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Reflection on Spark in Burlington, VT

MOXIE Productions, Burlington, VT

November 4, 2012 

Directed by Monica Callan 

                                           by Monica Callan 

When Spark came across MOXIE Productions’ radar via a valued supporter, it piqued my interest for a few reasons.  It’s a new play still in development (MOXIE specializes in new work development), the script is moving, with characters that I felt actors would want to perform, and it touches on a few artistic interests of my own. It is a story about war, one written not with expected hard-edged brawn of masculine language and aggression, but in a quieter and more nuanced style that makes the dramatic action more significantly penetrating.  I also was excited to work with the language, which lends itself to almost any American ethnicity (a writing skill and sensibility for which I have a tremendous amount of respect) and speaks to the broader American experience.  I loved that it is authentically about a family from a demographic that I call “America’s invisible population”—poor, uneducated, and struggling to better themselves with little prospects or resources—a group that is often the victim of dramatic cliches.  It also speaks to the personal impacts that veterans and their families endure to keep the rest of us in a secure standard of daily living, which, I believe, is a worthy investigation for us to consider when we talk about our “Freedom.”  So there was no question I was going to take the opportunity to explore this work. 

I fashioned an extraordinary cast that immediately understood that this was an “actor’s play,” and enthusiastically approached the work.  We rehearsed and held two readings. The first (which was also the very first of the national series) was held in a classy wine bar in my home town of Waterbury, Vermont; the second was presented in Burlington City Arts’ Firehouse Gallery in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, surrounded by a striking exhibition celebrating Veteran’s Day. 

Now, I’m not a military person and I certainly won’t lay down any judgment with my ignorance of the logic that constructs war, but I do ask: why must there be such excess of money and human resources spent in behalf of it?  My father was in the Air Force many years before I was born and speaks almost nothing of it.  My little brother also enlisted the Air Force, and has been deployed numerous times.  Serving as a Chaplain’s Assistant (a beautiful choice for the military to decide given his character), he generally remains safe from the combat zone, and although I’m well aware that anything can happen, I’m fortunate not to worry like other families.  I don’t have the full frontal personal experience of this play, but I still find the particular issues in Spark’s circumstances compelling.  I wasn’t sure how our audiences would take it, but I was going to find out.

The responses were overwhelming.  Of course the theater people were intrigued as I was, and engaged in lively discussions of dramaturgy. People arrived who I didn’t think had any interest in theater.  Others were rapt and no shuffling of feet could be heard, but you could hear tissues being fumbled for. The most gratifying reactions, however, were the veterans or veteran’s family members that were in attendance.  The play struck them so directly, the emotions came flushing forth. 

After the Burlington reading, we had a talk back session with a panel from the Vermont Veterans Association.  The conversation was charged with the passion that stirs when acknowledgement is so acutely and unexpectedly made.  Male veterans my father’s age were fighting emotions with thinning voices and quivering lips and it made me wonder if my father had stoically held his service memories his whole life.  One woman veteran was astounded by the accuracy of subtle but essential details that Ms. Svich wove into the story, asking, “how could she have even known that?”  The actor playing Lexie was asked if she was a veteran too her portrayal rang so true.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that this chord would have been struck.  The percentage Americans serving in the military is 1%, which is a lot, really.  Because of the number of Vermont National Guard deployed to recent conflicts, and given Vermont’s relatively small population that percentage is closer to 10%.  The Vermont VA has asked us to bring this play to their facility.  They felt that it would be a effective tool for healing veterans all over the state who have returned to rural, and in many cases, isolated areas.  We are hoping to arrange a date in early December for this to happen, because we would love to offer the same experience of our first two readings to more veterans in furthering the effort to honor those whose sacrifices do not just happen in direct combat.

Ms. Callan is an arts educator teaching theater arts, visual arts, and writing in locations spanning museums to correctional facilities.  She also coaches privately and in small groups.  She is the founding member of MOXIE Productions, a theater company dedicated to developing and producing new works.  Ms. Callan is a trained actress and active member of Screen Actors Guild and Actors Equity Association, with more than 30 years experience performing, and dozens of classic and contemporary roles in her repertoire.  She is currently writing several stage scripts and a multi-media show.  She has many film credits in feature and short formats and has been behind the camera in many capacities, most notably as the Extras Casting Director in The Spitfire Grill, a Warner Brothers Film.   She has New York City and regional directorial credits including original and published plays.  She has also created and directed many educational programs and productions, sometimes writing the plays herself, or guiding students through the process of writing and performance. Ms. Callan has been trained by various professional stage, voice, and film experts and programs, and holds a bachelors degree in Theater Arts from Emerson College, an Arts Administration Certificate from NYU.  She is an alumni of the Atlantic Acting School in NYC and has worked in many non-profits, both on the books and as a volunteer.  Recently she became a “Project Champion” in a Long Term Recovery project, guided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in her home town after Tropical Storm Irene devastated the area with flooding waters, and is the founder of Across Roads Center for the Arts, an economic and cultural effort borne from that experience.  Currently she is designing a teen curriculum at T. Schreiber Studio and Theater, a renown acting conservatory and production organization in NYC, teaches at the Fleming Museum in Burlington, Vermont, is the Vice President of Waterbury Activities and Cultural Center, and is a life long resident of Waterbury Center where she raised a family with her husband who is a graphic designer/ builder and designed and built her house.  She splits her time between VT and NYC.