Maechi Aharanwa performs the monologue “The Party” from “Colored Museum” by George C. Wolfe during a performance for 15th Military Police Brigade soldiers Feb. 23 at the Post Theater. Aharanwa is both an artist and the Arts in the Armed Forces content adviser. Photo by Charlotte Richter/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Actors’ group performs for soldiers

Charlotte Richter/Staff Writer

Five artists from the non-profit organization Arts in the Armed Forces performed nine monologue pieces and spoke to 15th Military Police Brigade soldiers Feb. 23 at the Post Theater.

AITAF, founded in 2008 by Adam Driver and Joanne Tucker, offers theater and film experiences to honor and enrich the military community.

Arts in the Armed Forces actors Bill Heck and Josiah Bania perform a monologue from “True West,” a play by Sam Shepard, during their performance for 15th Military Police Brigade soldiers Feb. 23 in the Post Theater. The pair, portraying brothers Lee and Austin, performed scenes four and eight. Photo by Charlotte Richter/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

The AITAF visit to Fort Leavenworth, which included a performance for incarcerated veterans at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks and Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility, was AITAF’s third visit to Fort Leavenworth. This was AITAF’s first live performance on a military installation since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

First Lt. Rick Curtis, platoon leader with the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks Battalion (Corrections), watches AITAF monologue performances with other members of the 15th Military Police Brigade Feb. 23 at the Post Theater. Photo by Charlotte Richter/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

The visiting artists included Maechi Aharanwa, Josiah Bania, Francois Battiste, Bill Heck and Jennifer Mudge, joined on stage by AITAF Director Patricia McGregor and AITAF Program Director Erica Newhouse. 

According to the AITAF website, the actors and service members exchange experiences — service members enjoy a performance and question-and-answer session from AITAF, and ATIAF artists train to the specialty of the installation they visit. This year AITAF artists arrived during the beginning of the week to meet, rehearse and learn about the installation before performing for soldiers and incarcerated veterans. Due to inclement weather during the time of the visit, the artists did not take part in military training as planned.

During the question-and-answer session, soldiers asked artists and staff members questions about stage performance, content, casting and spoke on what they noticed during the performance. The cast and staff also discussed their experiences in comparison to military environments.

McGregor said AITAF selects monologues with muscular and poetic language. Newhouse said the monologues are pieces the artists enjoy in which characters evolve during the performance. Newhouse said returning to Fort Leavenworth allowed the organization to deepen the collection of monologues for future events.

While AITAF casts in-house, certain actors choose to join traveling performances.

Arts in the Armed Forces actors Bill Heck, Francois Battiste and Maechi Aharanwa, AITAF Director Patricia McGregor, actor Jennifer Mudge and AITAF Program Director Erica Newhouse speak with soldiers from the 15th Military Police Brigade during a question-and-answer session after the AITAF monologue performance Feb. 23 at the Post Theater. Photo by Charlotte Richter/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“Having an opportunity to do what we do for people we admire takes off to a certain extent,” Battiste said. “We have an appreciation for your service and your sacrifice. Personally, I feel as actors it is a bit of community service to be a storyteller, to deliver a story and hopefully allow it to land upon you and resonate in your circumstance.”

First Lt. Zoe Hall, assistant S3 with the USDB Battalion (Corrections), told the artists as someone who grew up around the arts and attended the earlier AITAF visits on post, she appreciated their roles as a vessel for the monologue.

“You guys are truly just delivering us the piece, and I think that’s really special, and it’s very organic to the writing of that script of that screenplay. As somebody who gets to experience this with people who probably haven’t seen a lot of plays… it’s cool to get that view in its most raw form,” Hall said. “Almost as if you guys were rehearsing, but you’re not, you’re truly performing that, so thank you.”

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