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A Youth Theater Production Will Tell The Story of Growing Up In A Military Family

Kendrick Dial, an actor and military veteran, instructs Julia Cuppy (left) and Shirley Fishman on how to assume a proper military posture.
Hannah Harris Green
American Homefront
Kendrick Dial, an actor and military veteran, instructs Julia Cuppy (left) and Shirley Fishman on how to assume a proper military posture.

A west coast group is using youth theater to tell the stories of an often forgotten group of children -- kids who grow up in military families.

At the La Jolla Playhouse just north of San Diego, performer Kendrick Dial is showing a group of actors how to perform basic military rituals. They practice saluting and how to stand "at ease."

It's part of a script workshop for a play about military families. Children around Hawaii and Southern California will see the play, which is a joint production of the Pop Tour in San Diego County and the Honolulu Theatre for Youth.

People like Dial, with real connections to the military, are shaping  the script both in and out of the rehearsal room.

"This is one of the first projects that I've ever worked on as a writer where journalism and playwriting kind of come together," said the playwright, Lee Cataluna, who also works as a journalist in Honolulu.

"I'm meeting people, asking questions, hearing their stories, and then writing a play about it," she said. "So my worlds are colliding in this project."

Military children don't get the same level of literary attention soldiers do. Gathering material for the play, Cataluna has found a wealth of untold stories.

"One daughter remembered it was her birthday when Dad had to be deployed," Cataluna said. "Her birthday party was a cupcake in the back of the car after they drove to the airport to say goodbye."

Every military child’s story is different, but there's one question that comes up again and again -- and it plays a major role in Cataluna's early script: the unease that military children feel when they're asked, "Where are you from?"

Because military families frequently move from base, they sometimes develop creative answers to the question.  In the script, one character says, "I'm from everywhere."  Another tells his teacher, "I'm from right here, right now."

Military brats of all ages came to workshop the script, sharing their thoughts on such topics as communicating with deployed parents. One grade-school aged boy talked about using Facetime on his birthday to talk with his father, who was in Okinawa.

"My sister was in the living room, and she wouldn't come out because she knew she was going to cry, and all my friends were there," he said.

Eric Johnson, the director of the play, said those are exactly the kinds of experiences civilians should learn to understand.

"Rarely do we hear the stories of the young people who are also sacrificing and who are also in service of their country," he said. "I didn't fully understand it until working on this project."

Copyright 2017 North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC

Hannah Harris Green
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