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Background: Military leaders must maintain awareness of the potential impact of combat on self, comrades, families, and communities. As a new generation of Warriors returns from combat, there is an urgent need to develop innovative methods to provide assistance. The oldest recorded writings in the Western world address individual and community experiences of war and provide an opportunity for modern day Warriors to safely discuss, decompress, and reflect upon their role in supporting physically and psychosocially wounded Warriors and families in a time of prolonged conflict. “Theater of War” uses Bryan Doerries’ modern translation of “Ajax” and “Philoctetes” to help today’s audiences see the challenges faced by combat veterans and those who care for them in a larger context, connecting their experiences today with those of an ancient warrior culture.

Objective: To increase awareness of post-deployment psychological health issues, reduce stigma, and foster hope and optimism. The medium is a dramatic reading aiming to catalyze meaningful discussion of the impact and effects of prolonged conflict. Two plays, “Ajax” and “Philoctetes,” written by the ancient Greek General Officer and renowned playwright Sophocles, are used to illustrate these timeless effects and are paired with information regarding military, community, and health resources and programs. This powerful format easily transcends a “slide-brief-as-usual” approach. Well-known actors perform the readings from a modern translation, followed by a thoughtfully moderated discussion involving the actors, the audience, and invited discussants including combat veterans, medical personnel, caregivers, and family members. The production is a state-of-the-art public health campaign tailored to Warrior and family community needs. It is professionally produced and apolitical in its message.

Format: “Theater of War” is a reading followed by a town hall style discussion. The setting is simple, without props or costumes. A modest sized audience of 150-450 observes the 85 minute performance in an auditorium. Mr. Doerries provides some brief comments to orient the audience at the beginning of the performance and between scenes. A discussion lasting up to an hour ensues, with the assistance of Mr. Doerries and 3-4 invited panelists, usually consisting of a combat experienced clinician, a combat veteran, and a spouse. Following the moderated discussion, a 15-30 minute informal reception is often held before closing. During the reception, members of the audience may visit with the cast, Mr. Doerries, and panelists. Performances for military, veteran, vet center, civilian and military medical schools, and other venues have drawn rave reviews.

Program Description: The two ancient plays, “Ajax” and “Philoctetes” by Sophocles, timelessly depict the physical and psychological wounds inflicted by war on soldiers, families and their communities. Complex bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of war are explored which challenge military healthcare providers. Chronic illness, “difficult patients”, alienation, family distress, stigma, loss of trust, moral injury, post war-adjustment, resilience and reparation of the veteran are all critical themes. The use of the play was a valued healing tool and one in which Greek combat veterans participated. Four professional actors perform the dramatic reading so that the participant’s experience is immediate, unique and stimulating for later discussion and reflection on current military healthcare practice. A panel will then discuss the very real and urgent issues facing today’s provider and combat veteran. Ample time for audience discussion will be provided. To learn more about Theater of War and find locations where it is being presented, please visit:

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