By CRISTINA JANNEY
Two local veterans organizations are bringing a play based on letters written by veterans and their families to Hays on Sept. 8.
Douglas Taurel wrote and performs “The America Soldier,” a one-man show that highlights the experiences of veterans from the Revolutionary War through Afghanistan.
The performance will be 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Beach-Schmidt Performing Arts Center at Fort Hays State University, 600 Park, Hays. Tickets are $10 at the door.
There is no charge for veterans (discharge papers or VFW or American Legion membership cards are preferred, but not required). The event is sponsored by the FHSU Veterans Association and Vietnam Veterans of America.
John Pyle of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America said he hopes the performance helps non-veterans and family members to understand the fears and hopes veterans experience.
Taurel is not a veteran, but spent eight years researching and selecting actual letters to portray in the play. He also has family members who are veterans and active service military.
“My play is really to give audiences appreciation of what veterans and families go through and what their sacrifices really are,” he said. “We talk about sacrifice but really don’t know what that means to lose a father, to lose a mother, to lose a son, to lose a wife, to financially not to be able to support your family because you are not really able to reassimilate back into society and make money anymore.”
Taurel said these are things society doesn’t really talk about anymore.
“We only talk about the shiny part of war,” he said. “We don’t talk about the back side of war. There is a very deep price, and a small population of our society is paying for it.”
Taurel wanted to bring more awareness of the experiences of veterans to non-veterans through his play. Many themes arise in the play, put Taurel said a common thread for many who have viewed the play has been difficultly reassimilating into society.
“If you see heavy combat, you almost have to go into some kind of decompression group therapy for six months to a year to reassimilate — to learn that a tire in the road is not an IED, it’s just a tire in the road. Knowing that huge crowds of people around you are not people trying to blow you up, they are actually just huge crowds of people,” he said. “As a country, we just don’t put any money into the reassimilation of veterans back into society.”
Taurel said this has been a thread through all the wars he has studied.
“It is the same story. We throw our veterans away kind of like used trash,” he said.
Of the 14 people who are portrayed in the one-hour play, most are infantrymen. However, Taurel also has included a letter from a mother who lost her son during the Vietnam War, and a soldier’s wife and her 8-year-old son.
Taurel said the play is very emotionally draining to perform and has been emotional for many of his audience members.
“Family members sometimes cry,” he said. “I have really emotional moments afterwards literally crying with family members or veterans. It becomes a catharsis for some people. It allows them to release things that they have never been able to release for any reason.”
“The American Soldier” first appeared off Broadway in 2015. Since, Taurel has performed at the international Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Kennedy Center and is set to perform later this year at the U.S. Library of Congress and in front of members of the U.S. Congress. The play also was nominated for Amnesty International’s annual Freedom of Expression Award.
Taurel has been in talks to bring a longer version of the play to Broadway and film.