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Student-produced play tackles PTSD of a war vet

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Scene from 'Army of One' at St. Joe's High School about a war veteran returning from Afghanistan and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Students at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in Kenmore tackled a difficult mental health issue through a stage play performed this past weekend.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says students wrote, directed, composed music and choreographed the two act musical called 'Army of One' with all proceeds going to a veteran organization. 

Students were all a buzz inside the theater at St. Joe's High School during a recent rehearsal of the play. The entire production was executed by students. Declan Rapp is a St. Joe’s senior. He actually wrote act one of this play and musical last year, then this year decided to add act two. It's a difficult theme about a war veteran returning from Afghanistan and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Crew prepares for rehearsal for 'Army of One' at St. Joe's.

"He is from the current war in Afghanistan. He goes through so many struggles throughout the story. You see him in Afghanistan. You see him struggling at home. In the end, you don't know what’s going to happen with him. You have to really watch the story to see how it turns out,” remarked Rapp.

Rapp tells us he conducted his own research on symptoms and therapy.

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is when, in any case, you have a serious, stressful issue. It's very traumatic and after the fact it continues to affect you. This could be in dreams. It could be in loud noises affecting you. Different things surprising you, scaring you and it takes many different forms. It’s different depending on the person that has it and the situation that happened,” Rapp explained.

Last year Rapp and other students met with some war veterans to discuss the topic. Charles Noonan is also a St. Joe's senior and directed Army of One. Noonan has learned how difficult life is for veterans returning from war.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Scene from 'Army of One' at St. Joe's High School about a war veteran returning from Afghanistan and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"I don't know how many other high school students are talking about PTSD right now. We spent about 200-hours probably I would say total working on this, putting in rehearsal and none of us are making a single dime on this. We’re donating any money we make to Western New York Heroes and it’s just really great we are able to help them out while doing what we love, which is theater,” Noonan explained.

“I was aware PTSD was a thing, but I really didn’t know it affected lives so much,” said Charlie DeRose, St. Joe’s senior. He is the composer of the music, writing the original score and lyrics. He served as music director for this performance. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students warm up their voices for rehearsal.

“He’s having a PTSD attack, so I had to really think – okay what would it be like – your brain is melting down – so just getting all those rifts and different trumpet lines – to embody that moment of fear and chaos and insanity was just really in, you know, all the songs sadness and all that,” DeRose said. 

“This opportunity is so incredible because it is something we are very removed from, but just to be a part of something where such deep research has been done and we can raise awareness,” said Allyssa Olear, senior at Sacred Heart Academy.

Olear choreographed the dance scenes in the play.

“Keep the level of honor for soldiers there and make sure that the movement was, if he was having a PTSD attack, to make sure the movement was chaotic and to really show all the reasons that he’s  overwhelmed and if it was more of a fun dance – to keep that level of fun in there,” described Olear.   

This powerful theme provided a lesson for these students, each gaining a deeper understanding of the journey of a war vet and their mental health.    

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Play billboard for 'Army of One'.

“Just even a soldier walking into a big party with the crowds and the noises – it helps you really understand – how difficult it is – you grasp a tiny bit of understanding that you never had before,” Olear replied.

“What if you die over there,” declared the actress on stage at rehearsal. “I won’t die – you’ll give me hell if I do,” responded the actor playing Jay, the war vet.  

“There are a couple of moments in the show when it becomes extremely real and it just hurts me inside because I sympathize for the main character, because I understand that he’s feeling things and he doesn’t understand what he’s doing and he just wants to care for his wife, but he can’t do that and he just want to be her, but he’s the one that hurts her,” Noonan recalled.   

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