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Carthage College theatre project takes a unique approach on veterans

Rather than summoning dialogue from a muse, Carthage College student playwright Laurel McKenzie collected direct quotes from service members and their spouses. This unique approach yielded “Afghanistan/Wisconsin: A Verbatim Theatre Project.”

Directed by Carthage theatre professor Martin McClendon, the performance premiered on campus last fall. But the play did not stop at the campus boundaries. Performances were given at public venues around the state — including the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison.

Judges selected the play for the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival Region III celebration in Milwaukee earlier this year. There, the cast earned the Regional Certificate of Merit for Excellence in Performance — Ensemble award.

The most emotional aspect typically came after the scripted dialogue finished.

“The talk-back is almost like a third act of the play,” Prof. McClendon said. “We’ve had parents of veterans explain that they didn’t understand why their son or daughter was distant and wanted to be alone when they returned from duty, and now they’re going to call immediately and apologize.”

The play took form during Ms. McKenzie’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, with Prof. McClendon as her faculty mentor. She compiled more than 40 hours of interviews. The actors completed 12 weeks of U.S. Army physical fitness training and worked with local veterans to get minute details down pat.

This play lives on in a variety of forms. The script will be made available royalty-free, and the recorded interviews will be archived at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. The project also raised more than $2,300 for three veterans’ organizations.

“It was surreal seeing my recollections, normally always quiet and only in my own mind, being shared so vividly and clearly in a way that otherwise would not ever happen,” said Kai Loberg, a U.S. Navy veteran and Carthage senior. “The whole Theatre Department absolutely nailed it.”