Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
A Roman Catholic priest. A wife who learns about her unfaithful husband. A boy who wishes he was Batman.
These were some of the characters soldiers of the 15th Military Police Brigade watched six actors bring to life Feb. 21 at the Post Theater as part of the Arts in the Armed Forces visit Feb. 21-22 to Fort Leavenworth.
Arts in the Armed Forces is a non-profit organization founded by actor Adam Driver meant to “use the powerful shared experience of the arts to start conversations between military and civilian, service member and family member, the world of the arts and the world of practical action,” according to the AITAF official website.
The program is currently in its 12th year with 15 base visits scheduled for 2020.
“Adam Driver and Joanne Tucker, when they were at Julliard, founded Arts in the Armed Forces. Adam was a Marine. He got injured right before he deployed and he had to take medical leave from the military,” said Erica Newhouse, AITAF program director. “Then he auditioned to Julliard, studied drama and he found that working on plays was helping him transition from military to civilian life.
“He also felt like the entertainment he had received in the Marines could have been more thought-provoking and he felt like those he was serving with could handle more,” she said. “The very first trip was to Camp Pendleton (Calif). They brought a series of monologues … and it went over so well that they realized they wanted to start a non-profit and do this indefinitely.”
This was the second time AITAF has visited the 15th MP Brigade. The group performed for the inmates of the Joint Regional Correctional Facility and the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in 2019.
“I went to the monologues and what I can tell you is that they were phenomenal,” said Col. Caroline Smith, 15th MP Brigade commander. “The actors bring to life a monologue in no way that I’ve ever seen. They were compelling. They had topics that were funny and they had topics that were real topics of concern for many of us in the lives that we’re living, and they were very, very good.
“When Erica reached out and asked if we wanted to do this again next year I said, ‘Absolutely, and I’d like to bring it to the 15th MP Brigade as well,’” she said.
The actors — Dion Mucciacito from “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” Motell Foster from “Blue Bloods,” Scott Cohen from “The Fix,” Frank Pando from “The Sopranos,” Maechi Aharanwa from “30 Rock,” and Newhouse — collectively performed 11 monologues from contemporary American plays directed by Betsy Aidem of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Grammy nominated singer and guitarist Michael Daves bookended the performances.
Soldiers had varied reactions to which monologue stood out. For 1st Lt. Zoe Hall and 2nd Lt. Levi Gervasi of the 256th Military Police Company, 40th Military Police Battalion (Detention), the first monologue by Mucciacito and Pando stood out the most because the brothers in the scene reminded them of their relationship.
“He’s just more calm and simple versus my chaotic and complicated,” Hall said. “When I want to be all crazy, he keeps me grounded. We’re very yin and yang, and it was definitely performed up there today.
“(The monologues) were a very good depiction of different demographics that we see in society,” she said. “Even as military personnel, we’re put in these green suits to basically make everybody the same, but really, we’re all different people and having these different monologues to show different aspects of everyday life was a good moment to relate back to who we are as individuals.”
Gervasi said he appreciated hearing about Driver’s backstory.
“He’s a very successful actor, but he was also in the Marine Corps, so I think that it opens the door for people who potentially may want to leave the military and may want to pursue an acting career,” Gervasi said. “I think that seeing this demonstration, this performance may open people’s eyes and give them the confidence to pursue an acting career or maybe just some sort of entertainment … something that’s nondestructive. A lot of people can go down the wrong path like substances to try and fill that void, but as long as you find something that’s healthy, it is definitely a really great outlet for people.”
Watching the performances didn’t just give the soldiers insight into the lives of the actors, but the actors also experienced a glimpse into the lives of the soldiers having participated in a physical training session earlier that morning.
“They kept saying this is their calling, and we live out our calling by serving our country, and I think their biggest takeaway is just being able to put themselves in our shoes, whereas, when they’re performing, they’re trying to provide us an outlet to relate to,” Hall said. “They’re stepping into our shoes, and when they’re up there they’re wanting us to step into theirs with whatever character they’re performing.”
Mucciacito said he thought the PT session was amazing.
“I love that kind of activity because my father was a firefighter, and I grew up around the fire department and seeing what they have to do to train, so I respect the attention to detail and the craft of basically honing the discipline,” Mucciacito said. “I try to do that in my own life with boxing and Mauy Thai, so I appreciate the challenge.
“I have a lot of family members in the services and, for them, what I do is very alien. I always have to find ways to relate it to them because what we do is actually very similar,” he said. “The attention to detail, the love and the effort and the sense of discipline and sacrifice to go all the way for a goal or an objective with a fellow ensemble is similar to what the military does. An ensemble has a goal or objective, and they find selfless ways to achieve that objective. We just don’t have guns; we have our words.”
The group also performed at the JRCF and USDB Feb. 22. For more information about AITAF, visit aitaf.org.