Arts in the Armed Forces: Setting the Stage in Service of Our Defenses

For officers, veterans and families alike, Arts in the Armed Forces delivers hope to those in need of it most.

Bringing theatrical entertainment to the military and its myriad of families worldwide, Arts in the Armed Forces is a nonprofit organization that seeks to join two seemingly separate communities on one global stage. Founded by Adam Driver back in 2008, AITAF's goal maintains a dressing room full of core principles and tools that drive this theme of fusing military with the arts. They utilize broad strokes in playwriting, casting, and performance to paint a masterful work onstage that fights for the men and women who, themselves, fight for this very country. 

As Driver says on Late Night with Seth Meyers, "Theater can be a weapon." AITAF strives to make this statement even more possible each and every day. From enlisting servicemen and women for various roles in theater, to producing exceptional works of magic, then followed by challenging emotions in ways of unimaginable worth, Driver and his Arts in the Armed Forces bring a unique concept to theatrical storytelling, one that should not go overlooked. Self-expression is key to what AITAF develop in their performances. Still, while there is so much that goes into it all, one important question may be on your mind: Why? 

Behind the Mask

Before starring as Star Wars' masked Dark Side-welding villain Kylo Ren, Adam Driver served for the Marine Corps. At the age of 17, he enlisted soon after graduating high school and only months following the collapse of the World Trade Center. On his time spent as a Lance Cpl. and 81mm mortar man under the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Corps. regiment, Driver considers it a time of self-strengthening and the coalescing of many new friends. He even claims it's one of his proudest achievements in life. 

Unfortunately, months before being deployed into Iraq, Driver broke his sternum amid a mountain biking accident. Instead of joining his friends on the battlefield, the young man chose instead to enlist somewhere else: Juilliard. On his road to becoming one of the most talented up-and-coming stars, he also chose to engineer a more enlightening form of entertainment for servicemen and women in all branches of the military. Thus, Driver stresses, AITAF stems from the devotion he garnered in meeting a wide variety of, what he calls in a TedTalks video"...these weird dudes, a motley crew of characters from a cross section of the United States..." In many ways, AITAF intends to help members of the military by giving them a voice through both art and cultivation. Hence, self-expression is their most powerful and thought-provoking theatrical device. 

In a 2017 interview with The New York Times, Driver speaks on this very beating heart at the core of his organization:

"There’s no reason to think that this community doesn’t have anything to say. Maybe they don’t have access to another way of saying it."

So, as much as it may be about bringing quality performances to the entire military, much of what the AITAF stand for lies in Driver's commitment to friendship and building a channel for the military to properly express itself. Over the past decade, his work with the organization has shown true promise. Only last November, and in honor of their 10th anniversary, Arts for the Armed Forces announced the inaugural Bridge Award, which grants a playwright from the military $10,000 for the production of a new play. 

Read more about submissions' protocol, winner announcement, and eventual dates for the performance and accompanying fundraiser all in this PlayBill article

The organization still has much and more planned for the future, but then you might be asking yourself: What does it look like?

Emotions Fly

"...My heart was pounding just for my dad coming back. And I heard him pull the break: *click* Lights go off. Keys turned off. And a long silence..."

Driver's performances in the Arts for the Armed Forces are spellbinding on their own — just watch the above quoted scene starting at 8:39 in the Vice News video. You also get a taste of their typical evening if you watch the entire recording. Following every show, there's always a QnA forum and meet-and-greet, in which both audience and cast get to divulge in one on one time. This is an important part of what they do, as it literally brings both communities face to face; plus it's where we tend to find the most convincing reception of the AITAF wherever they go. 

Driver, himself, shares some of this feedback with Seth Meyers:

"People afterwards pretty much sound like they're plants...like we planted them in the audience to say what it is that we wanted to hear, which is: 'I didn't know theater was like this,' 'theater's so expensive I can't afford to see it,' I don't know, 'something about seeing it live.'"

He, in addition to his cast of amazing writers and performers, make it their obligation to deliver interactive, uplifting and challenging plays that, in one way or another, bridge the gap between art and military for their various audiences. It's as much about the performance as it is about what goes into it, whether it's written by the hand of a veteran, pertains to some coalescing ideas on service, or simply broadens how the communities interact and thrive together. So far, it seems, AITAF is proof alone in the fact that they can coalesce and that it will continue well into the future. 

Awakening The Force of Self-Expression

In addition to portraying a snippet from Marco Ramirez's "I Am Not Batman" (warning: strong language), the above TedTalks video also has Driver summing up his ideology behind AITAF:

"The military and theater communities are very similar: you have a group of people trying to accomplish a mission greater than themselves, it's not about you, you have a role, you have to know your role within that team, every team has a leader or director, sometimes they're smart, sometimes they're not, you're forced to be intimate with complete strangers in a short amount of time, the self-discipline, the self-maintenance..."

It's all there; Arts for the Armed Forces is much more than a nonprofit, it's a way for the art world and the military to enrich themselves in boundless friendship, almost identical to the way in which a cast of performers or platoon of warriors will somehow find a way to just get along. Thanks to Adam Driver and the rest of the team behind AITAF, men and women serving all across the planet, including veterans and their families, can experience the stage like never before. Even more satisfying, servicemen and women can partake in the action, allowing them a whole new way to voice their feelings. 

You too can help set the stage by donating to AITAF. I can't stress enough how important and helpful this simple task is for continuing their efforts. Stay up to date on events and news by following them on Facebook and Twitter. I'd like to call upon each and everyone of you to keep your eyes out for military men and women in times of need. AITAF can help, so don't hesitate to raise your voice when you already know they won't.

Now Reading
Arts in the Armed Forces: Setting the Stage in Service of Our Defenses
Read Next
Books Recommended by the US Military for Aspiring Soldiers