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College of Human Ecology

K-State interactive theater workshop performance to give voice to struggles of military children

Friday, May 9, 2008

MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University's School of Family Studies and Human Services and department of speech communication, theater and dance have partnered with members of the Manhattan community to create an interactive theater workshop that provides a voice to the children of military families.

The project will culminate with a performance of the original play "Serving At Home." The play, which features about a dozen area middle-school age students, will be at 7:30 p.m. May 16 and 17 at the Manhattan Arts Center, 1520 Poyntz Ave. A community discussion will follow both performances.

The play is free, but seating is limited and some content may not be appropriate for young children. More information is available by calling 785-532-1905 or 785-532-7720.

"The program was funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Department of Defense grant," said Elaine Johannes, K-State assistant professor of family studies and human services and an Extension specialist in youth development. "The Speak Out for Military Kids Interactive Theater project is part of K-State's larger Operation Military Kids program that helps military-connected youth cope with the stress that often comes with dealing with a military relative who is deployed."

Johannes partnered with several K-State faculty and community members to develop the interactive theater project.

"It allows the children to express their emotions in a safe and creative way," she said.

Alissa Duncan, a K-State master's degree graduate in theater and a registered drama therapist, worked with the students on the project and wrote "Serving At Home."

"We started by improvising and doing exercises designed to get to know each other," Duncan said. "Then we discussed the cycle of deployment -- pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment -- and talked about the feelings the kids had and the issues they faced during these times. We brainstormed and improvised different scenes and eventually put those into a kind of order. This ended up becoming the basis for the play."

"Serving at Home" centers on Chloe, a teenage girl whose mother gets deployed. It also features the stories of Chloe's younger sister and grandfather, creating a multigenerational focus. The play builds on the problems the family faces and the eventual breaking point that is reached.

The story doesn't tie up neatly, Duncan said, but has some loose ends that she hopes gives the play a feeling that is true to life. Duncan said she wanted to create a script that got the thoughts of the kids across without sounding artificial, while creating a story that gets people engaged in dialogue.

"I think it's very important for people to talk and I wanted this to be something people realize when they see this play," she said. "Too often, people want to push things under the rug, but there needs to be a point where there is discussion in order to reach a healing point."

Sally Bailey, K-State associate professor of speech communication, theater and dance, will lead the community discussion after each performance and provide additional materials for those attending.

"After seeing the play and receiving feedback through the discussion, military experts will brainstorm about what the community can do to aid the families," Johannes said.

Johannes said she has been stunned by the way interactive theater project has allowed the students to open up and have a voice.

"Through this process, I've learned that the family side of war isn't something that's really been explored in literature," Bailey said. "For thousands of years, only the glory part of a soldier's experience was explored and only recently has the traumatic side of that experience been explored. But, the family has usually been left out."

Eventually, the project members will create a guide to serve as a resource that other communities could use when creating an interactive theater group.

"There really aren't guidelines for this type of thing, but we hope to change that with the manual," Bailey said. "It's been so validating for the students to be able to tell their story and have other people hear it. It makes them feel like they belong in the world, and after telling their story, they feel accepted and empowered."

Sources: Sally Bailey, 785-532-6780, sdbailey@k-state.edu;and Elaine Johannes, 785-532-7720, ejohanne@k-state.edu

News release prepared by: Jessica Grant, 785-532-6415, jgrant@k-state.edu

This article was posted on Friday, May 9, 2008, and is filed under Family Studies & Human Services.