Pair of Performances Bring Veterans’ Voices to Upper Valley Stages

  • American singer Mary Gauthier performs tonight at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. She is on tour in support of her album "Rifles & Rosary Beads," released earlier this year, which she wrote with military veterans. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Rachel Putney and Mark MacDonald review their lines before rehearsal Monday night for "The Telling Project." (The Herald of Randolph - Tim Calabro)

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 08, 2018

By all means, thank survivors of combat for their service and commemorate soldiers, sailors, flyers and Marines no longer with us.

And between the well-wishes to the living and the solemn ceremonies at cemeteries for the dead, on and around Veterans Day, try to make time for at least one or two Upper Valley performances in which veterans speak for themselves.

Tonight at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Grammy-winning Americana musician Mary Gauthier will share songs and stories she’s spent five years co-writing with veterans and their families.

And in the play The Telling Project on Saturday night at Chandler Music Hall, nine Randolph-area residents will share their experiences of military life — most in combat, some as families of veterans.

Of the 45 songs Gauthier co-wrote with veterans, 11 of them ended up on Rifles & Rosary Beads, the album that she released in January and that she’s been touring ever since.

“The whole process was kind of amazing for them, to get what they’ve written sung back to them,” Gauthier said during a telephone interview from Nashville last week. “And as I’ve toured with the record, to my amazement, it’s been very well received by audiences. I went in with the impression that Americans are pretty quick to send people to fight, and that they’re not receptive to the idea that they come back wounded and in need of care. But I was wrong.”

Gauthier expects to continue channeling and sharing the experiences of her mostly non-professional collaborators in music.

“I don’t know yet whether there’s going to be another record with more of the songs,” she said. “I just know that this is a really good time to be singing the soldiers’ songs. It’s a blessing that I have these stories in my pocket. I can talk about something that means something to me. My whole career has been about finding empathy for people we haven’t met, people who have come through one form of trauma or another.

“We do have so much in common with each other.”

Between rehearsals for The Telling Project, Randolph native and former Army medic Rachel Osha Putney was glad to hear about Gauthier’s concert, and relieved that it falls on a different night than the show at the Chandler.

“There’s such a wide range of examples of all of us that people need to hear from,” Putney said this week, during a telephone interview from Norwich University, where she coordinates the Title IX program. “I don’t think any of us fits the ‘veteran’ stereotype people get from movies or TV or the news. None of us really fits that mold.”

Take Putney, a 2000 graduate of Randolph Union High School who served a year in Iraq during a career spanning 2001 to 2009. At a small base between Baghdad and Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison at which suspected enemies were tortured, she prepared wounded soldiers — some from roadside bombs, some by gunshots — for evacuation to fully-equipped field hospitals for surgery.

She thought she’d put those memories behind her until this spring, when Telling Project playwright Max Reyneard interviewed Putney and other veterans at the Chandler, then sent them the first draft of the script to adapt as they saw fit. In recent weeks, they’ve been rehearsing under the direction of Charlie McMeekin, from whom Putney took English in eighth grade and who has directed many plays at the Chandler.

“I really want to say the script exactly as Max wrote it,” Putney said, “but they’ve been telling us, ‘It’s your story.’ … It became more of a story than just my experience. I think it’ll be the most emotional on the day of the presentation. That’s when it’s really going to be coming from the heart, speaking the truths of what I’ve been through.”

Putney is also glad to share the spotlight with, and learn from, performer-veterans such as Vietnam veteran Mark MacDonald, a longtime state senator from Orange County and Putney’s eighth-grade history teacher.

“What you do in the military, everything’s a team effort,” Putney said. “This project feels the same way. They’re helping me bare my soul, and I can do the same for them.”

Mary Gauthier performs at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction tonight at 7:30. For tickets ($25 to $30) and more information, visit marygauthier.com/tour.

The Chandler Music Hall in Randolph hosts The Telling Project on Saturday night at 7:30. For tickets ($10 to $25) and more information, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.