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Iraq War Vet Uses Theater For Therapy

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by batgirl, Apr 22, 2007.

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  1. batgirl

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    On September 10, 2001, Sean Huze, then age 26, formerly of Baton Rouge, LA, was living the relatively carefree life of a cocky wannabe actor and would-be writer in Hollywood. The most important thing on the horizon was his next audition.

    Then came Sept. 11.

    On Sept. 12, filled with patriotic payback fervor, Huze enlisted in the Marines. And a year and a half later, infantryman Huze (nickname, "Hollywood") deployed with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    Huze (born Shannon Hughes Dykes) would see action in Nasiriyah and Tikrit, for which he would receive a Certificate of Commendation and the Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, a Meritorious Promotion (to corporal), a Presidential Unit Citation, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

    But when Huze returned to the United States in 2004 (remaining on active duty at Camp Lejeune, NC), it all began to fall apart. He suffered from recurring migraines (the result of a vehicle accident in Iraq), bouts of
    depression and outbursts of violence, all symptoms of PTSD - post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Far from alone, Huze saw how other returning vets were suffering, attempting to, as Huze puts it, "self-medicate themselves" with drugs, alcohol and, in the most extreme cases, suicide.

    Determined not to go down that road, Huze immersed himself in the creative process that almost certainly saved his life - he began to write a play.

    The result was "The Sandstorm: Stories From the Front," a thinly veiled, brutally honest account of his Iraq war experiences.

    After mustering out of the Marine Corps on March 7, 2005, Huze headed for Hollywood, where 10 days later he was on stage performing in the first production of "The Sandstorm." And when word began to spread about this first eyewitness drama written by a veteran of the Iraq war, Huze found himself in the national spotlight.

    Now, the Marine-turned -playwright has opened his third Iraq war-related play, "The Wolf," which focuses on the devastating effects of PTSD on returning vets and their families. Its premiere also marked the debut of the VetStage Theatre Company in Hollywood.

    Founded by Huze, VetStage is the first theater company devoted to helping Iraq and Afghanistan war vets by using the cathartic power of playwriting and acting. And if all goes well, and ongoing support for the project can be found, Huze sees a day when VetStage Theatre may serve as a prototype for similar projects throughout the country.

    "It's been three years and change since I got back from Iraq," says the wiry Huze, sitting in VetStage's makeshift office. "And although it's clich -sounding, it feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened in that time.

    "Who would have thought that growing up with a strong theater background would save my life - not as in I wouldn't be here anymore, but as in salvaging the quality of my life," Huze says.

    "Without a doubt, it's allowed me to back away from the brink. Theater gave me something to turn to. I didn't have to turn to cocaine. I didn't have to turn to alcohol. It didn't have to be suicide."

    When talking with Huze about VetStage, it's virtually impossible not be affected by his passion.

    "I know it sounds corny, like `Field of Dreams,' but I believe if we build it they will come," he says. "We've just opened the doors to this thing, and we've already got 16 members of the VetStage Theatre Company. I can't even tell you how they found it."

    The goal, he says, is to provide a haven of creativity and exploration, where vets of every talent level - from rank amateurs to seasoned professionals - can come and learn in productions and workshops. It's all about theater as therapy.

    "Iraq will always be with me," he says. "But I'm able to process it now and feel it and own it. I can take a full breath and let it go. And that's a result of the craft of theater."

    Huze says he spent the first year and a half out of the Marine Corps using rage to fuel everything he did.

    "Now I can come from a place of love for my fellow veterans and my country," he says. "The next thing for me is to find a way to pass it on."

    Source: Jim Farber, Press Telegram
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