have never performed onstage before.
But Cooper insists it’s not a social service project. “We’ve created a fictional plot to let us tell as many stories as possible,” she says. “Our goal is to create good theater out of their experiences.” Nov. 15–24. Fort Snelling Base Camp, 201 Bloomington Rd., Fort Snelling, 612-338-6131, mixedblood.com