Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Features FoC

By Meg Jones of the Journal Sentinel

Nov. 16, 2014

Program helps veterans through words of Shakespeare

Achilles stared down Hector.

The two warriors warily circled each other, verbally flexing their muscles in a war of words. The scene comes late in Shakespeare’s play “Troilus and Cressida,” and Chris Nickrant (Achilles) and Jeff Peterson (Hector) had not memorized the lines where their characters boast how they will kill each other.

But on Sunday the Vietnam War veterans were Shakespearean actors for the day, acting out the emotional scene at Milwaukee’s Veterans Affairs hospital through an innovative program that pairs professional actors and directors with veterans to perform scenes from Shakespeare plays.

Called Feast of Crispian after the rallying cry in “Henry V,” the program helps veterans overcoming trauma, emotional issues, substance abuse or difficulties reintegrating into society through the words of Shakespeare. Many participants learn of the program while undergoing treatment at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center or from friends, or they see a flier and decide to check out the three-day free workshop.

“I fell in love with it,” said Nickrant, who served in the Air Force from 1970-’74. “It has enabled me to feel more self-confident. It gives you a sense of accomplishment when you finish.”

Professional actors stand next to the veterans, feeding them the lines, giving definitions of tough words and asking questions to help them with emotions they should be feeling. The technique removes the stress of reading a difficult passage, so veterans can concentrate on the words. [keep reading…]