The military presence in Anchorage nears 42,000 people, making up over 10 percent of the population. Keeping this in mind, Purdue theatre graduate and military wife Amy Uptgraft paired with playwright Gregory Stieber to write a play highlighting the struggles a military spouse deals with while their partner is away on deployment.
The play, which ran May 11-12 at the UAA Fine Arts building, begins in 1945, near the end of World War II, and makes its way through further conflicts including Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and ended with the current rotation of deployments across the Middle East. Uptgraft and Stieber used real stories from various spouses of deployed military members, with the intent to make the experience as close to real life as possible.
After seeing the production myself, I can say that they succeeded. I am not a member of the military but having grown up in a places heavily populated by those in active duty, I have seen, firsthand, the struggles that come with having a loved one deployed. I Will Wait documented the emotional toll that deployment has on families and spouses, from the opening scene to closing. It was the first time that it felt that the focus was on military members immediate others, versus their own struggle. At the same time, the production did so in a way that did not put down or invalidate their internal battles, which only made I Will Wait even more real and enjoyable.
Alongside the play, a workshop has been put together by the Veteran’s Spouse Project, a nonprofit organization run entirely by military spouses. The Veterans Spouse Project is run by Amy Uptgraft, Wendy Caldwell and Lea Johnson, three military spouses who saw a lack of space to come together and express the struggles and emotional toil that exist within this community. The workshop allows a space for discussion among military spouses about the difficulties that come with having a loved one across seas.
Wendy Caldwell is the expressive arts director for the Veterans Spouse Project and helps make the Made For You events happen.
"The whole purpose of the project is to create more empathy around what its like to be a military or veterans spouse, for civilians to have more of an empathic view and for service members to see their spouses in a different light. The workshop creates a community atmosphere and forum for spouses to safely explore their feelings and their own stories," Caldwell said.
Mental health issues struggles can easily stem from having a spouse or family member in the active duty military, and the VSP strives to have those people share stories and make connections at their workshops, which they title ‘Made For You’.
"Made For You is an expressive arts workshop and is a compliment to the play as a workshop for spouses to do more of an internal dive and reflect upon their feelings about being a military spouse," Caldwell said. "It's slightly different than art therapy or music therapy yet it is a creative arts modality like those. The difference is that it encompasses a sequence of art modalities that the participants are guided through."
In each event, a participant of Made For You will experience movement to music, meditation, art making and journaling. So far, only one event has been held, but Caldwell hopes to be able to hold more Made For You workshops in the near future, both in Anchorage and beyond.
"The only feedback I've gotten was changing the event to make it longer," Caldwell said. "What we're looking at doing in the future is coupling an abbreviated version of the play with the remainder of the day dedicated to the workshop with even larger groups."
For someone who isn't a part of a military family to still be able to watch I Will Wait and interact with the military community, I felt the gap between the military and civilian communities that currently exists in large military population cities like Anchorage collapse for an evening.