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Arts and Entertainment

Vets Tell the Real Story

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As the culminating event of a fifteen week workshop that joined veterans, performing artists, and activists in a series of verbal and physical conversations about their lives and aspirations, "Action Conversations" was presented at Highways Performance Space for only three performances, February 8-9. Through a collaborative process under the direction of UCLA professor and choreographer Victoria Marks, the performers revealed some of the highlights of their explorations of identity, heroics, mortality and civic responsibility in this sixty minute work.

A consummate dancemaker who has worked with professionals and non-performers internationally, Marks brought together original texts written by the collaborators spiked with small bursts of movement for these wounded men and their onstage allies. Modeled on a pilot project created by another choreographer, Ellen Bromberg in Salt Lake City, Utah a year ago, the words were both poetic and therapeutic descriptions of these soldiers' experiences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). The resulting script was very personal and emotional and, hopefully, contained moments of catharsis for these undervalued men. Perhaps it also provided closure to some of life's more devastating times for them. For me, it was a peek behind the screens of patriotism, Rambo-like films and culturally conditioned machismo.

The men's stories of anguish, depression, self-destruction and elusive hopes for a brighter future were disturbing, unsettling, and almost unbelievable in the midst of our southern California comfort. Each recounting was almost sadder than the next. But, Marks and her comrades did well as they also talked about lighter subjects and other anecdotes during the evening. Still, their physical depiction of a bombing raid complete with grown men as arms-spread-wide jet bombers, a single arm circling overhead helicopter and all the vocal sounds that brought this adrenaline/testosterone moment of excitement and fear to life in this small black box theater was an image to hold on to for the future.

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The courageous performers included former Marine Manuel Flores, former Coast Guard Aaron McCollum, John Tingley (Air Force), Cid Williams (Air Force medic), UCLA PhD student Eva Aymamy, Salvation Army program director David Leonard and Marks. The simple yet dramatically effective lighting was by in-house designer Jason Mace.

photo by Joe Holmes, courtesy of Flickr