Creating ReEntry

KJ Sanchez and Emiliy Ackerman

Three years ago, playwrights Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez began interviewing service men and women returning from and preparing for deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Emily and KJ are both sisters of veterans: KJ has five brothers who served in the military during the Vietnam War and Emily has two brothers (USMC) who have served multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Having a personal investment as they do, it was vital to them that their play sidestep the politics of this war and rather pay close attention to what they felt was most vital: to find out what the experience of returning home is like for these men and women, and to ask how we, as families, as a culture, a society, and as a country can help.

When Emily and KJ began interviewing servicemen, they met and listened to many extraordinary people who took great risk, both personally and professionally, to talk to them. The hardest part of the creative process was deciding which stories to tell, and which would not be included. For guidance through this process, Emily and KJ created a few rules. First, if their audience could easily find the material in the news, they didn’t need it in the play. Next, they decided to go deep, rather than wide, so if they couldn’t do a subject full justice and discuss all aspects, it wasn’t fair to include a superficial treatment.

They decided about halfway through the interviewing phase to concentrate on the Marine Corps. Through a stroke of good luck, they spent time at Camp Pendleton and decided that the culture and core values of the Marine Corps provided an interesting lens through which to look at the issue of coming back from deployment and re-entering one’s life, family and society. It is important to note that Ackerman and Sanchez do not mean to say with this play that what you will see is everyone’s experience coming home from deployment – they recognize that there are as many truths and experiences as there are men and women serving. The interviews were conducted in private settings, after much trust was gained, and to honor those they interviewed, Emily and KJ didn’t filter ANYTHING – including the language and irreverent sense of humor. As the Marines taught our playwrights, humor is an important part of who they are and it’s ok to laugh.

Director KJ Sanchez stated, “The Marines we encountered all have very different perspectives, different experiences and realities, and this play is in no way meant to represent them all. It is not our intention to make any blanket statements about the Marine Corps. There are as many truths, opinions, and experiences as there are brave and dedicated people serving, and we would not suggest that the few characters you hear from represent the whole. To those who welcomed us into their homes and their lives, a heartfelt and sincere thank you. You have taught us how to see, listen, and understand. Your names are not listed in the program’s ‘special thanks’, to respect your confidentiality, but we hope you know how truly grateful we are. We honor your commitment, dedication, and sacrifice.”

In addition to appearing at regional theatres across the country, ReEntry has been performed, by invitation of Command, on U.S. bases and military sites domestically and abroad, including US Marine Corps bases Quantico, Lejeune, Parris Island, and Beaufort Air Station. Sanchez and the ReEntry cast also performed at VA hospitals and Armed Forces national conferences. The company just returned from Europe, where they performed at eleven US Army bases in Germany and Italy. Attendance was required training for soldiers getting ready for and returning from deployment.

RHT’s production marks the company’s most extended residency in the DC area. Following the performances at Round House, the company travels to Kentucky for a run at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.

To learn more about ReEntry and watch videos related to the production, visit the American Records website at www.americanrecordstheater.org/reentry

ReEntry is onstage at Round House Bethesda thru October 30, 2011

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