LC Bulletin: New Las Cruces theater group gives voice to veterans, homeless

February 5, 2016. Retrieved online February 9, 2016 from Mike Cook, Las Cruces Bulletin

February 5, 2016. Retrieved online February 9, 2016 from Mike Cook, Las Cruces Bulletin

[Excerpts below reprinted with permission: Read the complete Las Cruces Bulletin article] PAGE A20

“I like to show what homeless is, what homeless looks like,” said Las Cruces Camp Hope tent city resident Stanley Smith, who is one of the actors in Las Cruces’ Veterans Theatre.

Members of the Las Cruces Veterans Theatre steering group are, left to right, James Sassak, actor; David Boje, Vietnam War veteran and storytelling officer; Traci Woolf, secretary; Ernest Ramsey, president; and Dother Sykes, sergeant-at-arms.

Members of the Las Cruces Veterans Theatre steering group are, left to right, James Sassak, actor; David Boje, Vietnam War veteran and storytelling officer; Traci Woolf, secretary; Ernest Ramsey, president; and Dother Sykes, sergeant-at-arms.

Some Veterans Theatre actors/writers are homeless, like Smith, who said he enjoys the opportunity to be on stage and show the audience that “all homeless are not drunks and druggies. I’m a homeless person, but I’m up here,” said Smith, who has been homeless since the age of 15.

Boje was leading a healing through storytelling class at an Oak Street apartment complex that serves as transitional housing for veterans in Las Cruces in 2014. When the class ended, Boje said, he and participating veterans asked, “What can we do now with storytelling?” And Veterans Theatre was born.

“The stories come from those guys,” said Boje, a United States Army veteran who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 and is a member of American Legion Post 10 of Las Cruces and Vietnam Veterans of America.

The first scene the group ever performed was called “Dead Waiting for an Appointment with the VA,” said United States Army veteran Ernest Ramsey, who is president of the Veterans Theatre steering group. As the name implies, the scene catalogues the experiences of veterans with health issues waiting for service from the U.S. Veterans Administration.

“You have to make it funny enough so that people go, but serious enough to have a message,” Boje said.

Boje said the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) estimate of 49,000 homeless veterans nationwide represents a serious undercount of the actual number of what he called “America’s refugees.” It doesn’t count thousands of the “hidden homeless,” he said, who live in cars and sheds or are “couch surfers,” staying temporarily with friends or family members.

Another scene tackles the synthetic drug spice. In researching the topic, Boje and other group members even made an undercover visit to a local smoke shop where spice was being illegally sold, Boje said.

Spice is “a chemical attack on society,” said Camp Hope CEO and Veterans Theatre member James Sassak.

For more information on Veterans Theatre, its upcoming performances and how to make a donation to the organization, contact Boje at 936-9578 or david@davidboje.com and visit http://veteranstheater.com/.


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