An April theatre production by Smith-Cotton High School theatre students will focus on veterans, particularly women serving in the Vietnam War. To add to the production, students will create an interactive program and are seeking veterans to interview.
SCHS Speech and Theatre Education Teacher Teri Turner said “A Piece of My Heart,” written by Shirley Lauro, features a woman’s perspective on Vietnam.
“It follows the stories of six women,” Turner said. “It follows basically how they got sent to Vietnam. Some of them they volunteered for Vietnam, some of them were sent on false promises.”
It explores the women’s experiences while they are there and also demonstrates how they were treated when they returned home.
“It focuses on the six main females, but they talk about the men as well, the male soldiers and how they are treated,” she noted. “Women, obviously, in that time were the minority.”
Students cast as the six women are Caroline Young, as Whitney, Lanie Beard, as Mary Jo, Audrey Irwin, as Sissy, Kaestelle Thornton, as Steele, Isabella Bryn Johnson, as Lee Ann, and Krysta Ott, as Martha.
Turner said the characters are a mix.
“We have a Navy nurse, a couple who work for the Red Cross, we have one that is sent over there to sing for the USO,” she said. “The characters, they get over there and realize it wasn’t as glamorous as they thought it was going to be. They don’t have the technology that they were recruited with.
“One of them, her parents were military so she thought it was prestigious,” Turner said. “She gets over there and realizes, as a head nurse, she has 350 patients to be in charge of. It wasn’t what they expected mentally.”
She added that the women come under attack by the enemy, and they also try to help the soldiers work through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“Once they return, they come back to protests, they come back to the jobs they had left,” Turner said. “Even though they feel like they are a different person, after that very intense war situation.”
During the production the six women also visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
“It kind of comes full-circle,” she added. “They do visit the Wall. Looking at the Wall they become very emotional.”
To put a “real face” on the production, Turner said students are doing research about the Vietnam War. They are also seeking to interview veterans.
“I’ve asked the main girls to do some research on females who have served and to bring in stories of someone who maybe followed somewhat in the same footsteps as their character,” she said. “That’s why we wanted to interview some veterans, because I want the students to grasp that firsthand account.”
Turner added that in school students learn about history, but it’s not often they get to actively participate in a past event.
“In the classroom they learn about history, but they don’t get to really get down and gritty with it as far as the people, and the emotions, and the dialogues that they have, and the specific stories,” she said.
Turner and the students welcome both men and women veterans and also local Vietnamese who wish to share their memories of the war.
“With their permission, we’d like to video record (them),” she said. “Throughout the show we would play parts of the recording. If something they talk about relates to something in the show we would play that part. We would really like to make this a multimedia show.”
Turner plans to have the JROTC involved with the production as well as other local veteran’s groups.
“That’s the great thing about it,” Turner said of the students. “They are performing, which is what they love to do, but we’re also taking a step back and looking at the history of it. We are going to try and remain as historically accurate as we can in a high school setting.
“Our theatre department has wanted to do something to honor our military,” Turner added. “What better way then do it with a production.”
“A Piece of my Heart” will run April 8-10 in the SCHS Heckart Performing Arts Center. Those interested in being interviewed for the production may call Turner at SCHS at 851-5300 or email her at [email protected]
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.