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Mershon Center for International Security Studies

Mershon Center for International Security Studies

Janet Parrott

Kevin McClatchy

"Responsibility, Morality and the Costs of War: PTSD, Moral Injury and Beyond" was a major interdisciplinary symposium that blended performing and visual arts with leading research to explore the costs of war. Organized by Kevin McClatchy and Janet Parrott of the Department of Theatre, the symposium took place November 12-14, 2015, at The Ohio State University.

A grant from the Mershon Center allowed organizers to bring speakers, artists and panelists, including keynote speaker Jonathan Shay, as well as featured participants Genevieve Chase, Heather Courtney, Dominic Fredianelli and Bianca Sams. The three-day event spoke to the challenges that confront veterans from the numerous sites of conflict around the world. See a slideshow of photos from the symposium (sound included) below.

Among the highlights:

  • Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, delivered the keynote address.
  • Emmy and Independent Spirit award-winning filmmaker Heather Courtney screened her film "Where Soldiers Come From," and participated in a panel discussion that included the film’s subject, artist and veteran Dominic Fredianelli.
  • The Department of Theatre’s Lesley Ferris directed staged readings from "Rust on Bone" and interviewed its author playwright Bianca Sams.
  • Genevieve Chase, combat veteran and founder of American Women Veterans, spoke on “My Greater Jihad.”
  • McClatchy performed his solo play, "Scrap Heap," about a Special Forces veteran grappling with his transition to civilian life.

The goal of the symposium was to "bring a diverse collection of people together to share with each other, learn from one another and embark on new ways of thinking, seeing or communicating," McClatchy said. Organizers asked participants "to break new ground in terms of how they experience the costs of war and investigate how the costs of war reverberate within the individual, the community, throughout a nation and on a global stage."

‘Interdisciplinary collaboration’

Symposium participants included military veterans, active duty military personnel, theatre students, medical professionals, filmmakers, writers, actors, painters, scholars and engaged citizens together for a string of memorable experiences and future possibilities. Faculty took part from a wide variety of disciplines, including theatre, history, political science, medicine, folklore studies, comparative studies, English, photography and digital media and military science.

The symposium was a "model of interdisciplinary collaboration," said Peter Hahn, divisional dean for Arts and Humanities at Ohio State. The symposium positioned a variety of departments across the university to collaborate further and allowed the conversation about the costs of war to expand across the Ohio State campus, into the Central Ohio community and beyond.

One result of the symposium’s intertwining of disciplines and experiences is a new collaboration between McClatchy and John Carlarne, peace studies coordinator at the Mershon Center, that will investigate the debilitating legacy of trauma caused by The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The symposium also helped spur development of a new work in the Department of Theatre, “Forbidden Zones,” which explores the Battle of the Somme and a number of specific historical figures involved in events surrounding the battle. The project has garnered support from the Mershon Center and will be another example of cross-disciplinary collaboration with the Department of History, Military Science ROTC program and Mershon Center.

Teaching component

A teaching component of the symposium — Theatre 5899: Moral Injury: The Human Costs of War — was created to engage students throughout the semester. This course led to the first-ever collaboration between the Department of Theatre and the Military Science ROTC program. ROTC cadets participated in a staged reading of Afghan women’s poems known as landays for the symposium — a riveting moment of cultural awareness, understanding and compassion.

"Of all the experiences I've had, I never thought I'd be doing this — talking about the costs of war with a group of theatre people," said Lt. Col. James Bunyak, professor of military science and leadership. Bunyak also appeared with Carlarne and Peter Mansoor, Gen. Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair in Military History, on the "Just War and the Emotional Factors in Leadership Decision-Making" panel, moderated by acting Mershon Center director Rick Herrmann.

Theatre 5899 also resulted in two new art installations for the symposium — "Letters To My Grandfather" by Czech guest artist Simona Rybáková, and "Project Landline," a multi-pronged immersive experience created by the students in the course. Both installations powerfully examined the costs of war — one through the lens of a veteran of World War II, and the other as a millennial meditation on the experience of veterans after 9/11.

Community outreach

Collaboration with the Army ROTC Buckeye Battalion also includes an upcoming Outreach and Engagement project by the Department of Theatre’s Master of Fine Arts actors. Supervised by McClatchy, the MFA actors will engage with a community partner — in this case, local veterans — and then create a new piece of theatre as a response to that experience.

The group will work with the Ohio National Guard, Mayor’s Office, Department of Veterans Affairs, local veterans organizations VetConnect and Summit for Soldiers, as well as the ROTC, student veterans group Vets4Vets and Ohio State Office of Military and Veterans Services. The outreach component will consist of Shakespeare workshops facilitated by MFA actors with participation from military veterans and military family members and caregivers.

McClatchy and Parrott will also collaborate with symposium participants Feast of Crispian Theatre Company, based in Milwaukee, Wis. Feast of Crispian is dedicated to working with veterans through Shakespeare and will come to Ohio State to conduct a complete version of the workshop they previewed during the symposium. Feast of Crispian will also work with MFA actors in constructing the most effective workshops for veterans and their families.

Solo play

The symposium was also the impetus for creating a new version of the solo show "Scrap Heap." The production was expanded from 25 minutes to a full hour and was extensively rewritten and restaged by writer/performer McClatchy and director Jeanine Thompson. The performance was filmed for archival and promotional use, and plans are underway to tour the show to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London.

During the symposium, each performance of "Scrap Heap" was followed by a panel discussion. This model will continue for the tour, with panels in each city drawn from local veterans, medical personnel, activists, artists and active-duty service members. A visual art component will accompany the tour — an accumulation of portraits of veterans from each city.

For more information about Responsibility, Morality and the Costs of War, including the full symposium schedule, visit go.osu.edu/costsofwar