Cape Cod theater gives veterans a ‘therapeutic,’ creative outlet

The healing power of art is helping veterans express themselves on stage and work as part of a 'unit' at the Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster.

BREWSTER, Mass. — Some veterans have made an unusual journey from foreign battlegrounds to a stage on Cape Cod.

It’s part of a new program at the Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster that stages theatrical plays with amateur actors who are veterans.

The Veterans Company, or VetCo, was the idea of Art Devine, an artist in residence at the theatre who’s also a Vietnam veteran.

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“It saved my life, it actually did. I was in a very bad state," Devine said, of the healing powers of theater, "I didn’t know that I was suffering [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I had it since I came home from Vietnam.”

Devine was just a kid from Lynn when he found himself in Vietnam. After he came home, he tried a few careers until he fell into acting by accident. “When I walked in the theater, it felt like, ‘wow, this is where I belong,’” he said.

Thirty-five years later, Devine is now a professional actor, playwright and director.

The Veterans Company will present Red Herring under Devine’s direction on Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7.

Members of the Cape Rep Theatre's Veterans Company rehearse for their production of Red Herring. The workshop is set for March 6-7.
Members of the Cape Rep Theatre's Veterans Company rehearse for their production of Red Herring. The workshop is set for March 6-7. (Bob Dumas/Boston 25 News)

“We give these amateurs, who have never been on stage, professional theater training,” explained Devine. “They love it.”

It’s also an opportunity for the participants to work as a unit on a shared project.

“A lot of veterans don’t talk about things,” added Devine. “But if you get together in a group, it comes up, and they say, ‘oh, I know someone who can help you with that.’”

“It’s not therapy, but it could be therapeutic,” said Maggie MacLeay, a former Army nurse who treated injured soldiers as they were taken out of Vietnam for more than three years.

MacLeay says the sense of community in the theater isn’t all that different from the military and thinks veterans of all ages can benefit from an experience like this.

“It’s something different to try out," she said. "I know how hard it is for these young guys to come and young women, because they have families and they’re holding down jobs, but it’s good to work your brain in a different way.”

George Avery, a former Marine who’s now a home builder, hopes the audience sees veterans in a new light as they leave the show.

“That we’re more than just the military. We’re normal human beings, that we can do whatever we set out to do," said Avery. "I think that’s what a military person is. You’re told do stuff beyond your means and that’s what we’re doing here. I’ve never done anything like this.”

The program is free for veterans. It is funded through grants and by the Cape Rep Theatre.