Military Women in “Bullet Catchers” Highlight Inequality

Rehearsal shot from Bullet Catchers. Photo: Clutch Productions.

So, the whole point of The Marbury Project, right, is that women can do anything in the arts that men can do. Whether it is performance, or choreography, or directing, or designing, or writing, or painting, or building, or lighting, or dance, or music, or whatever, women are equally as capable to do all of these tasks as are the men who have historically and continue currently to do them.

The whole point of Bullet Catchers, a new Off-Off-Broadway play by the Women in Combat Theatre Project, running through Aug. 5 at Judson Memorial Church in NYC, is that women can do the same things in the military that men have historically and continue currently to do. No Mulan rip-off here: this devised theater piece by women veterans doesn’t hide behind haircuts and armor but wants female combat fighters acknowledged — and paid — for their service.

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Maggie Moore and Julia Sears met while freshmen in college. While they’ve remained friends, Bullet Catchers is their first collaborative creative endeavor. Moore worked in Washington, DC, on an advocacy campaign for allowing women to fully participate in combat — “no exceptions.” After bouncing ideas around about a devised piece, Sears ran with the story when she received a Harbor Residency at Opera House Arts in Stonington, ME with Empty Chair Theatre Company, which she co-founded in the DC area in 2007, and the Barn Arts Collective, based in Bass Harbor, ME.

An important part of the process was finding the right military artists to include. “We have veterans from the Army, Navy and Air Force in the show,” Moore proudly told me. When asked about any misconceptions around producing a theater show for vets, Sears added that “one in six New Yorkers are touched by veteran policy. Of course the audience and the subject matter are intertwined.”

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Any time an underrepresented group sees themselves on stage or screen, a common refrain is how grateful people are to see real stories about themselves. “The vet community, particularly women, are hungry to see authentic representation,” remarked Moore. It seems to be a trend: last spring, American Theatre profiled the World War II-era Blueprint Specials discovered and remounted in NYC by the company Waterwell, adapted and directed by co-founder Tom Ridgely. The article notes that while “stories of trauma and re-acclimating to civilian life can be dramatically interesting, those aren’t the only veteran tales worth telling.” In fact,

“It’s a minority of veterans who feel that way,” adds Ridgely. “It even widens the sort of military/civilian divide in the arts, because it’s only telling one specific story.”

By contrast, Blueprint Specials tells a story these artists had not heard before, about the ins and outs of the military — everything from how you get your uniform to how women and men are supposed to treat each other. “It’s really about how someone goes from being not a military person to being a military person,” says Ridgely.

Bullet Catchers incorporates dance, music and mask work. For Sears, the main question to ponder was: “How do we make this action — say, moving in a Humvee — clear to the audience every time without the real thing?” To express heightened moments, whether emotional or physical, the creators therefore explored a multifarious approach to performance.

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Now, Bullet Catchers also stands in good company with similarly devised military-theater pieces: Liz Lerman, for example, did it in New Hampshire with her dance work The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Project; and Not Man Apart transposed the classic Greek myth into contemporary times with Ajax in Iraq.

As Bullet Catchers wraps up its run, Moore and Sears remain enthusiastic about taking it on the road to military towns and theaters across the country. If you know of a venue, or military installation/base that may be interested in presenting the show, reach out to Clutch Productions and let them know.