Earthquakes, hurricanes and UK Theatre

Joe Fields-Elswick, playing Stephanie (Kachermeyer) Murphy, writes in her journal as other characters talk about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan at a rehearsal of "Bringing it Home: Voices of Student Veterans" last fall at UK Buell Armory. The play, renamed "Civilian," was presented at the New York International Fringe Festival this month. © Herald-Leader photo by Rich Copley.

Students in the University of Kentucky’s Theater Department were treated to a lot of New York experiences while they were there late this month to present their oral history play, Civilian, at the New York International Fringe Festival. They rode the Staten Island Ferry daily, visited Columbia University and construction at Ground Zero and endured an earthquake and hurricane.

The Virginia-centered Earthquake that rattled the East Coast last week and Hurricane Irene both impacted the UK Theatre’s visit, the latter unfortunately cancelling their last performance, which had been scheduled for Sunday. But writer and director Herman Daniel Farrell III said the event was an overall positive experience for the UK group, including being interviewed by The New York Times.

“This was such an interesting, fantastic and strange (seriously, an earthquake and hurricane in one week!) experience for all involved,” Farrell said in an email.

Civilian is a play based on interviews with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who returned and enrolled at the University of Kentucky. The play, which has been presented several times in the last year-an-a-half at UK, was a collaborative project between the theater department and the university’s Nunn Center for Oral History and Veteran’s Resource Center.

Farrell wrote:

The audiences were enthusiastic and we received some decent reviews. We performed at the Bleecker Theatre, an off Broadway house, that was also FringeCentral, the main ticket selling location of the 14 venues of the Fringe.

The cast and crew of students and graduates of the UK Theatre Department stayed out at the Navy Lodge in Staten Island (thanks to arrangements by Tony Dotson, director of the UK Veterans Resource Center) and came into Manhattan every day via the Staten Island Ferry. Many of them toured the construction site surrounding Ground Zero and visited the 9/11 Memorial preview site. Our theatre was only 20 something blocks away.

On our opening night, Tony Dotson, along with Jonathan Herst and Tyler Gayheart, the veterans portrayed in the play,   attended along with their spouses.  Doug Boyd of the Nunn Center for Oral History at UK also attended that night. The next night, Doug chaired a panel up at Columbia University’s Butler Library that included Tony Dotson, Tyler Gayheart and Herman Farrell. We discussed the process involved in creating the play from oral history interviews of veterans. The director of the Columbia oral history center hosted the event.

For our third performance, Stephanie Murphy, who is one of the military personnel portrayed in the play, attended the performance with her husband. Jim Dao, the National Correspondent for the New York Times attended the 4th (earthquake night) performance and also conducted interviews with the cast and production team. His piece will be appearing early this week —

Farrell noted that the Wednesday performance was delayed by the quake, but it sounds like the experience was moving in much more positive ways for the students involved.

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