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Play shines light on brain injury

Last modified: 3/16/2014 12:56:02 AM
They couldn’t bring 10 actors, their costumes and makeup, and a wheelchair around the state to tell their story, so instead, the production team behind Make Sure It’s Me is bringing a stripped down version of the play to Concord on Wednesday night.

Make Sure It’s Me gives audiences a window into the lives of five fictional injured veterans, their loved ones, and a university researcher struggling to treat traumatic brain injury, the new “signature” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The play is based on months of interviews former ABC News producer Kate Wenner conducted with military and medical personnel.

Last year, Artist Collaborative Theater Of New England (ACT ONE) produced the play for three weeks at the West End Studio Theatre in Portsmouth and brought selected readings to libraries across the state.

Then, “we realized the message was too important to just be limited to Portsmouth and those people who could come spend $15 to $20 on a ticket,” said ACT ONE Associate Director Leslie Pasternak.

Wednesday, at Red River Theatres, will be the first performance of a 45-minute version of the play, followed by a 20-minute question and answer session.

“We’ve condensed it to key points, the key aspects of the things the play covers,” said Ron Snow, director of marketing and development for the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire, which is sponsoring the performance.

The post-show discussion promises to bring together “a diverse mix of survivors, legislators, and brain injury professionals,” Snow said. “It’s a very wide gamut of who’s there, and we’ll just let the conversation happen. When there’s a stumbling block if there’s something people from the production can’t respond to, we’ve found there’s somebody in the audience who does know.”

Though performances of Make Sure It’s Me tend to attract veterans, their families and service providers who work with veterans, Pasternak said she hopes it also reaches the broader community, who may not personally know anyone who has served in the country’s recent wars.

Bridging the gap between civilians and the military is why she wanted ACT ONE to produce the play in the first place. It’s a gap she didn’t notice until she was pushed to the edge of it in 2010, when she was teaching drama at Nuhlenberg College in Pennsylvania.

One of her favorite students requested she write him a recommendation for his post-college plans, a common request Pasternak rarely rejected.

He told her he was applying to the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, and she almost refused to write the letter.

“I just had tears in my eyes. I thought, ‘They can’t take one of mine,’ ” she said.

“Then I thought, ‘Who are they supposed to take?’ And I felt very proud of him for stepping up. Writing the letter was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as an educator. It was probably one of the sappiest letters they’ve ever got. I wrote that I was very conflicted, that I hoped they’d cherish him. I remember I had shaking hands on the keyboard typing it, but it was what this young man wanted to do.”

She has found the most gratifying part of the Make Sure It’s Me performances to be the post-show conversations, during which veterans from different generations talk to each other about issues they’ve faced and where to find support.

“There has been a beautiful sharing. One time, a brain injured veteran hurt by an IED blast found they had something in common with a civilian who suffered a stroke,” she said. “One of the most dangerous things about brain injury is that you can feel so isolated. When you get to talk with other people who have experienced the same thing, there’s an immediate feeling of relief.”

Selections from Make Sure It’s Me will be performed at Red River Theatres in Concord at 5 p.m., on Wednesday March 19. Tickets are free, but limited. To reserve a ticket, contact the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire at 225-8400.


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