WASHINGTON, August 31, 2015 — America sends its sons and daughters to war, and a new play titled “I Will Wait” looks at the effect of these deployments across the generations.
The brainchild of Amy Uptgraft, the play connects the experiences of spouses from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. Uptgraft wrote the play with Gregory Stieber, who also directed the play. It premiered July 31 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Uptgraft built on her experiences as an Army spouse. Her husband, Jamie, has deployed four times so far in the course of their marriage. They have lived the subhead used in advertising the play — “For every one gone, someone waits.” They live in Denver with their four children.
Uptgraft, who worked as an actress and taught theater, came up with the idea for the play while visiting her home in Fort Wayne. “I was sitting with Greg and a friend from college and talking about what we had been through,” she said during an interview. “Greg said we ought to write a play.”
In the cold light of day, she said, it still sounded like a good idea, and the two researched the subject. “The more stories you heard the more, the more connections you saw across the generations,” she said. “This just impacts such a huge population of people that we don’t always think about. We obviously think about the soldier, and rightfully so. That’s where our focus should be. But the ripple effects of war are huge, and there are just millions of Americans who have experienced what it’s like to send soldiers to war and welcome them home, and their lives are forever changed as well.”
World War II Spouses Remember
She started by visiting with three 92-year-old women who waited while their husbands served in World War II. “When we sat down to talk, they told me about where their husbands served and what they did,” Uptgraft said. “But that was not what I wanted to hear, so I said, ‘That’s great, but what did you do? What was life like for you? What was it like when he left? What was it like when he came home?’
“I could tell they were so taken aback,” she continued. “But they opened up. Seventy years later, those women still had it all right in their hearts.”
She went on to speak with spouses of those who served in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. Characters in the play portray spouses from each of those wars. Uptgraft and Stieber used experiences from a number of people to write the parts for the characters. In between the parts, actors read testimonials from spouses of the era.
After writing the play, the two decided to stage it to see what they had. “We had no money or funding for the project,” Uptgraft said. “I really needed to find people who I knew and trusted and knew to be very talented artists, musicians and dancers who would be willing to do it, potentially for free.”
She went back to her roots and contacted people she knew in college. Stieber is the production manager with the Fort Wayne Ballet and well-connected in the local community.
No Small Effort
This is not a small effort. The play has more than 40 characters, and the story is told with dialogue, music and dance. The cast was excited to be a part of it, Uptgraft said. “Really, no one in the cast is impacted by the military like I am, but they were honored to be a part of it, and it was a really successful first run,” she added.
Through the research, Uptgraft found that the experiences she was going through are not unique. “They are felt really by millions of family members who send people off to war,” she said.
Uptgraft said she believes the play gets across the idea “that we get through all this because we are together.”
“You have spouses that walked before you, and you will have spouses that walk after you and people that walk beside you,” she said. “We get through it together.”
The play received an “overwhelmingly positive reception,” she said. “I was worried because I had so much invested,” she added. “My big worry was, ‘What happens if no one cares?’ Fifteen minutes into the show and I could hear people crying and being moved. When the play ended, people were immediately on their feet.”
Hoping for Expansion
Now, Uptgraft said, she would like to see the play expand. “Now that we saw it open and saw it did move people and people were very excited and energized by it, I’m really anxious to see it grow,” she said. She would like it to entertain and inform the general population, she said, but she also would like to see it performed at bases and installations, incorporating the experiences and feelings of local spouses into the mix.
An abbreviated version of “I Will Wait” will play in Nashville next month, and it will be restaged in Fort Wayne. “I definitely feel it has legs, and I was moved to see how much it moved people,” Uptgraft said. “These stories don’t mean anything if there is no one to tell them to.”