‘War Stories’ to be performed at Proctors
SCHENECTADY A dramatic presentation about war and its impact on both the soldier and those back home will be performed later this month at the GE Theatre at Proctors.
Students, faculty and staff from SUNY Empire State College submitted essays, poems and stories over the past year to a group of professors who were developing the special performance.
“War Stories” includes poems and stories about almost every war from World War I to those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The presentation will be at 7 p.m. April 24 and will be streamed live at http://choose.esc.edu/warstories.
“It’s a dramatic reading,” said Cindy Bates, an assistant professor and mentor at the Schenectady unit of Empire State College’s Northeast Center.
Bates, whose specialities include theater studies, dramatic criticism and theater history, is directing the seven people who will present the 25 readings selected from more than 75 submitted.
The free performance will be 75 minutes long.
The idea of the project started with a writing course called “War Stories: Reading and Writing About the Impact of War” at Empire State College.
The goal of the course is to allow students, particularly students who are military veterans, to have a place to read, discuss, reflect and write about war.
The dramatic presentation, which is not connected to any course, was developed by Elaine Handley and Claudia Hough, who teach writing and literature at Empire State College, and by Bates.
“We were trying to find ways to share it publicly,” Bates said about the war experiences of the Empire State College community.
Bates said the students involved in writing about their war experiences or the impact of war on their families found sharing the stories therapeutic.
One student, Ryan Smithson, 26, of Schenectady, has even published a book about his experiences in Iraq as an Army soldier.
Smithson, who will be one of those reading war stories on April 24, had his book, “Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-year-old GI” published by Harper-Collins in 2009 as part of their young adults collection.
Smithson said the book started as a series of essays while he was a student at Hudson Valley Community College after returning from Iraq in 2006.
He covers a whole series of emotions in the book, including funny moments, close calls and returning home.
“I felt like a whole part of me had died. I had night terrors,” Smithson said. “It was harder coming back than being there in many ways.”
One night, while he was dreaming and having night terrors, “a ghost floated down to me. I felt calm and relieved and had no more night terrors,” he said. He used this ghost concept for the title of his book.
“It’s so important to share the stories,” Bates said.
She and the others involved in the project say it’s essential for the soldiers to tell their stories and the community to hear them and understand the sacrifices those in the military made for their country.
Some of the readings are written by people who have not experienced war directly but have been affected by it all the same. Some stories are from people who have protested against war.
For example, Empire State College President Alan Davis, who grew up in England, submitted a story about a relative’s experiences during World War I.
Bates, who is also resident director of Curtain Call Theater in Latham, said some of the stories are very short while others are a little longer.
Those reading the stories and poems, besides Smithson, will be Jack Fallon, Isaac Newberry, Patrick Rooney, Deb Smith, Sarah Wasserbach and Nadine Wedderburn.