A performance at the River Arts Center and an accompanying three-part exhibit will pay homage to the men and women of the Sauk Prairie area and beyond who served their country.
The award-winning play “Letters Home,” puts the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq front and center by bringing to life letters written by soldiers serving in those countries, according to a press release by River Arts., Inc. The production is inspired by the New York Times Op-Ed Article “The Things They Wrote” and the subsequent HBO documentary “Last Letters Home.”
Letters Home will kick off the 2017-18 season lineup for River Arts, Inc. with a performance scheduled Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.
“With Operation Eagles Wings and the support from the community for the two Badger Honor Flights it seemed obvious to me this would be something the community would be interested in,” said Lindsey Giese, executive director of River Arts., Inc.
Giese attended a conference where 15 minutes of Letters Home was performed.
“When you see the title, you assume it’s going to be an emotionally-powerful show and that there will be sensitive moments in the show because these are based on real letters,” Giese said. “Especially veterans; they will probably identify with a lot of the words. But what was surprising is there are also some lighter moments people wouldn’t necessarily expect. But in hard times people tend to use humor as a coping mechanism. So it’s not all sad, there are some really funny moments, too. It’s all very real. Ultimately that’s what spoke to me.”
Without a lot of political drama, the performance provides the audience with a look into the soldier’s experience and what it means to serve the country through acts of bravery, compassion and brotherhood.
In conjunction with the play, Giese said a three-part exhibit called Sauk Prairie Salutes Our Troops is being featured now through Nov. 21. Two of the three exhibits are traveling exhibits from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. The first, called, “Fur, Feathers and Fidelity,” honors the mascots of the military. The second, “Working Warriors,” provides information about different and unexpected careers in the military, such as photographers, beauticians, dentists and mechanics, to name a few.
The third one was curated especially by River Arts, Inc., for Sauk Prairie area veterans and their families, called “Operation Eagles Wings.” In it, the two honor flights made possible by the Sauk Prairie community are celebrated.
“We’ll have two walls with 55 candid photos of all the veterans who went on those flights,” Giese said. “It took a lot of work to find those. And if the veterans or their families want any of those photos after the exhibit, we’re going to gift them.”
Giese said a large chunk of the event was made possible through an Arts, Humanities and Historic Preservation grant through UW-Extension. Other information, such as details about the flights and the community campaigns will also be featured.
Giese said another important facet about the play is that it comes with a curriculum designed for high school students. River Arts shared the curriculum with the ninth grade history teachers and students have been invited to an earlier performance of the play.
According to Joel Chrisler, a social studies teacher at Sauk Prairie High School, students begin the school year with a short unit about 9/11 and the War on Terror, and get much deeper into that content in the second half of the U.S. History curriculum.
“This play ties into related curriculum they are already teaching,” Giese said. “It’s just another opportunity for the students to learn, as opposed to reading a book or hearing a lecture. We try to offer as many opportunities as we can in the school district. Experiences like this are so powerful and memorable for them.”