Veterans and the Arts


Today is Veteran’s Day, a good time to talk about how the arts have helped veterans, and how veterans have contributed to the arts.

Theater helped military veteran Adam Driver adjust to civilian life. He is now in the cast of HBO’s Girls. He created Arts in the Armed Forces.

Driver told the Wall Street Journal

Here you are with a small group of people where everything has meaning. The uniform you wear, you have a certain rank and when you walk into a room people know your status immediately….All that kind of structure and meaning is gone when you get out and suddenly you’re at Starbucks and you’re being ordered around by some college student who doesn’t know anything about who you are, and you start thinking that civilians are nasty and disgusting and there’s no meaning in things. You’re aware of what you can accomplish in a day, you’re aware of how precious life can be at an early age. I think it’s a tricky transition to figure out: How do I apply the things I learned to this life? For me, I didn’t find a way to really express that until I was reading plays about these characters who weren’t in the military but experiencing the same themes of loss and identity and mourning. I just understood.”

How Greek Tragedies Help U.S. Soldiers


Bryan Doerries is the author of The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today. It chronicles his work with his company Outside The Wire presenting plays, primarily those by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus, to help specific audiences grapple with trauma, much of it related to violence— including some 60,000 U.S. military service members, veterans, and their families.

Doerries believes “ancient Greek drama was a form of storytelling, communal therapy, and ritual reintegration for combat veterans by combat veterans. Sophocles himself was a general. At the time Aeschylus wrote and produced his famous Oresteia, Athens was at war on six fronts. The audiences for whom these plays were performed were undoubtedly composed of citizen-soldiers. Also, the performers themselves were most likely veterans or cadets. Seen through this lens, ancient Greek drama appears to have been an elaborate ritual aimed at helping combat veterans return to civilian life after deployments during a century that saw 80 years of war.

“Plays like Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes read like textbook descriptions of wounded warriors, struggling under the weight of psychological and physical injuries to maintain their dignity, identity, and honor. Given this context, it seemed natural that military audiences today might have something to teach us about the impulses behind these ancient stories.It also seemed like these ancient stories would have something important and relevant to say to military audiences today.”

And indeed they have.  After the very first performance in 2009, a colonel remarked: “These plays were written long ago, but they describe people I know.”

Also see terrific series on Howlround by Stephan Wolfert, Shakespeare Through The Lens of a Military Veteran

Arts Groups For Military Veterans

Other groups that help veterans pursue  the arts either as a vocation or an avocation, for healing and for sustenance:

United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance (USVAA)

Veteran Artist Program (VAP)

Society of Artistic Veterans (SocArtVets)

Tomorrow, a free event in Lincoln Center:

Home Show Nov 12

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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