How these vets are turning to theater to combat PTSD

How these vets are turning to theater to combat PTSD

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There’s no way to describe, to fully capture, the feeling of post traumatic stress disorder unless you’ve experienced it.

Even if you live with it, like many veterans, explaining the experience in your own words can be immensely difficult. And that communication breakdown can lead them to isolate themselves, to stifle their emotions.

But a group of Milwaukee veterans are tapping into their creativity and confronting their PTSD — using theater.

Learn about Feast of Crispian and its first ever National Veterans Theater Festival below.

Transcription follows.

“I only spent three years in the military, but it still has been a lifetime. Because it’s like I’m still there. I can’t leave there.”

For Larry Reed, 50 years can sometimes feel just like yesterday. He served in Vietnam, and still carries those three intense years with him.

It’s a sentiment Tim Schleis can share, too.

“I served as a tank commander, platoon sergeant, retired as a first sergeant in an armor company,” Schleis says.

His military career spanned 24 years, eight times longer than Reed’s. But both men will say it’s not how many years you served; it’s what you experienced.

Reed (seated, center) runs though a scene during a dress rehearsal for “And Comes Safe Home.”

“Looking at a movie you’re watching, looking at the trees, or wherever you are, certain things bring it right back,” Reed says.

“The military is great at teaching us how to kill. They train you to take your emotions away. But when you come back, there’s nothing there to reintegrate us,” Schleis says.

Both men deal with symptoms of PTSD. They’ve tried therapy and medication with varying degrees of success. But nothing has affected them quite as intimately as… Shakespeare.

Right now they’re co-starring in a show called “And Comes Safe Home.” It’s a play blending their original stories with the words of Shakespeare.

“And you get to draw from your experiences. Your military experience or your life experience, and put it into that character,” Schleis says.

Schleis (crouching, right foreground) performing a scene where he and other veterans share firsthand account of their military service.

Nancy Smith-Watson is a program director and one of the founders of Feast of Crispian.

She says many vets, whether they loved or hated their military experience, come back missing the camaraderie of someone having their back. But she has seen theater fill that void for vets.

“No one piece of programming works for everybody, including ours. There’s lots of people who think that never in a million years Shakespeare would do anything for them, and they’re probably right.

“But a lot of the folks that come and see us, they’ve never had anything like this before. And it’s really turned a lot of things around for them. So we’re pretty devoted, and we’re pretty proud,” Smith-Watson says.

And for the veterans-turned-actors, the impact — even in a just a few a months — has been life changing.

“My saying is I get to unpack my duffel bag. I’ve had 24 years to pack my emotions away. Now I can unpack it,” Schleis says.

“I feel as though someone is helping me now,” Reed says.

Right now, Feast of Crispian is hosting its first ever National Theater Festival, running now through Sunday. In addition to the local performers, the organization is also bringing in players from around the country.

Find the full schedule on its website.

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Need a hug? This woman gives them by the thousands

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

A new hotel coming to Milwaukee’s popular ‘Deer District’

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It’s one of those buildings that’s been a million different things, each of them reflecting a distinct period in Milwaukee history. (Ok, maybe a not a million, but close!)

From a dairy company, to a horse trader, to a broom factory, to a row boat manufacturer, to a laundry press and more, the empty William P. Froehlich paper warehouse at Vel R. Phillips Avenue and Vliet Street dates back to the 1880s. You’ve probably seen it if you’ve circled the block looking for street parking around Fiserv Forum.

William P. Froehlich building at 419 W. Vliet St. Photo via

And it won’t be vacant for much longer. Find out what the future holds for this unique Milwaukee building below.

The building has been purchased by Patrick Prabhu and Karl Rajani, who plan to add to the building and open a hotel, writes OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo.

The building itself is in somewhat rough shape. The roof needs extensive repair and the inside suffers from years of neglect. But you can’t beat the location!

The owners have set an aggressive timeline with the goal of opening the hotel ahead of the Democratic National Convention next year.

“We’re thinking ‘downtown’ will be in there, ‘lofts’ will be in there,” Prabhu says, quoted in Bobby’s story. “Downtown Lofts Haymarket is the name we came up with for now or Haymarket Lofts. And then it’ll say Trademark Collection by Wyndham.”

Read Bobby’s complete story at OnMilwaukee, and be sure to listen to this week’s episode above.

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Milwaukee attorneys and interpreters travel to border to counsel refugee women

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Photo via CARA Pro Bono Project’s website.

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Watch three Milwaukee acts play SXSW for the first time in our short documentary

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Support group connects working professionals with Parkinson’s

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Living with Parkinson’s disease doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the workforce.

Learn about a Milwaukee area support group sponsored by the Wisconsin Parkinson Association connecting working professionals below.

Bob Norman is the director of human resources at Eppstein Uhen Architects. He has spent majority of his career at the firm, first as a project manager then eventually leading the company’s HR department.

I asked him what it was like sitting on the other side of the interview.

“It’s nerve wracking,” he says with a laugh. “I’m trying to think of what I’m saying; am I saying ‘um’ too much?”

Bob Norman is the Director of Human Resources at Eppstein Uhen Architects. He lives with dystonia, a disease in the Parkinson family.

I met Bob through the Wisconsin Parkinson Association. He’s at the height of his career right now, but every day, he deals with a mild form of Parkinson’s disease.

“I was eventually diagnosed in 2012. It was interesting because the initial reaction was, ‘Oh my gosh, I have Parkinson’s.’ And then the next reaction was, ‘Well, great, at least I know what it is and then can deal with it,'” he says.

For years prior to his diagnosis, he has been dealing with symptoms, but he didn’t know the cause. It was frustrating to say the least.

And diagnosing Parkinson’s disease is tricky. There is no test. Instead, it’s more of a clinical process of elimination with your doctor, looking at how symptoms present themselves.

For Bob, even though his case is mild, he still deals with daily fatigue and has trouble getting his body moving.

“I have to sort of warm up. It’s like a cold car in the morning. I creak a little bit, and I’m moving a bit more slowly in the morning.”

But he says the biggest difference-maker has been getting regular exercise. He has been taking it even more seriously the last few years, waking up before dawn for regular workouts with the November Project.

And beyond physical activity, he says connecting with other people living with Parkinson’s helps a lot, too.

He’s part of the “Working Professionals with Parkinson’s: Cocktails and Conversations” group. It’s a purely social program offered by the Wisconsin Parkinson association.

Tonight, the group is duckpin bowling at Thirsty Duck in Wauwatosa.

“We meet at a restaurant or a place where we talk about Parkinson’s a little bit. And then we talk about the struggles that we’ve had or are having, share advice on how to communicate with our coworkers,” Bob says. “But really it’s also a community to just talk with people that understand what we may either be going through or have gone through before.”

Combined with exercise, Bob says having a support network helps, and he gets a lot of joy from being there for others. All of it together keeps his outlook positive, which is so important, he says.

Parkinson Association support group
Working Professionals With Parkinson’s: Cocktails & Conversations support group meets every month.

“Everyone has things that they’re dealing with. So I don’t need to have a pity party for me, because I know people are going home and dealing with other things, too. That’s just my ‘thing.'”

The support group gets together every month. On May 15 it visits Matty’s Bar & Grille in New Berlin. On June 27 it meets at the Milwaukee Ale House. Both meetings start at 5 p.m. and include appetizers and a cash bar.

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The crypt underneath Cathedral Square

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Check out photos from the first ever Urban Spelunking bus tour

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We had a blast at our first ever “Urban Spelunking: The Bus Tour” event!

Last Saturday, a group of 40 urban explorers joined OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo and I for tours of two previously “spelunked” places featured on-air, plus one location new to all of us. 

We visited America’s Black Holocaust Museum for the first time, Wisconsin Avenue School and Wisconsin Knitwear

America’s Black Holocaust Museum is a gorgeous new development at Vel R. Phillips Ave. and North Ave. It offers an honest and emotional look the injustice African Americans have faced throughout American history, including the brutal emergence of the slave trade, the shameful rise of the KKK and photos of lynchings from the early 1900s.

Director Brad Pruitt (right, white shirt) takes our group on a tour. Photo by Gabbi Cisneros.

It concludes with an exhibit about mass incarceration and police violence, shedding light on the disparities that still exist today. The museum is opening soon, according to director Brad Pruitt, though a date has not been formally announced.

For our second stop, we visited the former Wisconsin Avenue School, a gorgeous 1919 schoolhouse on 27th and Wisconsin Ave.

It has been vacant for several years and is currently undergoing renovation. It will eventually reopen as an extension of the Ambassador Hotel, offering extended-stay boutique suites inside of the old classrooms. During our visit, owner Rick Wiegand gave us free reign to explore all floors of the expansive building, including classrooms, the auditorium and basement gymnasium.

Bobby Tanzilo (left) chats with two of our explores inside the Wisconsin Avenue School auditorium. Photo by Gabbi Cisneros.

We closed out the tour at Wisconsin Knitwear, an unassuming building on 11th and Lincoln Ave. You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but the company is the only maker of knit hats in the state, and business is going strong.

Owner Steven Arenzon showed us around the knitting factory, which was closed for production on the day of our visit. He demonstrated the fleet of 1940s machines still in use today, and proudly showed off the hats his company has made for musicians like Wilco and Dr. Dog.

Owner Steven Arenzon shows off his vintage machines.

Take a look at the gallery below, and follow the links to revisit our spelunking journey.

Urban Spelunking Bus Tour May 2019
Photos by Gabbi Cisneros.

Based on positive feedback from attendees, we hope to do a similar event in the future. We’ll keep you posted!

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The bizarre story of the 1985 song that saved(?) the Milwaukee Bucks

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

The Balkan history inside Milwaukee’s only gay sports bar

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee