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Theater of War Founder Presents Thayer Lecture

Bryan Doerries' nationally acclaimed work with Department of Defense uses Greek drama to reach soldiers, veterans, and their families

2/12/2010 8:41:45 PM


Bryan Doerries

LYNCHBURG — Never in his wildest dreams did Newport News native Bryan Doerries imagine his passion for Greek drama would end up helping military veterans and soldiers.

But today, nearly two years since he presented his first Theater of War performance to the military, Doerries’ work has exploded, gaining him national recognition and praise -- and a more than $3 million contract with the Department of Defense.

On March 1 at 8 p.m., Doerries will bring his experiences to Randolph College to present the Philip Thayer Memorial Lecture. The free event, which will be held in the Smith Hall Theater.

In addition to the Doerries lecture, Randolph College will also present a reading of scenes from the 2010 Greek Play, Hecuba on March 1. The reading will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Houston Memorial Chapel. The reading, like the lecture, is free and open to the public. (See below for directions.)

The Pentagon has funded Doerries’ independent production company, Theater of War, to enable him to visit hundreds of military sites and bases throughout the world. The intent, Doerries is quick to point out, is not to provide therapy, but to open discussion.

“I see these performances as a public health campaign,” he said, adding that more awareness fosters acceptance of the emotions and real psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder that soldiers face when they return from war. Doerries’ hope is that discussion will help servicemen and women and their families overcome stigmas about psychological injuries, which in turn will lead to more people reaching out for help.

A writer and director, Doerries has made it his mission to bring new life to ancient drama -- and to do what he can to use these stories to help modern-day soldiers. “These ancient stories don’t belong just to those academics who study them,” he said. “They belong to anyone who can find meaning in them.”

For those who have experienced Doerries’ Theater of War performances, the meaning today is clear.

“When I saw Theater of War performed in Charlottesville, I thought this is something we should all know,” said Susan Stevens, classics professor and the Catherine E. and William E. Thoresen Chair in Humanities. “It forces you to think, and it’s really quite moving.”

Full “Theater of War” presentations include readings — often by renowned actors — of Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes. These ancient plays timelessly and universally depict the psychological and physical wounds inflicted upon warriors by war. By presenting these plays to military audiences, Theater of War tries to de-stigmatize psychological injury and open a safe space for dialogue about the challenges faced by service members, veterans, and their caregivers and families. The readings are followed by panel discussions with the audience featuring veterans, soldiers, mental health professionals, family members and others.

The production bridges the gap between civilians and military, often having an emotional effect on both. “Once people see themselves reflected in these ancient stories, they begin to make a connection,” Doerries said. “They start to realize they are not alone, and it draws them out. I’ve seen incredible outpourings of emotion that I don’t think are happening anywhere else.”

From veterans who end up sharing stories about things they’ve seen and have never told to spouses who struggle to find ways to reach returning loved ones to civilians who report new insight on the sacrifice of America’s military, the emotional and often-wrenching effect of Theater of War is collective empathy.

“When we perform these plays with incredible actors and a large audience, all of a sudden, something incredible starts to happen,” Doerries said. “When we first did these for the Marine Corps, and we saw people just pouring out their souls, we realized we had discovered a forum that might help.

“What we’re doing creates a bridge between the civilian and military worlds that just doesn’t exist right now,” Doerries added. “As an artist, being given the opportunity to do anything that can be seen as helpful is rare and extraordinary.”

For more information about Bryan Doerries or Theater of War, please see...

Watch video about the presentation at...

Houston Memorial Chapel is located behind the main buildings on campus. Turn on North Princeton Circle, pass West Campus Drive, and park in the large parking lot on your right.

For a map of campus, please see:

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations


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