By ELAINA WILSON
UC Merced students brought the community a refreshing yet eye-opening performance last weekend by presenting the play, “If All The Sky Were Paper,” written by best-selling author and playwright Andrew Carroll.
The show highlighted some amazing and highly emotional details from Carroll’s journey to more than 40 countries in search of the most inspiring war letters in history.
The one-act show was produced by the Global Arts and Studies Program at UC Merced and was directed by UC Merced Continuing Lecturer, Jenni Samuelson. It featured 15 undergraduate students enrolled in Samuelson’s course, “Advanced Performative Storytelling.
The result on stage was a beautiful tribute honoring real-life military men and women, along with their loved ones back home. The performance revealed the impact and importance of preserving personal stories from the Revolutionary War to the War in Afghanistan. These war letters put a voice to the words of service men and women in a way that humanizes them in the midst of violent conflict and wartime adversity.
The cast put on ‘a phenomenal show,’ according to Carroll himself, as the author was in Merced over the weekend to attend the event held inside the Multicultural Arts Center in downtown Merced on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.
Carroll — the author of “War Letters” and “Behind the Lines” — said he was pleased to see the play performed by university students. He said they helped bring history to life in a way that is relatable and focused on humanity. Carroll also gave huge credits to Director Jenni Samuelson.
The staging was well done as the theater seemed rather perfect for the intimate and detailed readings of these letters by cast members. The young performers also created a feeling of emotional rawness with each letter while realizing the depth and impact of them as well. The show even had a surprising, yet well received, twist, which offered some humor in the first few moments. The audience was also able to laugh, which was refreshing and unexpected. The cast performed with what felt to be real passion as each read aloud the unique letters of these soldiers. They depicted times of fear, strength, hope, dread, and most of all, the admiration of those who put their feelings to paper. There were letters written from battlegrounds with bombs exploding nearby, and bullets flying past.
While a few of the UC students may have had slight jitters at first, they, for the most part, seemed rather natural and left the audience with a clear understanding of the message that Mr. Carroll wished to portray: there can be hope in the midst of struggle. Soldiers and their loved ones back home are not alone — before, during, and after one serves in the military. Even in the midst of battle, there is also camaraderie, resilience in overcoming hardships, and even circumstances where one can turn enemies into ‘frenemies.’
It was obvious that the students put their hearts into this performance, and under great direction Samuelson, they brought honor to the letter writers and all veterans. You could feel the dedication of the actors as the letters were read and the story narrated; the audience felt the authenticity with each word.
A well-timed performance, nearing Memorial Day, it was a stark reminder of the many challenges our country has endured and persevered through. It suggests we take something positive from the past and allow for history to not just be a lesson in a book, but a lesson in which motivates us into the future.
As read aloud in the voice of a young Polish boy in his description of horror, fear, and tragedy of war, “If all the sky were paper, if the seas of the world were an inkwell, I could not describe my suffering.”
The performance gave a well thought out depiction to the audience and a glimpse of the true beauty of theater. The readings likely struck a chord in the many watching the show. From showing a sense of humor in the dire circumstances of war, to the detailed emotions from the front-lines, the cast shined under the spotlight while demonstrating that these letters were written by real people. While strong, resilient, and trained for battle, the play teaches us that these soldiers are merely humans, and they too face day-to-day life and all of its highs and lows, no matter the period in time to which they served or will serve.
Most of all, the play is a brilliant reminder of what memories are made of. Mr. Carroll’s work left the audience with an appreciation of life, and a reminder to not get too caught up in life that you don’t stop to take it all in.
The show likely inspired many others to seek out their own family war letters with a sense of curiosity as to their ancestral past. There’s a sense of wonder and awe in knowing that the messages left behind will bring to life those voices and allow us to honor what is not just a part of history, but our history, the connection to our roots, and the legacy of our family that can be carried on long after we are gone.
If you have any war letters that you would like to share, especially if you or a loved one has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, please contact: warletters.us