BWW Interviews: BASETRACK LIVE - Not an Ordinary Show
Basetrack Live makes its world premiere in Austin, Texas this week at the McCullough Theatre and will play from September 11-13, 2014. It is significant that the event should open on the 13th anniversary of 9/11. Anne Hamburger is the executive producer of the show and she shared with Broadway World some insights on this production.
How did Basetrack start?
Freelance journalist Teru Kuwayama received a Knight Foundation grant to embed with the First Battalion 8th Marines Regiment in southern Afghanistan. With three other photographers, he created a citizen journalism project called Basetrack to connect the Marines to their families, and distribute photographs and social media posts to a wider audience. It became hugely popular, earning 5,000,000 hits, and connected a disparate audience hungry for contact with their deployed loved ones, as well as news from the frontline. In 2010, Ed Bilous went to an exhibition of the Basetrack photos at the Google gallery downtown, and was struck by their inherent theatricality. Ed is a brilliant composer, a professor at Juilliard, and national leader in arts education. He spent some time talking to Teru about his extraordinary work, and realized the underlying story was expansive and enormously theatrical. With composer Michelle DiBucci, Ed developed a workshop performance to mark the opening of Juilliard's Center for Innovation in the Arts. He conceived the performance at the intersection of theatre, music, photography and social media. I was deeply moved by the piece, and signed on to develop it into an evening length work, and a genuine collaboration between this group of artists and the vets and families of the 1st Battalion 8th Marines.
Why did you decide to take it on the road and share around the United States?
I have always been interested in bringing together strange bedfellows in the process of making theatre. At the outset of this project, none of us knew anyone serving in the modern military. Less than half of one percent of the current U.S. population serves in the military. Those that do often serve multiple tours, and often go through life-changing experiences; sometimes horrific ones. Then they return to life at home where there is virtually no understanding of what they've been through, and precious few opportunities to work through the trauma. This disconnect is, for them, one of the triggers for serious mental health issues and the epidemic of suicides among veterans. We realized very early on that Basetrack could stimulate conversations about this subject everywhere it performs. You can imagine, that was a terrifically motivating force.
Tell us a little about how Basetrack has been received by audiences?
It's been fascinating. It was evident from the initial performances at Juilliard that the piece is compelling to audiences who enjoy the live arts. The music is beautiful, as is the photography, and the story at the show's core is one we can all relate to. We have just finished our first workshop performances with mixed military and civilian audiences in Gainesville and Arizona which were wonderful. Those people with military backgrounds, or with sons & daughters currently serving were grateful to see something on stage which was an accurate portrayal of what they've experienced. No Hollywood heroics, no platitudes, plenty of humor. From 2-star generals to infantry, they've been very moved by the show. For those people who have no knowledge or experience of the military, like virtually all of us working on the show, it's been humbling to understand what motivates people to join up, to learn the unvarnished reality of their experiences. Watching Basetrack Live is like meeting and spending an evening with these guys. Regardless of what you think about the legacy of the Gulf Wars, what these men & women have gone through is extraordinary.
What can people do to help out the program in their own communities?
People who come to see the show will learn something about what the returning veterans in their communities might be experiencing. We've developed a range of initiatives that many presenters are implementing which give mixed veteran and civilian audiences a chance to participate in post-show discussions, debates and facilitated dialogues that focus on the impact of war. Sometimes it seems that the U.S. is such a divided society, but we've learned from doing this that there is a wealth of common ground where people with different beliefs can come together in search of mutual understanding. What can people do? Participate! You can visit www.basetracklive.com and see where the show is playing near you. Or spend Veterans Week in New York City and come see it at BAM.
BASETRACK plays in Austin, Texas from September 11-13, 2014. Tickets can be purchased by going to Texas Performing Arts and you can find out more about Basetrack by going to www.basetracklive.com.