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Veterans Find Resilience through Performing Shakespeare

Veterans in a DE-CRUIT workshop review a script with leader Stephan Wolfert (center, in red jacket.)

“When you find your experiences are reflected in Shakespeare, it feels like being seen,” says Norwich University Assistant Professor of Theatre Jeffry Casey. “And to be seen across 400 years is a really profound experience.”

Vermont Humanities recently gave a $3,000 grant to Norwich University to support the “Trauma, Veterans, and Shakespeare” project, which will explore how literature and theater can help veterans find resilience in the face of trauma. The project features three weeks of programs beginning in March and will include several public performances of a one-man show by military veteran Stephan Wolfert.

The heart of the project is three daylong DE-CRUIT workshops for veterans led by Wolfert and his partner Dawn Stern. Participants in the workshops will read and work with monologues from Shakespeare, and then write their own monologues. One of the workshops will be limited to female veterans, and will include a private reading of “Deployed,” a play inspired by discussions at a Vermont Humanities Veterans’ Book Group for women.

Veterans Book Groups

Creating an opportunity for veterans to connect with each other, build relationships, read insightful materials, and share experiences.

Casey and other Norwich University professors are partnering with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction and the Veteran’s Place in Northfield to encourage veterans to take part in the DE-CRUIT workshops. The monologues written by the workshop participants will be shared with friends, family, and community members.

“Veterans coming back from combat can feel very connected to their unit, but disconnected from civilians, including their friends and family,” says Casey. “The sharing of the monologues and having them performed creates a necessary distance, even as it creates a sense of community within the experience.”

A performance of the one-man play, “Cry Havoc” by Stephan Wolfert at the Semel Institute in Los Angeles.

Wolfert first visited Norwich University in 2018 to perform “Cry Havoc,” his one-man show that takes its title from Mark Antony’s speech in “Julius Caesar.” In his play, Wolfert’s interweaves his own memories with texts from Shakespeare.

“People lined up after the show to talk to Stephan,” said Casey. “I’ve seen a fair amount of theater, but I’ve seen very few theater performances with that kind of response from the audience.”

Free performances of “Cry Havoc” will take place in White River Junction on March 13, and at Norwich University on March 20 and on April 2, 3, and 4. A paid performance organized by the Grange Hall Cultural Center will take place in Waterbury on March 12.

Casey added, “We would welcome any member of the public who is working with veterans, anyone who is a veteran, or who is family or a friend of a veteran to contact me and let me know if there’s a way that they want to be involved with some of these events.”