Sarah Dolens-Moon, who recently graduated from Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, completed her MFA with a project that focused on drama engagement with military families.
She examined how storytelling and applied drama methods can be utilized as tools for building community and promoting self-expression in the children of military members and veterans. As part of her research, she worked with a couple of different populations of military children in Arizona and New Mexico, exploring these storytelling and drama methods through a residency program she developed called “We Serve Too!”
One of her research sites was in Tempe at Valor on 8th, a veteran and military family housing community. Over several months, Dolens-Moon worked with youth residents as well as children she recruited from the greater Phoenix military family community to participate in a weekly drama workshop. These students explored their identity as military kids through the lens of storytelling and drama.
A performance originally scheduled for March 2020 was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dolens-Moon is still moving forward with her work.
“I'm in the process of refining my program to be included in a residency program module for veterans and military families with the nonprofit Warrior Songs,” she said. “This program will be offered to VA and military organizations interested in providing arts-based programming as part of their services for veterans and military families.”
As the wife of a combat veteran of the Iraq War, Dolens-Moon said the work is personal to her.
“This experience changed him, and he developed PTSD due to his combat experience,” she said. “Our military family learned to navigate PTSD together, but it was particularly difficult for my stepson who was 4 at the time of my husband's deployment.”
Dolens-Moon said her family has worked together to heal, but that they have all been impacted by the trauma of PTSD, including her daughter who was born years after her husband's military experience.
“The impetus for this project came from reading a bedtime story to her about helping military kids to understand PTSD. As I read that book to her, I wondered why the military children characters in the book were portrayed as sad, helpless individuals without thoughts and feelings ancillary to their military parents. I recalled other military kids stories which reflected this same narrative. I began thinking about what it would be like for them to tell their stories the way they wanted to tell them. Good and bad, but mostly from their honest perspective. Getting my MFA allowed me the time to delve into the many layers of and iterations of this project.”
Through the project, Dolens-Moon affirmed what she sensed in her initial musings on the project.
“Military kids are dynamic and incredibly resilient due to their military family lifestyle. They are incredibly proud of their parents while understanding the tremendous sacrifice and risk in military life because they live it.”
She also discovered just how little programming there is just for military children and in particular avenues to share their experience with other military children.
“Something I'll never forget from one of our residency sessions was when one of the military kids said to the group, ‘It's not like we're aliens or something!’ In that moment she repeated the phrase and as she did I witnessed a collective recognition among the other military children in the room. Each of the children in that room had felt different at some point in their lives due to their military family, but in that moment they shared solidarity and also expressed that they wanted to be seen for who they really were, not some idea of who others think they should be.”