A new play called "Deployed" is based on the words of dozens of women who served in the U.S. military in places like Vietnam, Okinawa, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Deployed" has its first public stage reading on Saturday at the V.A. Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont.
A paragraph will be projected on the wall with some details about the more than two million female veterans in the U.S. The projection also says that of the women receiving care from the V.A. system, approximately one of seven reported sexual trauma that occurred during their service.
In one of the play's scenes, a character talks about familiar military cadences — marching chants like, "Left... left... left, right, left." She says, "That's the chant civilians know, but the guys around the back of the base, where there's no chance of being overheard — they have other ones." Then together, several characters chant, "I wish that all the ladies were pies on the shelf..."
Co-written by Nicola Smith, "Deployed" is based on interviews she did with dozens of women veterans from New Hampshire and Vermont. They've all got stories, Smith says, but usually we don't hear them.
Nicola Smith, playwright: Some of the veterans did tell me that, you know, when they would come back from service, nobody really wanted to know what they did or where they were. They weren't asked questions. That seemed to be a common thread running through -- that once you come back home, you're just supposed to get on with it, and get on with your life.
Jill Kaufman, NEPR: When you were writing this, were you trying to make a statement about women in the military? Or were you simply trying to do what journalists do, just reflect outward what it is you've heard?
I think it was a bit of both. I mean, I think my first sense was just to get their stories down and out to an audience. But I had not heard these stories, and I wasn't familiar with them. And I think that a number of the female veterans I spoke with feel that their contributions have not been recognized in the same way as men's contributions have been.
What did you learn by writing this yourself — not a veteran — as you met with these women, and then turned this into something that would be experienced by others?
I think, first of all, I was just surprised by the breadth and range of their service, and their depth of feeling for the service that they performed, and their resilience. I think their resilience stands out for me, in the end. But they — some of them really went through real trauma, from rape and sexual assault. So some of them struggle with that, still.
I want to make sure that we're not making this [seem] that this show is just about sexual assault. Though I understand that what you heard a lot about was sexual assault. But you heard a lot of different stories about it.
No, it's not the only focus. I tried to write about their familial connections, and their sense of patriotism, and what the flag means to them, and the sense of camaraderie and duty with your fellow soldiers. And I think there's some occasional humor, as well. I think it's really more about the women's lives as a whole. Although for some of them, that was marked by misconduct on the part of other soldiers or officers. But I tried hard — we tried hard not to make it only about military sexual trauma, because that's no, in the end, who they are. They're more than that. I hope the play conveys that.
The audio version of this story included sound from a rehearsal that NEPR incorrectly said took place at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont. The rehearsal actually took place at Northern Stage.