On Friday, Nov. 13, Cal Poly Pomona student veterans and military dependents will share glimpses into their lives through the new play “Here & There.” A dramatic reading will screen at 7 p.m. on Zoom followed by a Q&A, hosted by the Veterans Resource Center.
The university’s student body includes slightly more than 500 veterans and military service members, as well as many more dependents of veterans. While they have many of the same stressors and pressures as other students, their military experience adds another layer.
The play was created through a community-based theatre approach, meaning with, for and by a community. Led by theatre professors and playwrights Bernardo Solano and Paula Weston Solano, fifteen students participated in group conversations, story circles, interviews and writing workshops.
“We asked [them] to tell us stories about themselves and their experiences,” said Bernardo Solano. “Some of those stories were about their work at school. Some are memories that are combat-related or about being overseas or being a reservist. We really have quite a range of experiences reflected.”
The resulting script is a fictionalized version of their stories, using as much of the students’ writing as possible while maintaining accuracy to their truths, added Weston Solano.
Kendall Haun, whose father was in the Air Force, is working on her master’s degree in public administration. She has participated in many stages of the play’s development and is in several scenes.
“One of the more impactful scenes is when I have a flashback to a conversation that I regularly have with my chronically ill father,” said Haun. “He has little motivation to change and will die before he can meet my children if I don’t try to help him change, but alas people only change when they want to.”
Jeremy Manning, a sophomore philosophy major and Air Force veteran, joined the project as a cast member.
“It’s really rare that you get to see things from a veteran’s perspective portrayed in the media, much less a play,” said Manning, “moreover, a play on a college campus with a large veteran community. I was excited by the prospect of showcasing the stories and ordeals we deal with on a daily basis.”
Manning plays Lucas, a Marine vet that works at the campus VRC. He’s a bit of a loose cannon, practical joker, and “bothersome big brother type.” He also does the voice over of Text-Vet, an unnamed vet trying to decide whether he should get help for his possible mental issues.
For both students, the experience of community-based theatre was revelatory.
“I spent a while thinking that in the college community, I was just another number,” said Manning. “Projects like this cement that there is a community that values not only my presence but also the presence of other veterans.”
Haun was “blown away by the power of community-based theatre” and valued hearing more intimate stories from friends about their military experiences.
Next spring, the play will evolve into a full-fledged Zoom production through a new, extended community-based theatre course (TH 4990A) open to any CPP student. The class will start with the current script, continue to develop it and add set design, costume design and sound design.
Here & There is part of the “American War Experience through California Voices, ” a five-part series of community conversations organized by the university’s Veterans Resource Center (VRC) and the California Center for Ethics and Policy (CCEP), and funded by a $65,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant.
Prior to the pandemic, the dramatic reading of Here & There was originally scheduled as a live event at the Richard M. Nixon Library. The theatre project was designed to represent the experiences of veterans in the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars and to build bridges of understanding across campus between the veterans and the civilian populations.
Register for the Nov. 13 screening at https://hereandtherecpp.eventbrite.com.
Bernardo Solano is a professor of theatre and chair of the Department of Theatre and New Dance. Paula Weston Solano is an adjunct professor of theatre. “Here & There” is the first community-based play they have written together.