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Ancient texts will spark discussion, organizer says
Local veterans invited to program
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Performing a scene from “Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives,� which will come to Piedmont Arts on Wednesday, are (standing, from left) Nathan Flower, April Yvette Thompson and James Knight. Seated at left is Peter Meineck, who created the program. (Photo by Phil Gallo)
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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer

Barbara Parker, director of programs at Piedmont Arts Association, knows that an art museum is not where most military veterans turn if they're dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological effects of war.

It's also probably not the first place the family members of a veteran or active duty soldier would expect to talk about what it's like to watch a loved one struggle with those issues, or to struggle with fears of their own.

But a performance slated Wednesday at Piedmont Arts is designed with exactly those people in mind, and Parker believes it might help them - whether the military service they're dealing with happened last month or decades ago.

"Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives" uses words written more than 2,000 years ago to explore experiences that remain a part of the lives of millions of people. During the event Wednesday, actors from the Aquila Theatre Company - a New York-based touring group - will perform scenes by classic playwrights such as Homer and Sophocles.

After the scenes are presented, those in attendance will be invited to join a "town hall" type discussion about how the experiences depicted relate to contemporary problems, Parker said.

"The program was put together to start a national dialogue," she said.

Funded through an $800,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, "Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives" is set to take place at 100 libraries and art centers in 20 states, according to Parker and a news release. Many of the performances will be done in rural areas, such as Martinsville, where this kind of thing might not otherwise be available, she said.

The theme of Wednesday's event will be "Homecoming: The Return of a Warrior." Parker said organizers chose that theme because they know many people in this area are military veterans or family members of military veterans. Given the recent end of the war in Iraq and the anniversary last week of the ceasefire in Vietnam, it seemed particularly relevant, she said.

"There's just things going on right now that we felt like it was timely to try to start this discussion," Parker said. "We have veterans trying to assimilate, and sometimes it's really hard."�

After the actors perform for about 45 minutes, Jana Adamitis, associate professor of classical studies and chair of the department of modern and classical languages and literatures at Christopher Newport University, will moderate the discussion.

Parker encouraged veterans, their families and those who are interested in history and theater to take part.

"There's not a lot of opportunity for an art museum to try to reach the veteran community, and we thought this one was an opportunity to try that," she said. "We would like to hear their stories. That's the whole point of this (program), is to hear their stories and how they feel."�

Whether or not you've ever heard of "The Odyssey," stories like that one - which follows Odysseus, a soldier whose journey home from war takes years - deal with feelings that continue to resonate today, Parker said.

"A lot of the things they talk about are the same things that veterans feel today," she said. "It's about isolation and losing touch with their families, and they come back a different person than they were when they left."�

The story of Odysseus, the wife he left behind, and all of their struggles has a beginning, middle and end. But for today's soldiers and veterans - maybe some of them local residents - the story goes on, said Parker, who added that talking about it might help people realize that they aren't alone with their feelings.

The event, which will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Piedmont Arts, is free, and refreshments will be served. Each person who attends also will be given a free ticket to see Aquila's production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" on Thursday, Parker said.

That play, a comedy by Oscar Wilde, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Martinsville High School auditorium. Tickets to "Earnest" are $28 reserved, $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students.

From 2-3 p.m. Thursday, Aquila will present an acting workshop, also at Piedmont Arts. To RSVP attendance, call 632-3221 or visit

Aquila visits about 70 American towns and cities each year. Last year, the company performed Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Martinsville.

"Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives" was created by Aquila founder and artistic director Peter Meineck.


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