Production highlights PTSD awareness
October 5, 2011
FORT BENNING Ga. - Post-traumatic stress disorder isn't an invention of the 21st century.
Sophocles was writing about something similar circa 450 B.C., and it's his play, Ajax, that can help modern audiences look at PTSD in new ways.
Emory Theatre and the Springer Opera House will present Theater of War at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Springer. The free event includes a dramatic reading of the play followed by a town hall discussion with the audience and a panel of guest speakers.
"The panel is going to be made up of Soldiers, veterans, clinical professionals, chaplains and family members," said John Hargrove, volunteer organizer for the event. "What might happen (can) happen. It will be left very open to let it go in the direction of that particular audience -- very interactive."
The program is part of a nationwide project called Outside the Wire that connects communities with ancient texts that deal with a major issue, such as marginalization or addiction.
According to the website, nearly 30,000 service members, veterans and family members have participated in Theater of War, which focuses on removing the stigma of psychological injury and fostering stronger family and troop resilience.
"This particular play that's coming to Columbus, Theater of War, really indicates that PTSD is not something that has just been created new," Hargrove said. "It is past, present and, in all probability, future."
Although Hargrove hasn't personally seen Theater of War, he's heard enough about it to believe in its effectiveness.
"I've talked to people -- they say it's very intense," he said. "I've heard it described that you could hear a pin drop. It grabs the audience with that kind of power. I had one retired general that told me it was after he retired from the Army and had been to a presentation or two like this that he and wife realized that he'd had PTSD."
Hargrove, who served in the Army after Vietnam, said he became interested in PTSD and its consequences a few years ago.
"I think maybe my first awareness of (PTSD) was when my son was stationed here in the early 2000s out at Kelley Hill," he said. "I just started realizing that it's very challenging. There are people here going through a stressful part of their lives, and they need some support. We've got a whole community of people in Columbus who can help to provide that support. This is a good chance for both communities to have an evening of awareness, education and entertainment … a melting pot of more understanding about what deployment and combat can mean in a military family."
Panelists will vary between the first and second night. Another difference between the two performances is the gender of the main character: the first night features the warrior Ajax as a man and the second night, as a woman. Both shows are recommended for adults only.
Suicide, reclusiveness, domestic violence, substance abuse and alcoholism are often tied to PTSD and are just a few of the issues that may be addressed, Hargrove said. "Prevention is the ultimate goal. It starts with education."
Scooter MacMillan, marketing director at the Springer, said the theater got involved in this program because it's something they believe in.
"Part of our mission is to help bring out issues that humanity needs to grapple with," he said. "We certainly do a lot of stuff that's just for laughs … but theater by its very nature has a social conscience. PTSD is something we need to talk about. It's nothing we need to be ashamed of. And that's what Ajax deals with. I think it's good to know that this isn't some pop culture phenomenon -- that this is a timeless issue that even in the time of Sophocles was being dealt with."
MacMillan said potential theater-goers shouldn't be deterred by the ancient text or the idea of a dramatic presentation; as with any other performance, the theater will be "a meeting place of ideas" for the community.
There will also be resources available for people to get more information about combat-related stress, he said.
The reading includes selected scenes from Ajax, which follows the story of a distinguished soldier who returns home after the Trojan Wars and the ensuing conflicts with his family, friends and his comrades.
To pick up a ticket, go to the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation headquarters on Eckel Avenue or the Springer box office. Tickets are free thanks to sponsor support, but Hargrove asks individuals to request only the number of tickets they plan to use.
To reach the box office, call 706-327-3688. The Springer is located at 103 10th Street. For more on Outside the Wire or Theater of War, visit www.outsidethewirellc.com.