California Philharmonic comes through for the Veterans
“Do your part and open up your heart, create some beautiful art” were lyrics of the closing song “Old As Time” from the original play “Shadowcaster” written by the veterans of the New Directions for Veterans and teaching artists of the Imagination Workshop. In participation with special guest musicians from the California Philharmonic, Principal Percussionist Terry Schonig, and Harpist Amy Wilkins provided their musical talents. So often, I have heard organizations or individuals express the desire to “help the veterans” or “do something for the veterans” but then not seize the opportunity to do so when it comes along. And then California Philharmonic came through, by providing A-list musicians to rehearse and perform with the participants of New Direction for Veterans. Together the musicians and the veterans performed two shows on April 5th and 6th and they took the production of “Shadowcaster” to an entirely new level of professionalism.
New Directions for Veterans is a live-in recovery program which helps our nation’s heroes and heroines address the challenges of life after military service. Imagination Workshop is a theater arts organization that uses theater improvisation for therapy, emotional healing, and creative expression. The original play “Shadowcaster” is a collaborative result of the two organizations where healing and creativity becomes one. The project for "Shadowcaster" started in October 2018, when the teaching artists of the Imagination Workshop paid weekly visits to the participants of the New Directions for Veterans at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus. They improvise and write characters for the play during the visits and when the image of Edwards Hopper's "Nighthawks" was presented to the veterans, the project flourished from there.
Participants imagined they were characters in the painting, making up their own who, what, where and when. The conflict was introduced: a blizzard keeping them all from getting to their next appointment, which for each character, was a life-changing event. The resolution occurred as they all were forced to stop and look at their lives and what really mattered to them. Through the guise of characters, the veterans and workshop artists were able to express feelings and emotions they might not have been able to express while being just themselves. Some beautiful, deep, introspective writing came out in the original one-act play “Shadowcaster” and the musicians were there to provide the sonic tapestry. The production opened with the diner’s owner “Sam,” played by a female US Navy Veteran, singing an original blues song. Terry Schonig’s smooth mastery on the drum kit elevated the number to new heights. Then Amy Wilkins played the evocative “Gymnopedie” by Erik Satie on harp as the rest of the cast entered the diner in tableau fashion. During the “revelation” of the play, Amy carried the emotions of the scene with another enchanting original harp piece.
Though Terry Schonig, has played on numerous blockbuster motion pictures as well as in the pit for multiple professional musicals and operas, he still expressed his appreciation for being part of such a process, watching the play being built “from the bottom up,” and enjoyed meeting and working with the veterans and workshop leaders. To top off the personal connections of the event, both the former Air Force Lieutenant (and superlative bass-guitarist) playing the title role of “Shadowcaster,” and Harpist Amy Wilkins were celebrating their birthdays on the night of the show. The stage manager brought out a cake after the performance and the Q&A, and the two “birthday kids” blew out the candles together. It was a touching and heartfelt moment. Such moving experiences are due to the healing power of music and the arts as manifested by organizations like the Imagination Workshop and the California Philharmonic.