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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The WOOF-WOOF Performance for Veterans and PTSD Survivors and Panel Discussion

Recently, I produced a show, a play, with my production company partner, Paul Hoan Zeidler, called WOOF-WOOF.  Sewer Socialist Productions produced the play in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, a two week festival celebrating the performing arts.  Our show received many accolades and praises from the audiences who came to see it.  The houses were sold out and the actors received standing ovations.  The organizers of the festival decided it would deserve an encore performance, and they asked me to put together a panel discussion following the show highlighting solutions to PTSD and trauma.  The question the panel was answering was what we can do to help our many veterans now who are suffering from this problem all over the country and the world.  Through the gracious plug of our show by the incredible and amazing Gail Soffer, executive director of the non-profit organization Operation Mindful Warrior, many different people connected with veteran organizations as well as vets called in and wanted to see the play.  In just a few days, we were getting so many responses from people who wanted to come see the show, Paul and I were both humbled and thrilled.  One of our missions for our production company, Sewer Socialist Productions, is to bring intelligent, compassionate plays that speak to the challenges our society is facing, and bring healing and catharsis through the incredible power of theater.

WOOF-WOOF is an original piece.  It's about a young man coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he suffers from PTSD and TBI, and after being dismissed from Walter-Reed Medical Hospital, instead of going home, he visits his childhood friend in New York, as he tries to re-connect and re-integrate back into society.  One of the reasons I was so excited about this play was because not only is it timely but the play speaks to a whole generation of young men affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both directly and indirectly.  It's not the kind of play that's in your face "this is a play about PTSD and the wars"; no, it's more subtle, more human.  On one level, it is about the war and how it affected a whole generation of young men; on another level, it's about one young man coming back from the war and trying to find someway of re-connecting to the world he feels so disconnected to.  On another level, it's about friendship.  Each of these characters represents an aspect of our society that has evolved since the 9/11 attacks.  Paul's approach in the writing was not to beat the audience over the head with someone who has PTSD; rather it is someone who has it, who just wants to feel good again, and hopes that by reuniting with his best friend from high school, he might get to do that again.  Why I think it's relative is because it speaks the language the young men in our society are now speaking, on their level, without moralizing about whether the war was right or not.   The actor who played 'Jimmy', the Iraqi war vet, allowed the audience to see his pain, to feel what he was going through, and how much he longed to go back to being "normal".  We watched how this hope within him is dashed as the impacts of the war leak out, and puts the friendship on the line.

Jimmy:  I just wanted to come here....And feel good.
Jimmy:  Woof-Woof.
Chuck: (sympathetically)  Woof-Woof.

Brett Donaldson, who played 'Jimmy', was nominated for an award for his performance during the festival.  Jay Seals and Devin Skrade played the other two characters in the story.  Each character is struggling with something, it wouldn't be a play without the interweaving of the relationship and history of these other two characters, but the play was about Jimmy.  And the actors we had for this play were phenomenal!  All of them are incredibly talented, gifted actors who's passion for the craft is second to none!  We were absolutely blessed to have them on our team.

This was a deeply personal play for me.  As you all know who read this blog, PTSD had marked me and my family as a consequence of three generations serving our country.  I'm now working towards healing soul distress and trauma in all our veterans, families, and others who suffer from this, and producing this play, unknowingly, had been extraordinarily healing for me.  I didn't know this when Paul and I decided to put it up, but after I came back from my sacred pilgrimage to Greece with Dr. Edward Tick, something had changed within me, and I was suddenly immersed in the play on a much deeper level than before.  I worked with the actor playing Jimmy personally, coached him through what it was like for someone who suffered from PTSD, what they did, how they behaved, and what was going on on the inside.  He took the notes brilliantly.  When the guys were performing, I would stand in the back watching the play, and when certain moments came up, I could feel this well of tears fill up my eyes.  When you're on the other side, and you see and know the pain someone else is experiencing, deeply understanding the pain, it's hard to hold back emotions.

It was such a joy, a blessing to be a part of this production.  And producing this play taught me something extraordinarily valuable.  It helped me to recognize once more how powerful theater can be to help our veterans and others who are or who have experienced PTSD to be able to access feelings inside of them they've buried deep within.  What I witnessed and experienced was the power of the story giving people permission to feel vulnerable, something they often don't allow themselves to feel in their 'normal' lives.   By access those parts of us that have been damaged by a world that can be cruel, destructive, and violent, by experiencing through the lives of the characters on the stage hope, pity and fear, we, the audience, who bear witness to the tragedy on the stage, experience a momentary catharsis, a release of the pent up, toxic emotions connected to the traumas we have experienced in our own lives, and heal our souls just a little bit.  We feel connected to the greater story of humanity, we understand we are not alone in our suffering, and we recognize ourselves in the characters on the stage.  This is one of the reasons why I love the theater so much: because of the immense power it has to transform and heal our wounds.  I know we can continue to share this story with others, and put on other productions, that deal with this issue.  Jimmy's story is our story, just like every veteran, friend, and family member of  a veteran out there who has a story about their experiences, is our society's story as well.  We must find a way to bring these stories out into the light, to collectively experience them, so the veteran, friend, or family member of a veteran doesn't have to shoulder the burden of his or her pain all on their own.  We have an obligation as a society, as a community, to give voice to the voiceless and to help those in pain find freedom from their pain through the telling of their stories.  The reason we share our stories is so they no longer hold power over us.  Then, we can once again become free to express ourselves in kind, constructive, and loving ways.  Theater is one of the best ways in which we can do this.


Here is one of the reviews we had of the play.  Bob Leggett writes for the LA Examiner, is a former Navy veteran, and after the performance, he stood up and gave a resounding applause.  He hugged me afterwards.  I've taken out the part he wrote about our play.  These are his words:

For my last two shows of the night I headed back to Theatre Asylum. The first of those two shows, Woof Woof, continued the theme ofPTSD begun at We Can be One. As I mentioned in that review, though, Woof Woof came at the subject from a totally different perspective.
Woof Woof tells the story of Jimmy, a veteran of the Iraq War who suffers from PTSD and traumatic brain injury as a result of an IED attack on his unit. Recently released from the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., he hitchhikes to NYC to see his childhood friend, Chuck, who he hasn't seen in eight years.
Jimmy is played by Brett Donaldson, who breathes life into the character, making the audience feel his pain and suffering as a result of his service to his country. Mad Men's Jay Seals likewise truly inhabits Chuck who, although not a veteran, suffers from his own form of PTSD as a result of a childhood incident with Jimmy. Rounding out the cast is Devin Skrade, who plays Chuck's roommate and friend, Brandon, and is hiding a dirty secret from Chuck.
Paul Hoan Ziedler has written an impressive script that is truly brought to life by his brilliant direction and an amazing cast. I felt Jimmy's pain, understood Chuck's misguided attempt to help his friend, and even forgave Brandon's betrayal. This play moves you, and leaves you in a different place than when you first entered the theater.
If you want a better understanding of what a soldier feels like upon his/her return from a war time deployment, I strongly encourage you to see this show.
To see other reviews of the show, please click on the link below to the Encore Producer Awards website:

Panel Discussion - Solutions to PTSD and Trauma

I have a vision of a world where people like you and me are Healed and Free from the PTSD and trauma each of us have experienced in our lives.  To support that vision, I organized, assembled, and led a conversation following the performance of the play discussing Healing Trauma and Soul Distress.  On the panel were some very distinguished and venerated experts who are helping those with PTSD.  I was so honored and grateful for their timeless contributions to the discussion; I chose them because I believe they are the best at what they do; many of them were instrumental in guiding me on my path to healing myself completely of PTSD and trauma, and creating the best program out there that I know of for healing PTSD and trauma that I have found.  I was blessed to have them come and share the stage with me.  Let me give you a quick bio of each of the members of the panel:

  • Gail Soffer - is the Executive Director of Operation Mindful Warrior, a non-profit organization bringing mindfulness practices to our veterans.  Her background working with veterans and their issues is extensive including:  Director of Development and Marketing, Board Member at Wellness Works in Glendale; The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF), Welcome Johnny and Jane Home Project, and The Soldier's Project.
  • Sarah Larsen M.D. - A Third Generation Palm Reader, Medical Intuitive, and Transformational Leader.  Since she received a degree as a Medical Doctor from the Medical University of the Americas, she has taught tens of thousands of people to heal themselves, elevate the way they think, speak, and ultimately how they live.  Her areas of expertise and training include: Allopathetic (Western Medicine), Ayurvedic Medicine, Epigenetics, Edgar Cayce Medicine, Gersion Therapy, Homeopathy, Energy Healing, & Anthroposophic Medicine.  (Dr. Larsen is one of my mentors, and a dear friend.  She co-created my program.  Together, collectively, we have dedicated 20,000 hours of research into healing PTSD)
  • Miguel Rivera - Elder and Executive Director, Western Gate Roots and Wings Foundation, has worked with at risk youth for over thirty years, including youth in the juvenile hall and detention camps.  In 2011, he was approached to work with the veteran population.  Miguel continues to serve the communities of Los Angeles with Rites of Passage work, including Solstice and Equinox gathering at the Wright Organic Resource Center, as well as sweat lodges for various populations in the surrounding communities.
  • Miguel Gabriel Vazquez - a Vietnam combat veteran who experienced the challenges of living with PTSD for over 30 years before he was able to reclaim his health and happiness through natural supplements and EFT/Energy Psychology treatment.  He is a counselor and transformational healer.

My other dear mentor, teacher, and friend, Dr. Edward Tick, was not able to join in this time.  Dr. Tick is Founding Director of Soldier's Heart: Veterans' Safe Return Programs.  Honored for his groundbreaking work in the spiritual, holistic and community-based healing of veterans and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dr. Tick has been a psychotherapist for 38 years, specializing in working with veterans since the 1970's.  Dr. Tick is an internationally recognized educator and expert on veterans, PTSD, and the psychology of military-related issues and has conducted trainings, retreats, and workshops across the country and overseas.  Time and distance prevented him from participating in the conversation, however, his inestimable presence was felt, for he is one of America's and the world's leading authorities on treating and healing PTSD.  If you haven't gotten it yet, please read his best selling book 'War and the Soul.'

This panel I assembled and led to discuss modern day solutions to PTSD and trauma.  We spoke about our experiences, mechanisms, and principles for healing this very important challenge that is asking for help from us all.  According to Forbes magazine, every 65 minutes or so a military vet commits suicide.  Is one of your friends thinking about this?  Is this something that you're thinking about?  To me, this level of pain is simply unacceptable.  Please send this blog to anyone that you feel might be suffering.  Please reach out and call me or others that you know can help or that might be able to help.  Keep your eyes and hearts open to those who need our help and support.  Together, we can bring hope to the millions who are suffering.  Will you help me get the word out?            

Soldier's Heart
Operation Mindful Warrior
Dr. Sarah Larsen
Western Gate Roots and Wings Foundation
Fearless Therapy

Production Company Link:
Sewer Socialist Productions

Charlie Pacello is a PTSD and Healing Trauma Recovery Expert and Life Coach, a former US Air Force Lieutenant, and creator of the program, 'Lt. Pacello's Life Training Program.'  He can be reached by visiting his website at