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BALTIMORE, Md. -- Veterans and their families who've got stories to tell are taking to the stage in the greater Baltimore area this week and next, to share their experiences with their communities.
"The Telling Project" is a production that takes specific impactful stories from a local veteran's life, drafts them into a stage play, and casts the veterans themselves into the role of their own lives.
The stories are as varied and different as each of the veterans are, and can only be told by those closest to the story.
The project has been previously adapted and produced in Eugene and Portland, Ore., Seattle, Sacramento, Washington, D.C., and Starkville, Miss.
This is the second time the Baltimore cast has shared their production, the first having been last Spring.
No one story of any production will be replicated in another city, as each story is unique to that veteran and his or her own community where the project is produced.
According to their website, The Telling Project:
… is a response to several critical issues: among these are widespread public ignorance of the immediate impact of war on individuals and communities; difficulties that this ignorance poses to soldiers transitioning back to civilian life; and the danger that ignoring the rift between the veteran and civilian populations poses to communities and the nation as a whole.
Central to the mission of The Telling Project is that it holds no political view as regards the military or its actions. Rather, we promote the belief that the experiences of soldiers are a vital part of the nation’s heritage, and as such must be both respected and understood.
Executive Director Johnathan Wei is the mastermind behind "The Telling Project."
Wei spends hours interviewing his subjects (and in some cases, their family and friends) on video and then transcribing their stories, verbatim. Then he and his team create a structure around the interviews with a three act stage play, one that merges them all together and offers contrast, momentum and an arc.
Each of the subjects must learn the art of stagecraft and then attend weeks of rehearsals, where they see their lives in a script for the first time and learn how to play themselves on stage.
The method is unique but the intimacy it generates makes it a riveting experience for the audience and a healing experience for the subjects, themselves.
The Baltimore Telling Project includes the story of a US Navy veteran who requested a discharge under DADT from his Commanding Officer when it became clear he was about to be "outed" by a coworker. Instead of living through that very painful experience, he took matters into his own hands, which in some ways, made it even more difficult to endure.
MC1(SW) Jeremy Johnson shares what it was like to serve under those conditions, follow-through with the choices he made and feel the regrets involved.
"I could give my life to the Navy but I could not live under DADT," Johnson told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. "I needed to live with integrity -- I valued the Navy's 'Core Values' more than they did."
Johnson joins six other veterans and/or their family members sharing their stories.
The other cast members include: Tracy Miller, the mother of a US Marine who was killed in action in 2004; Erin Byers, a female, active duty Army medic who shares what it was like to deal with her first casualty of war; Elijah Sacra, another Marine, also who happens to have been a friend of the Marine who was KIA; Patrick Young, a Marine vet and his wife, Meghan Young; and Cate Conroy, another female Army veteran.
Where to see this important play
The Telling Project: Baltimore can be seen in two locations in the coming weeks:
For tickets or more information, call (301) 662-4190.
For tickets, go to the The Telling Project website.
More about Jeremy Johnson
When Johnson was first discharged in 2008, he wanted nothing to do with the Navy; his bitterness ruled his conscience. But as time wore on, he found himself aligning with projects that brought him back into the fold.
When President Obama declared at the 2010 State of the Union address his commitment to end DADT by year's end, Johnson felt a new resolve inside.
So much for taking a step back from the military.
Now deeply re-entrenched and reinvested, he told friends he still wasn't sure that if repeal was indeed successful, he'd ever go back in. That soon also changed.
Last September, on the day after the repeal of DADT, Johnson made history for being the first US Navy veteran released under DADT to be re-enlisted. Ironically, he was re-enlisted by the same Commanding Officer who begrudgingly approved his request for discharge in 2008.
A full-time student at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Johnson chose to reaffiliate with the US Navy Reserves and has plans to pursue officer programs upon graduation. He was re-enlisted by the Commanding Officer who approved his discharge.
His re-enlistment was profiled by CNN and various newspapers across the nation, and he was nominated for a CNN iReport award.
In the Telling Project, Johnson shares his very personal story. It is time for you to listen.
Photos courtesy Jeremy Johnson: Top, left: Johnson broadcasting early in his career; middle: Johnson; bottom: Johnson on stage during The Telling Project, April 2011