Midshipmen use theater to tell Naval Academy stories
By RACHAEL PACELLA | The Capital (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 9, 2017
Pick a number — one to 30.
The number is 23. The play is “Thank You For Your Service.”
A young man walks up to Midshipman 1st Class Jessica Velez onstage to shake her hand and thank her for her service.
Time freezes and, in a monologue, Velez explains the hollowness of the gesture — sure, she is wearing a uniform but her day consists of going to class, marching and going back to class. The uniform doesn’t mean she’s a warrior.
“The only sacrifice I’ve ever made is skipping lunch so I can take a nap,” she said. If the man wants to show his support, he should show it by fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs system, she said. “I don’t want to look at photos anymore and know that four of those men are dead because they just couldn’t handle it,” she said.
The piece is one of 86, two-minute plays written by the academy’s drama club, The Masqueraders, for their fall performance “The Infinite Wrench — USNA Style.” Some are straight-forward and serious, like Velez’s, while others riff on formats like game shows to convey the experiences of the midshipmen at the academy, and the experiences of veterans.
They’re not performing every single play — they plan to do 30 in 60 minutes, director and assistant English professor Megan Geigner said.
“The plays run the range between serious monologues about loss or death in the family, or giving up something that you once had, to comedic pieces about afternoon parade practice here at the academy or trying to get to class in the crowded halls of the academic buildings here on the Yard,” Geigner said.
The plays are all two minutes or less. You’ll never get bored, she said.
The plays will be in the order decided by the audience, which will call out the number that corresponds to the play. Students will grab a number from a line strung across the stage. Tech will get ready. A clock will start, and two minutes or less later, the process will repeat.
A Chicago-based theater troupe, The Neo-Futurists, came to the academy in late September to teach the students how to write the short plays. Part of The Neo-Futurists’s style is always being yourself on stage, Geigner said. She served on group’s board of directors before coming to the Naval Academy last year.
The plays are based on the midshipmen’s lives and the lives of others at the academy. Cast members interviewed two dozen enlisted military members, retired enlisted members, officers, retired officers, war veterans and veterans who have served in multiple theaters, among others on the Yard.
In “Thank You For Your Service,” Velez’s line about the four men captured in a photo who since died wasn’t made up. Velez pulled it from one of the interviews she conducted with a lieutenant commander who graduated from the academy and has served 18 years in the Navy, completing multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“He is troubled by the fact that it didn’t happen in the service, but it always happened after. And he’s like, ‘What could I have done? What could we have done? Who failed, and how do we fix that?’ ” she said.
The plays aren’t all somber.
The first play the students rehearsed Monday was “Urinal Chess.” The aptly named play only has one line — “seriously” — told with exasperation by a man at the last urinal in a row of six, right after someone walks in and stands right next to him. Geigner encouraged the actor to make the movement of his head roll more pronounced during the short scene.
Midshipman 3rd Class Julia Kalshoven rehearsed a piece she wrote called “Train Tracks.” In it, she sits before the audience shining her leathers, feet spread wide in a semi-split reminiscent of a ballerina. She used to dance ballet and she misses it. She lists everything about it she misses. The play compares the daily discipline of polishing shoes to the daily discipline of dancing.
“There’s a rhythm to it. It takes work, it takes effort — it’s something you do over and over that can always be better,” she said.
It’s like she switched out her ballet shoes for the leathers.
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