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VetRep Celebrates Veteran Artists in the Hudson Valley

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VetRep, a theater company based in Orange County, celebrates veteran artists through its playwriting competitions, staged readings, podcast, and blog.

Christopher Meyer is part of the third generation of working actors in his family. His grandfather performed in radio plays, making his name as Tonto in The Lone Ranger; his mother worked with Bob Fosse and performed in Broadway musicals like How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Fiddler on the Roof; his aunt was a soap opera diva; his cousin attended Julliard for drama. “I really wanted to do something different than everyone else,” he says of his early career. At first, Meyer tried to cut his own path by focusing on standup and improvisation until he finally “faced the inevitable,” which meant following his heart (and his family) into the theater, particularly as a director.

Meyer recalls his directorial debut in New York with considerable clarity given his assertion that the play itself “wasn’t anything to brag about.” It was a comedy. On opening weekend, the audience was lively, and Meyer felt hopeful of what was to come. Then, that Tuesday morning at 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. “The play never opened again,” says Meyer. “It’s safe to say my life took a few sharp turns after that.”

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As fate would have it, on the morning of September 11, 2001, Meyer had jury duty at a courthouse catty-corner from the twin towers. The day prior, the sitting judge had given a spiel about his distaste for tardiness; any offenders would be fined $500, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Getting off the train on Tuesday morning, Meyer noticed the station was unusually packed, even for rush hour. As he ascended the stairs to exit onto the street, a passerby told him a plane had hit the World Trade Center. “What kind of idiot pilot doesn’t see the World Trade Center?” he thought to himself, still determined to avoid financial penalty.

Meyer made a beeline to the courthouse, even as chaos unfolded around him. “I walked into the courthouse, and there’s nobody there,” he remembers. “I’m like, ‘Oh, well, they’re all gonna be paying $500.’ I get my stuff, walk right through, go the courtroom, pull on the door. The door’s locked. F— it, I’ve got five minutes before court’s supposed to start; I’m sitting in front of this door so they cannot say I was not here. The court officer comes down in full body armor, shotgun, everything, and he’s like, ‘The f— you doing here?’ I was like, ‘I got court!’ Then he’s like, ‘Yeah, court’s cancelled.’”

His day now free, Meyer decided to join a sea of onlookers, still unaware that the destruction above was not the work of an incompetent pilot, but a terrorist organization. People in the crowd were ogling, laughing, and speculating. “Then, you started to see the people drop,” he says. “At the end, when both buildings had come down, we were pushed all the way back to Canal Street. I remember looking around. There was a Rastafarian bike messenger, this young waspy couple, Wall Street businessmen, construction workers, all these people, all different socioeconomic statuses, different races, everything. Everybody was crying. There was a part of me that was like, ‘That’s the first time I’ve seen all New Yorkers in the same emotional space.’ There was something really sacred about that.” In the wake of what he witnessed, Meyer’s career in entertainment seemed trivial. Foregoing a life in the theater, he followed his heart once more, going on to serve in the military from the mid-aughts until Biden withdrew our troops from Afghanistan.

What Makes a Veteran Special?

“All the world’s a stage,” declares Jaques in act two of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “And all the men and women merely players.” Still, the theater industry can be quite homogenous. Criticism of underrepresentation on Broadway isn’t new, but it is more often pointed at disparities in race and gender than veteran status. As a veteran himself, Meyer and the team at Veterans Repertory Theater, based in Cornwall, give a voice to this demographic with a program entirely comprising works written by veterans or their immediate family members.

Veterans, in Meyer’s view, are inherently equipped to pen compelling works of drama. “What makes them unique is a high volume of significant emotional events in a relatively compressed period of time, early in life. That creates an experiential wisdom of understanding humanity at the extremes. Conflict, life, and death,” he states, adding, “Well, that’s f— theater.” The theater company, abbreviated as VetRep, “assesses, develops, and mentors” these writers through playwriting competitions and staged readings. “Veterans can offer a lot to an arts culture that can often seem increasingly provincial, close-minded, one-sided, self-important, and lacking perspective,” Meyer reckons.

After a robust, well-attended inaugural season with performances in the Hudson Valley and Manhattan, VetRep looks forward to sharing stories through 2023 and beyond. This weekend, the company will present War Wound, a dark comedy by Phillip Korth, at American Legion Post 633 in Highland Falls. The play, which “follows a group of U.S. Marines through the build-up to invasion and into the first tenuous days of a long, uncertain conflict,” is free to attend. The VetRep team is committed to keeping the cost of live theater low, frequently offering free or pay-what-you-wish tickets to ensure that the price tag is never a disqualifying factor for those interested in attending a show. By contrast, single tickets for Hamilton fetched upwards of a grand at the height of the show’s popularity.

In addition to VetRep’s regular season, Meyer runs Savage Wonder, a podcast and literary blog which mirrors VetRep’s mission to share stories of veterans in the arts. However, Meyer makes it clear that these initiatives are not meant to merely “help veterans,” but to bolster the art world with the singular brilliance that veteran artists can offer. “We have established a creative hub and a local institution that merges the sacrifices, the wisdom, and the accumulated experience of our veteran community with breathtaking civilian artistry,” he says. “And with your help, we believe we can produce funny, shocking, heterodox, surprising theatrical work, both locally and nationally.”

Head to the Veterans Repertory Theater website to stay abreast of news and upcoming performances. For tickets to War Wound, showing on February 25 at 6 p.m., click here.

Related: 52 Reasons to Love the Hudson Valley