First of all, who knew that there were theatre companies on US Army bases? Who knew they had annual one-act play and full-length play competitions? Who knew that working as a mentor to the directors of those plays existed as a job?
My supervisor, Jim Sohre, recently retired as Chief, Entertainment (Music and Theatre) Program, U.S. Army Europe, created the Mentoring Program in 1995: “I started the concept when we got actor, director (and personality!) Charles Nelson Reilly here to judge our Army Europe One Act Play Festival in Heidelberg. He not only critiqued, he got right up on stage and re-worked scenes with the groups. So it was more a working Masters Class.”
I began working as a Mentor Director for the same Festival. This involved traveling from base-to-base throughout Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey and Northern Italy. There are about 20 bases that participate in the annual competition; I visited 14 of them. As Jim explains, “Well, first, by bringing in mentors/judges from the US we are able to get top notch industry professionals who can provide contemporary input and training that is not available here in the English language.”
Each base I visited has a theatre company that regularly presents plays and musicals for the residents of the base. These companies include not only soldiers, but their families, other military personnel, non-military base workers, etc. Since the funding for the theatre companies and their facilities is at the discretion of the base commander, they operate under wildly different conditions. In Stuttgart, you have an entire performing arts complex with theatres, rehearsal spaces, everything state-of-the-art; in Grafenwoehr, plays are presented in a corner of a former basketball court using only clip lights and a boom box for tech. Still, it is remarkable what they are able to produce. Read the rest of this entry »