Actors Snap to Attention to Prepare for Upcoming Roles

<p>Sergeant First Class John Maynard demonstrates various military conventions to help students, from left, Bryan Swormstedt, Daniel Seigerman, and Cayla Buettner prepare for an upcoming Connecticut Repertory Theatre production. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer</p>
Sgt. First Class John Maynard drills students, from left, Bryan Swormstedt, Daniel Seigerman, and Cayla Buettner in preparation for an upcoming Connecticut Repertory Theatre production. Photos by Frank Dahlmeyer

Standing at attention in a training room at the University’s ROTC campus headquarters, Cayla Buettner, Dan Seigerman, and Bryan Swormstedt look like all the other new recruits trying to get a grasp of proper military style.

As Sgt. First Class John Maynard, a former drill instructor, barks out commands – “Atten-shun!” “Paarradde Rest!” and “Orrderr Arms!” – the three students fumble their way through the precision drill.

But it isn’t long before the trio is falling into sync. As Maynard puts them through their paces, the three begin snapping crisp salutes in unison, silently rotating on their heels in a stylish “About Face!” and keeping their eyes locked front and center after every turn. Impressive.

It’s all in a day’s work for the bachelor of fine arts undergraduates who volunteered to endure the mini boot camp to prepare for their parts as soldiers in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of “Too Much Memory.” The Connecticut Repertory Theatre is the professional producing arm of the Department of Dramatic Arts. The play, a contemporary retelling of the classic tale of Antigone, will be performed March 25 through April 3 in the Studio Theatre off Bolton Road on the Storrs campus.

“Working with Sergeant Maynard has been invaluable for the three actors playing the soldiers in Too Much Memory,” says Helene Kvale, an assistant professor-in-residence in the Department of Dramatic Arts and the production’s director.

“The opportunity to hear first-hand tales from the battlefield, stories of Abu Ghraib, details of the emotional highs and lows of being a soldier, helps the actors to recreate accurate portraits of their characters, ” Kvale says. “Sergeant Maynard not only openly recounted his experiences; he also acted as drill sergeant, helping the actors to understand the training of a soldier. He has taught them how to act, behave, and think like soldiers. We are very grateful for his collaboration.”

<p>Sergeant First Class John Maynard, left, and Cadet Chris Edam demonstrate various military conventions to help students Daniel Seigerman and Cayla Buettner prepare for an upcoming Connecticut Repertory Theatre production. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer</p>
Sgt. First Class John Maynard, left, and Cadet Chris Eidam discuss military conventions with students Daniel Seigerman and Cayla Buettner.

Sgt. Maynard and sophomore Chris Eidam, a 19-year-old sociology major and ROTC cadet from Pound Ridge, N.Y., spent several hours with the young actors over two days talking to them about what it’s like being in the military, the personal sacrifice and discipline integral to a soldier’s performance, and the demands of military precision drills.

Maynard suggested the actors watch some good military movies (Saving Private Ryan being one) to appreciate military command structure and camaraderie. Both men also advised their new “recruits” to polish their moves in front of a full-length mirror if they can.

“It’s amazing how many commands and precise moves soldiers need to be able to do in a split second,” says Seigerman. “It’s very specific, scary, and exciting.”

Seigerman adds that the training enhanced his appreciation for what soldiers must do. “They make it look easy because they are trained so well,” he says. “I admire greatly a soldier’s attitude, their professionalism, and camaraderie for everything they do.”

Maynard said he was impressed by the students’ dedication to their roles and their willingness to train and learn.

“It was a pretty cool opportunity for me to work with the drama department,” said Maynard, who has 17 years of active duty service and has spent the past year in Storrs. “I really enjoyed it.”

Sophocles’ classic play Antigone was written in the fifth century B.C. and has been reinvented countless times since then, says Kvale. CRT’s production is based on a rendition written by Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson.

Kvale describes the play as a “fast, furious and often funny modern tale about speaking out,” set in the present day, with references to pop culture, added scenes, and text drawn from Richard Nixon, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, Peter Brook, and others.

“It reflects the late Bush era of Guantanamo, detainee abuse, absolute power, and the role of the media in determining the truth. It asks what is TRUTH? Does anybody care? The questions are still important today,” she says.

‘In this production, we are underscoring the point of view of youth in all its complexity, arrogance, impetuous folly, idealism, and private loyalty,” Kvale adds. “It will speak to college students. It is aimed at them. It is their story.”

Information and tickets for Too Much Memory are available through the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s website, or by calling 860-486-4226.