Challenge has different meanings within different communities, but to a mission-oriented mindset –in any walk of life— a challenge presents an opportunity to show what you can accomplish by application of rigorous training, extensive planning, and committed execution.
For artists, our challenges are self-identified. When Cygnet Theatre was presented with an opportunity in the form of a generous grant from the James Irvine Foundation, we advanced a proposal and challenged ourselves to reach out to people who are underserved by the arts: active military, veterans and their families.
This effort to connect the two worlds is counter-intuitive to many people. The professions seem so opposite to each other. Many people with theatre experience see the military as rigid and doctrinaire, while many folks from a military background see the arts as undisciplined and slack.
Yet, as a practicing and fully employed theatre artist who is also the son of a retired naval aviator and proud Navy wife and once rose to the sound of reveille, I see similarities between military life and a life in the theatre. That sense of difference evaporates quickly –as most differences do— when we experience life as the other person lives it.
Both military units and theatre companies coordinate large numbers of people and logistical resources in a small space within a given time frame (“mounting” a show or action of arms) Planning is both extensive and intense, feedback from the field essential (“brief and debrief” or “take the note”) We are trained, we execute directives (“obey orders” or “take direction”) to the best of our capabilities. Though there is scope for questions, they go to proper execution and are not permitted to compromise leadership or mission. We have to believe in our mission and our mates (“morale” and “unit cohesion” or “ensemble” or “cast solidarity”) much more than employees of companies that vend products or services. Creative solutions to problems are crucial, because most problems have never been encountered in exactly their present configuration. These are important commonalities, areas of overlap, the place where we meet.
The individual serviceman or servicewoman’s mission shifts, of course, as does the mission of the individual artist in the theatre. For many in the military, the current mission is to reintegrate with the society they serve and find productive roles for themselves, their experience and their training, in non-military contexts. For spouses and children of active military and veterans, the mission is readiness during service, or easing the transitioning out of it.
Cygnet too has shifted our mission, devoting resources to regular weekly residencies at ASPIRE VA Center and PATH Homeless Shelter, which assist troubled veterans, summer residencies at ASYMCA’s Camp Hero and SAY San Diego at Serra High School, which offer support to kids from military families, performances at Operation Homefront Village, Veterans Village and the Veterans Museum and Cultural Center, workshops with the USO, Travis Manion Foundation, American History Theatre, representation at the San Diego Veterans Coalition, membership in the San Diego Military Family Collaborative.
Our current effort is SUPERS, commissioned from playwright Liz Silverman, which plays at the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park, July 21st and 22nd, and Navy Base San Diego on July 23rd.
Look for more of this show as we get the word out: Wherever our military community needs us, Cygnet Serves.
Get tickets at www.cygnettheatre.com or call 619-337-1525