What's it about?
“Two damaged people, trying to heal each other is love.” - R.H. Sin
What I experienced?
Holyyyyyyy shit. Get a snack this is a long one, dude.
Let’s be real for a sec, though, I don’t use words like “shook” and “lit”, but damn it, if there has ever been a show that I can actually say ‘shook’ me. I’ve been shaken, wobbled, rocked, and tossed. I cried THREE TIMES - three! Actual perspiration from my tear ducts running down my face. Turns out feelings exist and eyeballs sweat. Now that we’ve established that I am capable of expressing emotion I think the best way to talk about what happened at Cry Havoc! is starting at the end.
This show runs for 2 hours - I know, I know...
But not this one! I promise. Ok, so the end.
I am one of 25-ish people sitting on Ikea fold out chairs assembled in a circle on the stage, I just saw a play... play out… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ? Anyway, we sit there mostly confused as hell about being told to get on stage, but one of the charming things about NYC and it’s natives - when things are out of the norm we don’t hesitate, because chances are we’ve seen weirder shit on the train ride to the theatre. I’m the only ‘young’ person in this group of people (for the 97th time in my life) and I’m also dressed in the most half-assed outfit someone can throw on before considering just going in pjs - my brother’s very worn out college pullover, striped blue trousers, boots, and glasses.
Then, Stephan Wolfert - the actor and writer of the show - walks out and stands dead center of the circle. He had been wearing an all black ensemble before and now was in a cozy sweater, black jeans, and scarf wrapped around his neck. Nothing against people who lead a healthy lifestyle, but I can’t help but mention that as soon as I saw him come out in his ‘civilian' clothes I immediately thought of people who liked drinking things like wheatgrass shots and fresh pressed green juice. No hate at all toward the juices, that shit is delicious.
Just like my own experience with therapists and psychiatrists, going to a new one is always a unique kind of anxiety. Even though the New Ohio Theatre could not be colder and further from the warm vibe of a therapist's office, I still got that little wave of anxiety. I guess the years of experience with meeting new doctors, my instincts can detect it naturally. Given that this entire show is based on Stephan's own experience in the military, I didn’t think the topics of veterans and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) were gonna be a surprise - at least to me - but the mention of rehabilitating those veterans struggling to return to a ‘normal’ life with Shakespeare was an unexpected thing.
The things is, I’ve been using Shakespeare for approximately the past 4 years with zero knowledge of why it worked to calm my panic attacks. For years I was ashamed of my struggle to get a hold over my mind, and I, much like my family, would try to deny that it was there or just suppress it and hope that it would go away. Since I was diagnosed, back like 7 years or so, I've gone through endless phases of dealing with it. Luckily, my brain decided it wasn’t fuck*d enough that it had the courtesy to let me know that things would only get worse if I didn’t get help. And that’s how 14 year old Christine went to her mum and told her about the panic attacks and paranoia, the perpetual anxiety and insomnia, the fear of being left alone, the fear of sleeping and dying, and the fear of even stepping foot outside of the apartment. I am really the first in my family to suffer from a more prominent mental disorder, my mum had previously but she was fortunate enough to have been able to pull herself up and recover. I noticed that when she told me about her struggle she was uncomfortable and also seemed to be in denial that it had been real at all. That was the same way I was feeling, so being told that it is some sort of figment of my imagination was terrifying - there I was thinking I wasn’t that far off from being taken off by some big men in white coats. That intense feeling of denial really screws with one's chances of seeking out help.
Stephan did what a lot of other people do to deal with it, self medicating - with alcohol. The desperation someone will feel to turn off their mind for a little bit is so great that no matter how bad of an idea something sounds, like, it’ll be given a try at least a couple of times. It’s a moment where you finally feel like you’re in control of how you feel. Although I’ve done a lot of damage to mind and body since then, I think that something was looking out for me because the best case scenario happened. My high school junior year drama teacher chose Shakespeare as the focus of our training.
The moment Stephan blew my mind: The entire reason Stephan uses Shakespeare to deal with trauma...
The bane of my existence are my panic attacks. They suck, in every aspect, and have the most inconvenient freakin’ timing! When I did my first play in high school (Romeo & Juliet) the entire rehearsal process was filled with yoga and obviously Shakespearean language training. At the time I had zero clue as why it was helping me out. And a lot of the time, out of desperation during one of my episodes, I would start trying to distract myself by reciting anything I could remember. My lines, sonnets, or the darkest sh*t I could remember from Macbeth. The most bizarre thing - it worked. It would calm me and I could feel myself breathe again. Five years of doing that almost every time and I still didn’t know why it worked until March 24, 2017. Back to that reason Stephan uses Shakespeare to deal with trauma, because (here comes my shitty way of explaining, sorry) the meter in which his words are written are the equivalent of taking a breath.
Anyone familiar with meditation, yoga, or who has sat across from a therapist at any point knows that infamous phrase, “just breathe”. So that’s why Shakespeare is the man and will always be the biggest baller in history.
Back at the circle, Stephan starts going around asking vets and people with family or friends who are vets to share their stories. While, I’m sitting in my chair I start getting a bit nervous, because by the time he gets to me I have no fu*king clue what I am gonna say. I don’t know any veterans or people with PTSD. But I know Shakespeare and I know what it’s like to be scared of your own mind. Soon enough it’s my turn.
Stephan waves his hand toward me. His face encouraging me to speak.
“Um... no.” I muttered while I’m shaking my head and looking away.
“No family or friends? No connection at all?” he asks.
“No...” I laugh cause I am uncomfortable as shit.
“Well, not to be rude... but what are you doing here?” Fuck. Why am I here?
Then Stephan went on to say why he was surprised by my being there. After a little demonstration of slitting his wrists, mimicking that of a teenage that would be reluctant to see his show since it’s themes are so depressing, I finally realized why I was there. “Well, I actually write for a magazine called PXP and I came to see…." blah blah blah, not the real reason why I was there. “But I actually - I’m here cause I don’t know any veterans and I don’t know anyone with PTSD. And I want to know.”
So that’s why I was there. I haven't had to deal with the crap that a lot of vets and their families have had to. I haven’t seen my friends and brothers die, but I can connect with being lost and out of place when I am next to a ‘normal’ person. By far the worst part of recovering from war is reintegration back into 'normal' life, and the lack of support a lot of communities have in helping those who put their life on the line for us. During the show, Stephan talks about the training process that these men and women go through in order to form their ‘brotherhood’. They're programmed to be perpetually paranoid about nearly everything, since they are usually in a high tension environment. And that's all well overseas when they are in danger 95% of the time, but once these men and women come back home to a relatively safer environment they struggle more than they would back in foreign land. The intense training was created to survive the harsh conditions that are present in war, but what the military doesn’t seem to think is important is deprogramming the troops to be able to reintegrate back into everyday society. It’s really a vicious cycle of people getting discarded back into society after dedicating a piece of their life to defending the same nation that will later on ignore them. That’s where people like Stephan become an example of what we as a community should be toward our veterans.
These men and women aren't robots that can just be tossed out when they ‘stop working properly’, they're human beings with emotions (no matter how much training has taught them to suppress it). That veteran holding the cardboard sign or the ones walking aimlessly through the train carts were at one point risking their life for me, and a lot of the time I find myself at a loss of what to do. I am notoriously horrible with carrying cash so that option is almost never available, but it isn’t always money, it can be food or something as simple as acknowledgement. These aren’t people that will eventually go away if we just ignore them hard enough. The bubble of a perfect and progressive world we have needs to be popped, there are still a lot of improvements to be made in how we approach and reach out toward our service men and women.
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