Speak Up and Listen

Posted on Friday, December 12, 2014 at 1:46 PM

By Tara Mallen, Artistic Director

"I kept thinking if I could just keep my mouth shut and do what they tell me, I'll be fine, but I wasn't really good at that."

This is a quote from an interview with one of the amazingly generous female veterans who offered her story for our WOMEN AT WAR project. It was one of the very first stories we collected. Throughout this four-year journey in creating this project, that particular quote has remained wildly resonant for me both personally and artistically.

The truth is, I am not someone who is good at keeping her mouth shut either. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have found myself in situations where while I know shutting up is the best option at hand, and I hear my voice braying those very words sure to make some difficult situation…much, much worse. I think this is innately why I was drawn to theater in the first place.

Like the female who told us that story, it is even more difficult to stay quiet when you know something’s awry, that someone is suffering, and that something really needs to be addressed. But there is a huge contradiction afoot here. A key to being successful within the American military is absolutely connected to following orders, obeying commands, and keeping your mouth shut.

As a matter of fact, a key to being successful in the business world is based on the self-same principle. For the most part, the women who serve in the American military have been good soldiers, good airmen, and good seamen. They have remained silent. My hope is that this project has allowed some of these women to finally have a voice, to no longer be invisible, and for the women who choose to serve in the American military, to begin to carve out a niche within the collective conscious.

This project has proved to be somewhat of a life-changing experience for me. I have taken so much from the personal stories these women have chosen to share. It helped me understand the value in committing your life to something bigger than yourself. I learned not to underestimate the power that a group of committed people can wield. It helped me begin to view our veterans as the assets they truly are as opposed to just a problem within our culture that needs to be dealt with. And it has taught me a tremendous amount about the simple yet often profound gift we can all offer simply by bearing witness.

What an honor to have had a chance to be part this vital conversation about how we can collectively recognize and honor these women warriors. Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

I am deeply grateful to the myriads of people who helped us find the courage to stay this often-challenging course (I mean, what theater company in their right minds produces a play about war during the holiday season?!)  I am so thankful to my collaborator Megan Carney, who showed me how to listen. Most of all, I am so indebted to those women who opted not to keep their mouths shut this time around and told us their stories.

While this run has closed, the WOMEN AT WAR journey is nowhere near over. We are now in the process of gearing up for the next phase— touring the production to extend the reach and further this important dialogue. I hope you will stay connected. I hope you might even feel inspired every now again to go ahead, don’t bite your tongue, open your mouth and speak your mind. I mean, after all, we won’t change the world if we can't at least talk about what needs to change, right?


« Previous PostUniforms as Costumes: Making Military Theatrical Next Post »Rehearsals: Look, we are breathing