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Telling Yuma: National Theatre Project Gives Local Veterans and Military Spouses the Stage

Maya Springhawk Robnett
KAWC Colorado River Public Media
Cast of Telling Yuma beginning rehearsal

A group of Yuma veterans and military spouses are using a surprising method to tell their stories.  This weekend, the Yuma Community Theater will present the stories of six people whose lives were impacted by service.  KAWC’s Maya Springhawk Robnett reports.

The Telling Project is a national nonprofit.  The group travels to different cities and helps create performances for veterans to share their own stories with their communities. 

Jackie Viskup is the director of Telling Yuma, this community’s Telling Project performance.  Viskup, herself a military spouse, pitched the idea of bringing the Telling Project to the Yuma Community Theater and got in touch with the Project heads.  She said they agreed with her that the Project was especially well suited for Yuma.

“I said, ‘You guys have to come to Yuma!’ They said, ‘Yuma sounds like the perfect place for us.’  Because, if you think about it,” Viskup said, “we have MCAS-Yuma, we have YPG, we have a large veteran population here.  And I really felt this would be an important performance piece to bring to this community.”

At Thursday evening rehearsal, the performers filed into the Yuma Community Theater space—an empty warehouse that Viskup said might have originally been used for carpet manufacturing.  There’s no air-conditioning in the rehearsal space so a series of fans funneled hot Yuma air into the building. 

One part, written for two of the military spouses, had them reenacting boot camp, shouting:

Recruits, are you hard of hearing? Pick your bags up! Put 'em down! Pick 'em up!

The two performers traded off as the others squatted up and down.

In the air-conditioned front room, the performers sat down with Viskup.  There are six performers (one who was out sick from this rehearsal) and all their stories—those of the spouses and the veterans—were written down verbatim by the Telling Project writers.  These accounts were arranged into a narrative that weaves in and out of their lives and plays off of each performer’s personal story.  There is even some lighthearted military branch rivalry woven in, including the cast singing “Be all that you can be in the Army!” and Manuel Enriquez (who served in the Army) scoffing as Sam Cervantes says the Marine has the “coolest uniforms.”

One of the performers is Melissa Raulerson, a 35-year-old Army vet who is also married to an active-duty soldier.  She said because the piece is autobiographical, it’s a hard thing to perform but also provides an opportunity to speak about things she had kept to herself for many years.

“I’m sharing a different side of the military,” she stated. “I’m sharing more of a darker side for our female soldiers, something I’ve never shared publicly.  And so it’s very trying for me.  But I’m hoping that it’ll help give other females a voice who maybe have never spoken out about things that have happened to them in the military.”

Manuel Enriquez, 62, was in the Army from 1981 to 2001.  Enriquez said he also feels the piece allows him to express things he’d rarely discussed before…

“You can call it, uh, therapy,” Enriquez said. “Sometimes you don’t wanna face things that are out there in reality and I had to face them.  And talking to the audience about it—not that they’re just there for that, they just—you know, it’s like going to confession if you’re a Catholic!”

Telling Yuma takes place on Sunday, May 7th, at 3PM at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.