05/03/17 — Arts Council of Wayne County to begin work on VetStories

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Arts Council of Wayne County to begin work on VetStories

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 3, 2017 9:57 AM

The Arts Council of Wayne County will begin working on a project this month that will be 18 months in the making.

VetStories stems from a project that director Wendy Snow Walker did in Pittsburgh called the Heroes Project.

"We will interview veterans and active duty military, listen to their stories and their memoirs and compile the interviews to find common themes," Ms. Walker said. "We'll take those themes and turn them into poetry. We'll turn the poetry into songs. We'll take those songs and have choreographers create dances from the music and then tie it all together with one big script."

The final result will be an original show, featuring stories from local veterans and active duty military.

Ms. Walker said the project from start to finish will take about 18 months. It will kick off May 27 as part of the Arts Council's Wings of Wayne event.

"We'll head out to the Kinston Veterans Home to welcome them into the project and conduct some of our first interviews," Ms. Walker said. "We are also connected with Doug McGrath, veterans coordinator with the Elks. We want to work with the folks on the base. And we want to connect with other organizations in town to find the folks who would like to share their stories with us."

Ms. Walker said the project is a huge community effort that takes all the pieces of the puzzle to make a great show.

The questions that the veterans and active duty military participants will be asked are: rank, where served, describe your first day overseas, describe your most significant moment or event, describe your most humorous moment or event, what did you miss most from home and what was the thing you did first when you returned home.

"You ask the same 10 questions to 10 different people and you get 10 completely different answers and stories," Ms. Walkers said. "These basic questions can then lead to other stories."

Ms. Walker said when she did the Heroes Project in Pittsburgh, World War II veterans, Korean War veterans, Vietnam War veterans and modern-day conflicts veterans participated.

She said the Vietnam veteran delegate up there was very, very strong and gave her a lot of information that was used to create a really powerful piece of the show.

"I'm hoping we can find that here," Ms. Walker said. "It may not be that the Vietnam veteran section is the biggest one here. We were talking to a lot of Army veterans in Pittsburgh. I have a feeling we'll run into more Air Force veterans here. Certainly we'll meet a lot more active duty Air Force here than we did in Pittsburgh."

The Arts Council will have community help on the project. Brian Bevell with Bevell Productions will do the video footage for the interviews. Anthony Smith with Anthony Smith Photography will do the photos for the interviews. Megan Hoyle with Legacy Dance will work on the choreography.

The Arts Council will have a preview art show from the VetStories Project around Veterans Day this year. The entire production will be finished by Veterans Day 2018.

She said the end product will be one big show revolving around the interviews with the veterans and active duty military.

But it will also become something that local schools can use. The Arts Council will create an opening number, use some of the sections in the middle of the production and then create a closing number for the schools. The schools will then be able to personalize the project to their own school.

"We hope this project helps teach a new generation an historical past," Ms. Walker said. "It's giving you that intergenerational conversation between older Americans and the younger generation coming up. It's giving them historical context, which I think is important.

"You can read lots of facts in books and that's great, but to hear those personal stories, to hear a soldier talk about buying an ice cream cone for a child on the street, little things like that, are heartwarming stories. I think that's what brings it to life for a child."

Ms. Walker said the project is also a good bridge to connect with the base.

"The arts are a connector between the base and the community," she said.

"And we want to reach out to the military and veterans and honor and pay tribute to them and say thank you."