Quill Theatre and the Virginia War Memorial are bringing history to life and putting audiences in the middle of the most pivotal war in history by partnering to present “For the Duration: Letters from Home.”
The one-night-only event features real letters from WWII soldiers and their loved ones back home, collected by James Triesler, a historian and the director of education at the Virginia War Memorial.
“I really wanted to focus the reading on the relationships between these people,” said Pam Webb, communications and marketing director for Quill Theatre. “It’s not just husbands and wives or love letters, there are letters from friends, there are letters between brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, daughters. I really wanted to humanize them and have them come alive. There are breakups, there are fathers getting to know their children through letters, there are letters informing of soldiers being killed in action.”
Quill Theatre has been doing historical readings for some time, but it has only gained momentum in the past four years. Starting in 2014, they began a historical reading series carrying a different theme every year with a focus on Richmond.
Although not all the letters in the performance are from WWII Richmond veterans, the majority of them are from Virginia. Some of the letters were written by veterans who still live in Richmond today, such as Joe Keller, a resident of Henrico County. Several are from different places around the United States, and a couple are from British soldiers as well.
“I just wanted to show what these soldiers to really come alive and give them a voice,” Webb said. “It gives us a perspective of the war that we might have never seen before.”
Over 70 letters or excerpts from letters will be featured during the performance. A cast of four actors will be reading the letters, while James Triesler acts as narrator to provide context and information about each of the individuals in the collection. The performance will include an audio-visual component as well, so audiences may see photos of the original letters.
“To see these real letters from soldiers and their families was really incredible,” said Webb. “I started reading some and I just got hooked.”
Webb and Triesler, who also co-wrote the narration, have been putting the project together for the past year. All the letters were acquired by Triesler from interviewing veterans or from the “It Took a War” project at Clover Hill High School, and many of the original letters are currently on display at the Virginia War Memorial.
“It’s not going to be just a dramatic, tissues-ready cry fest for the whole thing,” Webb said. “There’s a lot of really funny or amusing things that pop up in letters that are there. We try and balance it all out between the drama and the comedy of it.”
The one-time performance is Tues., October 17, 7 p.m. at the Virginia War Memorial, 621 S. Belvidere St. Tickets are $12 for members, $15 for non-members.