A Broken Link
Today returning US Veterans face a much deeper civilian-military divide than ever before because, unlike previous conflicts, the vast majority of Americans in 2016 simply have little-to-no link to the armed forces. Those broken links can contribute to alienation and exacerbate the struggles of transitioning back to civilian life that lead to an average of nearly 20 veterans a day killed by suicide.
What’s more, this past January the Army cancelled its touring Soldier Show, ending a tradition of “Entertainment for the Soldier, by the Soldier” that stretched back to WWI and Irving Berlin. These productions had been an irreplaceable outlet for artistically-inclined Soldiers, as well as a unique and invaluable source of morale, support and healing to the American military community for nearly 100 years.
A Lost Ideal
The “Blueprint Special” series from 1944-45 in many ways represents the peak of that ideal. At the time the Army boasted an almost unprecedented roster of talent to deploy on the mission of uplift and countering the shocks, stresses and traumas of armed service, and the creative teams read like a Who’s Who of American post-war entertainment. In addition to the Oscar/Tony/Pulitzer-winning Frank Loesser were composer Alex North (15 Oscar nominations), lyricist Hy Zaret (“Unchained Melody”), writer Arnold M. Auerbach (Emmy winner for The Phil Silvers Show) and choreographer José Limón (a giant of modern dance). These are documents of immense historical importance, yet they remain virtually unknown and unperformed.
They’re called “Blueprints” because once they’d been written and tried-out, the Army packaged and distributed them as a complete script, score/orchestrations, scenic & costume drawings, plus instructions for how to put on the show. As such these extraordinary works can be seen and heard today exactly as their creators intended.
A Bridge Across
Now Waterwell is reviving the Blueprints as a joint venture between civilian artists and military Veterans. Partnering with the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the José Limón Dance Foundation, the Center for American Military Opportunities and Intersections Internationalto restore the Blueprints to the canon and celebrate the service experience they depict will not only serve as a reminder of the importance of morale programs to military welfare overall, but by bringing veterans and civilians together, united in participation, it will foster dialogue, promote understanding and build empathy to bridge that critical divide.
Between January 5th and 13th, 2017 we will be presenting six performances of the best of the Blueprints in a hangar of the Intrepid Museum, a former WWII-era aircraft carrier. Featuring a cast of nearly four dozen civilian artists and Veterans as well as active military, each performance will be followed by a talkback with audience, participants and scholars. This will be the Blueprints’ first staging since 1945 and their first ever for the American public.
As thrilling and historic as the performances on the Intrepid will be, they are only the beginning. The ultimate goal is shine a light on light on the civilian-military divide and demonstrate – as the Army understood in 1944 – how the arts can help to bridge it. After premiering the piece in January, we hope to take it to historic ships and museums across the country, military bases around the world and into the repertoire of America’s stock and regional theaters.