Tucked appropriately between the week after Halloween and the week before Veterans Day is a week-long artist-in-residence event presented by the UNCW Office of Cultural Arts. The week of events culminates on November 6 at Kenan Auditorium, with the BASETRACK Live multimedia experience. The event tells contemporary stories surrounding the impact of going to war and returning to the community. The project captured my interest because I love stories, theatre, music, and arts that connect. I have more than a passing familiarity with veteran’s issues, and I’m not sold on war.
I met with Norman Bemelmans, director of cultural arts, and current assistant Melissa Stanley at UNCW’s Kenan Hall to find out more about this intriguing project. The first thing I learned is that Norm and I share a sense of humor. So on days I’m dull and obtuse, rest assured Norm is hilarious.
Next I learned that UNCW’s Office of Cultural Arts has been forging connections between the university and our community through the arts since 2005—just a few years after the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Like many universities UNCW has grown increasingly sensitive to veteran’s needs over the last decade. Expressing a little of this sensitivity, Melissa Stanley asked whether the Marine base up the road is correctly pronounced “Le- jern with an R” or “Le-June.”
I’m not a stickler for syllables, and I’m not sure about the “R,” but I am sure that because of our many military installations, including Lejeune, southeastern North Carolina has one of the largest military populations in the nation. Because of our friendly climate, relatively low cost of living, and educational opportunities at UNCW and CFCC, many young veterans choose to settle here for a while when they finish serving their country. Aging veterans sometimes choose to settle here, too, to golf, fish, or head up to Kenan Auditorium to listen to a fellow soldier share a story or two.
I saw many veterans and family members this past January at Kenan, listening to author and Vietnam Purple Heart recipient Tim O’Brien read from his award-winning collection of combat-experience-inspired stories, “The Things They Carried.” When Tim O’Brien fought in Vietnam, he didn’t have a smartphone or phone camera and was disconnected from his family for months. Until this century, combatants not actually defending their homes were completely disconnected from family and friends during their tour. Nearly 50 years after his combat experiences, he candidly admitted that he still is haunted by his personal combat.
BASETRACK Live is inspired by a 2010 Afghanistan mission by Marines from Camp Lejeune. The combatants had technology to maintain far more connectivity to the non-combat world than any previous generation. It remains to be seen whether access to this technology will reduce the hauntings for any of us, or whether we’ll understand that we send entire families into harm’s way—not just that 21-year-old.
Where Tim O’Brien used a typewriter to tell his stories long after his combat experiences, BASETRACK Live uses nearly every story platform available, including social media, to share experiences only four years after the actual events. It’s not film fiction in which people are packaged into stereotypical heroes and villains, and distributed by a production company primarily to make a million bucks. It is part of a national tour designed to engage with veterans, families, communities, and anyone impacted by war. (Like it or not, this includes everyone.) Its purpose seems to be to connect more of us to the grave realities of contemporary combat so that more people “get it” when they look into the eyes of that 21-year-old Marine veteran of two tours in the middle of nowhere, a couple of IED blasts, and three or four dead friends to see the real “Hurt Locker.”
I hope the house at Kenan Auditorium is packed on November 6. It’s two days after another election. Many folks get really angry when talking elections, politics and war. But as talented actor and director Melissa Stanley pointed out during our chat, “Anger is easy. It takes effort to connect to the full spectrum of feelings.”
If the images on the BASETRACK website are a good indication of the event, Wilmington is about to be connected to of an evening of eye-opening and, hopefully, heart-opening experiences.
Thursday, Nov. 6, 8 p.m.
UNCW Kenan Auditorium
601 S. College Road
Tickets: $20 GA; $16 faculty and staff; $8 students and youth; FREE for active military and vets