VA New England Healthcare System
Drama Therapy and Veterans Homefront Theater
VA Connecticut HCS' Drama Therapist Mary Lou Lauricella offers Veterans an active approach to solving problems and working through issues using drama therapy.
In September 2015, Mary Lou Lauricella will have been working at VACT for 20 years. She said that a drama therapist is a rare sighting in the VA system. Drama therapy (a creative arts modality) is an active and experiential approach that can provide the context for participants to tell their stories, set goals, play out personal roles, work on relationships and achieve insight. Through drama, the depth and breadth of inner experience can be actively explored and interpersonal relationships can be enhanced.
Drama therapy uses storytelling, projective play, purposeful improvisation and performance to achieve therapeutic goals. For the last 19 years, Mary Lou has facilitated a PTSD drama therapy group called the Veterans' Homefront Theater Group. The group meets weekly and, using improvisation, works to create scenes that are "lived truthfully under imaginary circumstances." The group is committed to exploring Veteran issues and performing community outreach.
Through this process, Veterans are able to explore externalized conflictual issues in a safe and aesthetically distanced way. This aesthetic distance invites reflection, insight, connection and healing. Mary Lou says this process can help Veterans lessen anxiety, regulate emotion, and reduce isolation while increasing creativity, flexibility, feelings of connection, self-esteem and fostering community. It also allows Veterans to "try on" another person's point of view, providing new insight into themselves and others.
Over the years, the Veterans' Homefront Theater Group has created and performed many theater pieces in both the VA and the community, and Mary Lou said these performances provide opportunities for sharing and healing. An important component of the group is community outreach. By sharing their performances with the greater community, such as libraries, prisons, museums and universities, they create a forum for exchange, understanding and dialog between Veterans and the community.
The Homefront Theater Group was the subject of a documentary film "No Unwounded Soldiers," created by documentary film-maker Rebecca Abbott. The film follows members of the theater group "as they explore, through drama therapy, the ways that war changes those that fight." Mary Lou said the film has been aired on Connecticut Public Television, and was screened at the Vail, Colo., Northampton, Mass., and Connecticut Film Festivals.
To see an example of two Veterans in the theater group, Frank Attruia and George Labounty, please watch a small clip from the documentary from "No Unwounded Soldiers."
Mary Lou said the theater group has partnered in Connecticut with Quinnipiac University's Theater for Community and the Connecticut Coalition to Improve End-of-Life Care, facilitating workshops at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Connecticut, with the Inmate Bereavement Volunteer Program, and Hospice Program, at the prison.
The Homefront Theater's newest production is called "Confessions of a War Dog." Presently, the play is a work-in-progress that recounts the story of love and loss between a scout dog and his handler. It is adapted from an autobiographical book of the same name written by VACT Arts Council member Peter Falcione (who appears in the play). Mary Lou said the play was performed at New York University's weekend of One Acts, at Fairfield University's "An Evening of Veterans' Stories" featuring Veterans performing live music and theater, at Quinnipiac University, and at the West Haven Military Museum.
Mary Lou, who adapted and directed the play, explained, "The pain of Veterans' experiences often never hits the air, rarely is shared, and is cloaked for lifetimes in darkness, often creating isolation and alienation from those they love, the greater community, and even themselves. Theater provides a space and place for lifetimes of stories to be told, held, shared and witnessed. This holding space provides a safe container for us to not only tell our stories, but connect us all through our common humanity."
Mary Lou holds a master's degree in Drama Therapy from New York University. She is a Registered Drama Therapist (RDT), a Master's level credential requiring coursework in psychology and drama therapy, and a member of the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA). To understand more about drama therapy in the VA, please contact Mary Lou in West Haven, Conn, at 203-932-5711 Ext. 2276, or go to the NADTA website.