Local veterans get unique theatrical experience in star-studded Shakespeare production

A unique partnership between the Veteran's Administration and a world renowned theater company is giving vets a real-life Hollywood experience.

The Shakespearean play stars Tom Hanks and an all-veteran crew working on the sets, props, lighting and costumes. It's part of a program designed to give vets experience and to give them transitional skills, easing them back into civilian life.

Even the setting for the production of "Henry IV," done by the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, is a bit unusual. It's being held at the Japanese Garden at VA West Los Angeles Healthcare, on a stage constructed entirely by veterans.

Ben Donenberg is the artistic director for the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles.

"We created a program called Veterans in Art in 2012 where we bring together some of the finest artists and veterans to work together to create theatrical productions that are very powerful and very enjoyable," Donenberg said.

Actor Raffi Barsoumian said the veteran crew gives him a unique perspective.

"I think a lot about what does it take to get into that mindset, what does it take to enter that arena of war? It's not lost on me that we are working with people who have been in it," Barsoumian said.

Donenberg added that the experience has been a powerful one, and working with the veteran workforce has been incredible.

Some of the vets said the Shakespearean theme really speaks to them.

"This is a play that's about honor and about rapscallions and about redemption, really," said Andrew Mahoney, who is a journalist and Army veteran. "People who have been in a bad place and have come back from that to do great things, to take a leadership role would be a great example. And I think that speaks to a common experience each of the veterans involved has. That there is a corollary between our experience working here and the plot of the play on stage. It's kind of cool."

Part of the artistic partnership is designed to show veterans how useful and transferable their skill sets are.

Darrell Morrison, who is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, appreciates the opportunity.

"We all know that we've put our hearts into this project and to see it come alive with the lights, sound, the music, the crowd, the other vets, it's heaven to me, man," Morrison said.

The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles' production of "Henry IV" runs until July 1. For more information, visit shakespearecenter.org/henryiv/.
Copyright © 2019 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.