Veteran’s Spouse Project helps military spouses ‘pull the curtain back’ on their service, sacrifices
“You have to go.”
Those words were spoken by a military spouse to her husband about to deploy to war, during rehearsal of an emotional scene for “I Will Wait.”
Amy Uptgraft performs that scene, which will be on stage at Columbus State University’s Riverside Theatre on Friday.
She is the co-playwright of “I Will Wait,” founder and artistic director of The Veteran’s Spouse Project, and a military spouse of twenty years. Her husband Lt. Col. Jamie Uptgraft is the chief of tactics for the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Ft. Benning, Ga. They have four children.
The play dramatizes emotional stories of real-life military spouses who handle the home front while their soldier deploy across the globe. it uses original music, dance, and drama to bring the audience from World War II to present day.
“The premise is based on actual military spouse testimonials that I collected over the years,” said Uptgraft, a Purdue University graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in theater performance, and working actress.
They include the stories of three 92-year-old women whose husbands served in World War II. Uptgraft interviewed them in a retirement home. She said the women first talked about their husbands, until she prodded them to share their experiences.
“I’m really here to hear your story,” Uptgraft said she told the women, “ I want to gain my strength from what you did. How did you get through it? How did you go years without hearing from them?”
“This one woman in particular started to weep and she just said ‘no one has ever asked me that before,” Uptgraft said, “ and I just thought you know there are a lot of stories to tell and war, while it obviously impacts the military member, it also impacts the people that love them.”
The play is performed by professional actors, military spouses, professional musicians, and includes CSU students performing in the ensemble and handling tech duties for the show.
“It just tells the story about what it’s like to send people we love to war, what it’s like to welcome them back home, how they change, how we change,” said Uptgraft, “ and it just kind of pulls the curtain back on what deployments can be like.”
Uptagraft said she is excited to bring the project to a city with such a long military history.
“The city of Columbus has walked hand-in-hand with Ft. Benning for a hundred years,” she said.. “Those families and spouses have lived in your community, they’ve been in your neighborhood, they go to your churches, their kids go to your schools.”
Uptagraft says she hopes military families will recognize their own stories in the performance, and spouses in particular will realize they’re not alone.
“We do a very good job of building community within the military, but it can still be a... it’s a hard, isolating life at times,” she said, “You move every few years, you don’t have a grandma or an aunt close by to help, you have to kind of be willing to put yourself out there and sometimes that can be hard.”
She hopes civilians gain a better understanding and deeper appreciation for military families.
“When they see that young mom struggling with all the kids in Target they’ll take a minute and think ‘you know what maybe her spouse is gone’ and give her a smile or tell her she’s doing a good job.”
Complementing the show are “Made for You” storytelling workshops Friday and Saturday at the Pastoral Institute. They offer creative arts activities for spouses, encouraging them to find calm and share stories about military life. Workshops are free for spouses of active duty, retiree, prior service and reserve service members. Spots are limited so go to www.iwillwaitvsp.com to check on availability.
Performances of “I Will Wait” are open to the public at Riverside Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. May 11.
Go to www.iwillwaitvsp.com for ticket pricing and to purchase tickets. Tickets are also available at the door.