Bent Compass – Reflections on War
: Having read Neil Brookshire’s program introduction below ahead of time, I had a general idea of what the evening would be like. Iraq war stories, I thought. Talking with Neil briefly beforehand quickly alerted me that much more lay in store. I had no doubt Neil would completely engage his audience. Neil’s exceptional talents as an actor turned out to be perfectly coupled with material that balanced the horrors of war with the reflections of a humane combatant trained in the healing arts. Neil and his collaborator, Colin Sesek — Colin was the one that lived the soldier’s life — together made for an exceptional evening in the At The Cliff Dwellers. This video introduces Neil’s performance and you see Neil performing the first scene of his one-man show.
Background of Bent Compass:
Neil Brookshire and Colin Sesek
Colin Sesek and I met while working for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in 2004, the summer before Colin joined the Army. I remember him bringing in samples of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), and discussing his plans to become an Army Medic.
We stayed in touch throughout Colin’s various deployments, but it wasn’t until 2013 that an idea to collaborate entered our minds. At the time, I was fleshing out the background of a character, one who returns from combat, in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. I thought, who better to talk to than Colin? He was incredibly generous and forthcoming with information and insight. Hearing his stories and perspective helped me anchor my performance, and it inspired me to continue learning about his story, his journey. The more we talked, the more we wanted to explore creating a project based solely on his experiences.
We set about recording weekly phone conversations in an informal interview format. Once the initial recordings were made, written transcriptions and editing began. One of the challenges was to articulate the core of Colin’s overall experience and perspective in a clear way. We had a tremendous amount of raw material, but what linked everything together? And what was our format?
Around that time I had been listening to radio interviews of WWI survivors on a BBC podcast. They were recorded when many of them were in their eighties, but the raw, candid storytelling nature of the recordings aligned with our goal: keep it simple.
Colin had said from the beginning he wanted it to be as honest as possible, to get at what it’s really like.
The result is a living document that we continue to tweak. The stories cover Colin’s journey from fresh recruit to seasoned combat veteran. They explore how war shaped his thinking and perspective on the world, and how his life has changed since. These are Colin’s stories, sprinkled with quotes from a few other writers; among them, Shakespeare. After all, that’s how we met. This unique collaboration uses the best of what we have to offer by combining our skills and experience. He lived it, we wrote it, I perform it. As we continue to present Bent Compass to live audiences, we find it resonates with both civilians and veterans in different but rewarding ways.
A hearty thank you to The Cliff Dwellers for their support in bringing Bent Compass here tonight. Enjoy the show!