Tyler LaMarr is a Marine, one of the 2.6 million Americans who have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade.
A veteran of what has become America’s longest war, LaMarr is also an actor in a group of artists who are bringing the stories of his fellow American servicemen and women and their families to light through the lens of theater with a piece called, “Basetrack Live,” which is coming to Royce Hall Friday, Oct.10, at 8 p.m.
“Basetrack” is a unique multimedia theatrical experience that’s derived from a wildly popular Facebook page and website that feature photographs and videos taken in Afghanistan by embedded journalist Teru Kuwayama and his colleagues. The main narrative of the piece, performed by LaMarr and actress Ashley Bloom, is based on the true story of a married couple and their deployment experiences. Video footage, photos and stories from other veterans and their loved ones accompany the story — all set to live music.
To give students, staff, faculty and campus visitors a chance to connect with veterans, listen to their stories, shake their hands, leave them notes and read their letters from the front, the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA (CAP UCLA) is also presenting a weeklong interactive art installation that’s currently set up on Royce Quad until Oct. 10. Creators of the installation want to build dialogue and mutual understanding between veterans and civilians.
The installation, “Peace & Quiet,” is being presented in collaboration with the UCLA Chancellor’s Veterans Initiative, the UCLA Veterans Resource Center, UCLA Communications and Public Outreach, and Brooklyn-based Matter Architecture Practice, the group that conceptualized and developed the temporary installation.
Visitors to the small house set up on the quad will find a Conversation Wall with a different daily prompt comprised of questions that will inspire them to start a conversation with a stranger, share a memory or question, or write something that they think will inspire others.
On Monday, the wall was papered with scrawled messages left by passersby answering questions like, “How do you serve?”
In addition, there's letter-writing hosted by UCLA’s Operation Gratitude to thank U.S. active service members deployed in hostile regions as well as veterans and first responders. A children’s book drive is being held in conjunction with Blue Star Families. And “Stories of Service,” a recording/listening station, enables community members to record their own stories as well as listen to others' personal stories.
A gallery of photos and letters documents America’s wars through the last century. For a more personal viewpoint on war, there will also be opportunities to have informal conversations with UCLA veterans and service providers. Information on the many programs and services that UCLA offers its military and veteran community is also available.
Created by Sandra Wheeler and Alfred Zollinger, co-directors of Matter Architecture Practice, the UCLA installation of this work is its second iteration. The first installation of “Peace & Quiet” was held Nov. 11-16, 2012, in New York’s Times Square.
“When the center committed to presenting the Los Angeles premiere of ‘Basetrack,’ I began searching and found ‘Peace & Quiet,’” said Meryl Friedman, CAP UCLA director of education and special initiatives and the curator of the project. “Luckily, Sandra and Alfred were willing and eager to revisit the project, so ‘Peace & Quiet’ will have a new life. The Royce Quad provides an ideal setting to host a dialogue station, to initiate and inform an exchange of ideas, and to offer a highly visible hub highlighting the many programs UCLA offers the veteran community.”
Wheeler said they are eager to see how the project will translate to a new physical space. “This setting of being in the middle of a population of students, who are in the mind frame to having their minds open to new ideas, thinking about things and discussing things, creates a real opportunity,” she said.
“Basetrack Live” is as much about advocacy as it is about performance, LaMarr said.
While it’s a theatrical work, he said, “it also helps illuminate and articulate the unique experience of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq — men and women who volunteered to serve and were able, through modern technology to stay in touch with family and loved ones even while deployed.
“The vets returning today face similar reintegration challenges as vets from past wars,” LaMarr said, “but they are also embracing opportunities to explore, understand and share those challenges with each other and with civilians.”
Being involved in the arts has been therapeutic in helping him cope with his wartime experiences, said LaMarr, who returned to college to study theater after leaving the service. He is also the co-founder of Society of Artistic Veterans, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing education and opportunities for military veterans who are pursuing careers in the arts.
“Basetrack Live,” which premiered in Austin, has been evolving as the result of dialogues between the cast and crew and their audiences, veterans and civilians alike.
LaMarr said the response to the work so far has been incredibly positive. Fellow veterans who have seen it have been appreciative and supportive of the work and its larger aspirations to bring vets and civilians together.
This sense of building connections is also the impetus behind CAP UCLA’s investment in “Peace & Quiet.”
UCLA is already home to a wealth of initiatives for veterans, from programs that help student veterans navigate the benefits process to efforts to bring injured vets and their families to UCLA’s medical facilities through the nationally acclaimed Operation Mend.
“Our country’s relationship to conflict is deep and complicated,” Friedman said. “The hope is that our version of ‘Peace & Quiet’ will be a bridge: connecting stories, revealing history, closing the gap.”
The installation will be staffed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday.