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  • Linnea Iannazzone

Rhode Island Partnership Gets a Standing Ovation

PCVI participates in a reading and discussion of Sophocles' Ajax in October 2020

Shakespeare famously said “all the world’s a stage,” and for the Providence Clemente Veterans’ Initiative, so is the classroom. Thanks to a long-standing partnership with the prestigious Trinity Repertory Company, PCVI’s veteran scholars are able to watch their readings come to life as actors perform scenes from plays like Antigone and Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Afterwards, the Trinity team participates in classroom discussions to weigh in on plot, characters, and theme.

For student Jeremy Bergantini, the research and preparation that the Trinity actors put into their performances helps make the characters feel real. He believes that it also helps build understanding and connection between the veterans–many of whom have lived experience with the themes explored in the plays–and the actors.

“We have our personal experiences that we might be able to relate to some of the characters, but to be able to talk to the actors afterwards about how they view the roles they are playing personifies them even more,” says Jeremy. “It has to touch the actors almost the same way it touches us, so it’s a really good way for those enacting the play to really understand where we’re coming from. And then neither of us has to feel so isolated or alone anymore.”

The actors agree that sharing this experience with the students provides a deepened perspective, sometimes on characters and plays they’ve been working with for years.

“You rarely get the opportunity to do a piece specifically for the group it’s written about,” says Trinity actor Rachael Warren.

“To sit down and really be working on something about war with warriors, it’s very intimate. They feel like we’re so vulnerable with them, but I really think they’re incredibly vulnerable with us. It’s an honor.”

The partnership grew out of Trinity’s commitment to theater education in the Rhode Island community, which also includes programs for schoolchildren and teens as well as patrons with disabilities. Artistic Director Curt Columbus, who has family in the military, feels a deep personal connection to the veterans programming, and especially loves working on the ancient Greek plays.

“The thing that is really visible in the conversations with the students is the ways in which they take in these texts,” he says. “You think, how is it possible that over the course of 20 centuries, this could still feel so personal? That’s the revelation to me.”

PCVI student Bill Millette reads at the Veterans Voices event

Though PCVI’s regular meetings will continue on Zoom, the class takes the opportunity to collaborate with Trinity in person whenever possible. Last November, many students participated in an event hosted by Trinity called Veterans Voices, which featured performances, readings, and music from those who wished to reflect on their military service (watch a recording of the event here). Student Bill Millette, who was one of the speakers, said that the event made him feel like part of a community and helped him forge new connections with his classmates and other audience members.

“It was very cathartic,” says Bill. “The camaraderie and support have been a real lifeline for me.”

Curt, who helped organize Veterans Voices, remembers Bill’s reading vividly.

“It was just one of those moments where you go, wow. These stories are so significant, and they’re not heard,” he recalls. “The next step is to hone in on these stories and find ways to bring them forward.” In the coming years, with plans to expand the Veterans Voices series, Trinity and PCVI will do just that.

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