Ellipse Theatre Community is quickly becoming known for building a supportive and artistically aware community through blending performing arts and education. This November, the local Central Oregon production company debuts the PTSD Awareness Project, centering around the powerful play Craig Fox Had a Wife. This is a true story of one's personal challenges learning to live with grief and post-traumatic stress disorder. Playwright Beverly Allen dissects the impact that war-related PTSD has on soldiers and their families often left behind in the aftermath. Ultimately delivering the message that we are not alone, this production also poses a raw human inquiry— is there hope for our healing?

Debbie Levin, a former program manager for IBM, and current ETC director for Craig Fox Had a Wife considers the question while waiting for her tea to finish steeping. Twenty years after she helped build a New York theater company from the ground up, Debbie found herself in Bend, Oregon. A passionate stage director and producer, she has an unwavering love for all things theater. This show in particular resonated with her. “The circumstances are remarkable. It’s a real-life story”. A story that takes the audience along for a ride through several decades as main character Emily, battles with grief after losing her new husband to the Vietnam war. Years later she journeys to where her husband was serving while they were married, hoping to make peace with their past cut short. "After losing her husband in the war so many years prior, she is finally able to leave the soldier behind and bring back the person she loved", finding solace in the recognition that his identity is greater than the job he has lost his life accomplishing.

Fascinated by the impact that war and PTSD have on survivors, Debbie Levin was drawn to the show by the strong narratives, lying behind each character’s personal battle, inspired by playwright Beverly Allen’s bravery in recounting this beautiful and often times painful set of memories for us to peer into. “The lovely thing about this production is that we get to work with Allen directly", Levin explains. "Beverly gets to talk to the actors one-on-one, teaching them the mannerisms of herself and the people she knew", who the actors bring to life in a recounted tale of resiliency and survivor’s guilt. By displaying photographs of the actual faces behind the story, the show acts as a sort of visitation into the memory bank of Allen’s mind.

In discussion with Beverley Allen for over a year, Levin describes the back-and-forth conversations as a process that filled in the blanks to her understanding of the story, noting how important it was to hear Beverley Allen recall the simplest moments of a life once lived with Craig. The actors felt privileged to schedule interviews with Allen, gaining insight into her experience so they could accurately portray the girl she was, the man she lost and the vet who served with Craig whom she connects with. “I want people to gain insight into how they can start a conversation with a vet about their experience. People don’t always know what to say, or they are self-conscious about asking what the war was like”.

Beverly Allen & Craig Fox

So how do we broach the subject? How does someone gently open the channel of communication that allows supportive space for a vet’s experience to be recounted?

We start by showing up. “Be brave and ask”. We need to expand “the awareness of what they go through. You never know when you could be sitting next to a vet, and what ‘s informing their decisions and behaviors.” Always ask yourself, “how can I understand where this person is coming from?”

November 12th & 19th shows offer panel discussions with the audience, entitled, "Connecting with Our Military Communities". These panels intend to provide conversational education in hopes of decreasing the hesitancy of opening dialogue, and increasing the lines of communication between a vet and a listener. Throughout the halls of Open Space from November 11th-19th, a stunning array of art work is displayed, greeting play-goers with a few of the bold images that live inside the minds of war & PTSD survivors.

The PTSD Project Art Gallery

With a cast made up of three veterans, Levin has been able to create the production in an authentic way. How a solider salutes, folds a flag or adjusts to home life after war were all thoroughly discussed, creating genuine personalities for each character. “Something I love about my cast is not only do I have these three veterans, but there are also other cast members that offer perspectives on the impacts of war and PTSD. Everyone has a relationship to trauma.”

Either having personally fought or felt the consequences of their family members in active duty, the show is in the hands of a group of individuals who deeply understand the message they are spreading. Dedicated to education and community outreach under the informed direction of ETC, this production is a way of reaching out to a population that needs us. "We hope it speaks to all vets by saying, Come play with us. You’re welcome here. We will embrace you.”

Under a sorbet-colored sky in August, Jake Woodmansee rests an open palm against a black door that leads to the stage of Studio 3, listening for his name as the MC energizes the audience by conducting them in a chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody. This is Woodmansee's first dare of the evening. "I bet you can't make the crowd sing along to the same song", he challenged MC Dustin Riley. After a few lyrics are sung by all, he enters from the front door of the set. The stage contains white picket fencing below, blue shutters above, and this front door creates the feeling of an intimate gathering being hosted in your neighbor's front yard. People cheer as he walks on, the volume increasing with every punch line, and an occasional snort is emitted over another off-the-cuff comeback, he is never depleted of. Laughter is expelled throughout the venue, breaking only for moments of ardent applause. He exclaims that while attending his show the most important pronoun we can use is "human", referring to the name of his special but also to an identity we admittedly negate, or accept to see in ourselves very often.

After being thanked generously for their attendance, and sworn in with the recited vows of "If I am offended during this show, it is my own fault", the crowd lifts their drinks in unison into the glare of the stage lighting as Woodmansee guzzles down a huckleberry-cider, quickly proceeding with a long list of outlandish tales from his 40-something years of life experience: crashing his sister’s prom by pretending to be piles of clothing in the back seat of her car to scare her date, using an app to manage his back pain that resulted from drunk-driver encounters, and almost accidentally getting kidnapped by Russian Pirates off the coast of Alaska are just the genesis to this 3-day comedy special of Jake the Human.

The crowd is washed in blue light as Jake creates impromptu characters such as one who energetically preaches sermons in a thunderous fashion. Steven Whitney acts as the humble keyboardist, playing impassioned hymns as Jake commands the room from his altar of theatrics. No set of topics is incongruous to Jake's imagination, creating a memorable soundtrack gyrating through the halls of Open Space. Woodmansee proved to be a local talent, garnering a room full of laughter, commanding the audience's attention closely over the span of three very different shows, each filmed for distribution. His silver-lining perspective on life was shared amongst a room filled by smiling faces, belonging to all ages. Each ticket holder was captivated by a hilarious performance, but more importantly given the space to openly inspect the idiosyncrasies of our culture, and jovially remark upon its influx of quirky trends. After the shows had been completed, a closing ritual had been established. Each night brought the same occasion; people left their seats as audience members and met the comic with hugs as friends, delighting in three evenings of different content, all dedicated to the same goals: to stop the collective racing thoughts, to provide us three days of respite from the gloom of sad news, and to leave a lasting impression on all of us, that life is not meant to be lived only seriously.

Treasure troves lined the interior and exterior walls of Open Space during First Friday's

Night Market, where local vendors setup shops, creating a miniature world of wonders to behold and admire. The doors were left open as we welcomed in the sun and the fresh air, along with countless talented vendors, generous enough to share their work with us. Several rugs warmed the cold concrete floors as visitors received free face-painting and stepped into pop-up boutique shops, and a wall-less record store. In the corner of the studio, palms of introspective customers were read as local beloved, DJ Sorski, spun hit records inside a circle of boxes filled with vinyl classics, accessible for all to sift through.

The Night Market encompasses all shopping favorites- food, gems and beverages. Crystals and clothing were scattered about the room to poke through, as the indulgent scent of burgers and tropical margaritas filled the summer air with a satisfying sensory frenzy. A plethora of talented artists lingered onsite to tender inspiration to those who came into their presence. It was clear how much they had dedicated themselves to every piece displayed- whether they showcased wall art, custom-made jewelry or delicately dipped chocolate-marshmallow-pretzel cakes. The passion and love for one's craft was inevitable. The level that the Night Market's vendors rose to had everyone in awe; their unique individualism acknowledged even simply with a smile, in passing by onlookers.

It’s difficult to say if sipping a cocktail that featured a flower inside your cup was cooler than trying on a vintage leather vest, and it's challenging to decide whether the smash burger was more of a hit than the addicting lobster rolls were that evening. Luckily, there is no competition for what truly matters, which is the quality of the interactions between everyone who entered into The Night Market at Open Space, and the energy within the community that we all experienced. Everything combined, beneath the moonlight certainly contributed to the emulation of what we all could insist was a perfect summer evening.

We can’t wait to share another night like this with you!

Stay tuned for more details about our next Night Market, happening October 21st 2022.



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