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FT. BRAGG STORIES: Bringing Shakespeare To Bragg

Joseph Henderson addresses a group of students enrolled at a summer arts enrichment program at Fort Bragg.
Rodrigo Dorfman
Joseph Henderson addresses a group of students enrolled at a summer arts enrichment program at Fort Bragg.

Joseph Henderson was inspired to use his training as an actor and children's educator to help military children and their families.  

He and a team of instructors launched Shakespeare on Base, a free, two-week summer program teaching dancing, art, singing, and, of course, Shakespeare. In 2011, the program served roughly 50 children at Fort Bragg between the ages five to 17. Those with deployed parents got first priority.

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At first, Henderson recalled, it was a challenge to get the children to relax and embrace their creativity.

"When they were able to let go, and be free with their expression, and to create, it was an enormous moment in those rooms," he said. "It gave the parents a chance to see their children in a whole new light."

Showcasing the performing arts in a military environment turned out to be, as he put it, "a wonderful marriage" of structure and creative expression.

But after Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016, Henderson got a call from the United Way of Cumberland County saying equipment for the program, which was stored in the basement, had been destroyed by flooding. Keyboards, sets and costumes were all ruined. Despite the setback, Henderson hopes to continue the program, and expand it.

"There are over 800 military bases across the world," he said. "I think the very least we could do is two weeks of arts enriched summer camps for kids who are on those bases. I would like to do it again. It's the very, very best I can do."

Ft. Bragg Stories is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email

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