BASETRACK Live: Where Journalism Meets Art
This blog post is by Emily Schweich, junior broadcast journalism major.
Telling the stories of war and the struggles of returning veterans can be a difficult task. Artists and journalists often fall back on cliche narratives and tropes to express the difficulties that these men and women face as they readjust to civilian life. Sometimes, some of the most important voices are left out of these stories – those of family and community members who are also touched by the perils of war.
As producer Anne Hamburger said in the conversation following the performance, AJ’s story was that of the “everyman.” His and Melissa’s experience reflected many common struggles that returning Marines and their families face.
BASETRACK, a civilian journalism website launched by the nonprofit organization November Eleven in 2010, linked the stories of those serving with their families and friends back home. A team of photojournalists followed the 1st Battalion/8th Marines for the first five months of their deployment in Afghanistan. Through social media, BASETRACK not only connected Marines with their families back home, but connected military wives and family members with each other, forging a support system.
BASETRACK Live follows the real-life experiences of AJ Czubai (Tyler LaMarr) and his wife Melissa (Ashley Bloom) as their relationship stands the test of war. Video interviews with other Marines and their families are interspersed throughout the production, but, as producer Anne Hamburger said in the conversation following the performance, AJ’s story was that of the “everyman.” His and Melissa’s experience reflected many common struggles that returning Marines and their families face.
Through much of the production, Melissa sits behind a scrim and speaks into a computer webcam, her face projected on a screen above the stage. She never truly converses with AJ; their recollections overlap but reflect two completely different sets of priorities. While Melissa laments that AJ can’t be there for the birth of their daughter, AJ remembers the death of a close friend. “It’s out of his control,” Melissa sobs, and she’s right. AJ admits that it’s hard to care about life beyond Afghanistan at times, and the sadness he expresses when he is injured and sent home is palpable.
LaMarr, himself a Marine veteran, stepped easily into AJ’s shoes – boots, more precisely. He said in the talkback, “Once a Marine, always a Marine. It’s the boots, everything starting from the ground up.” As AJ, LaMarr shone in some lighthearted moments, including an amusing story about his beloved pair of sunglasses. Bloom exuded a combination of vulnerability and strength, looking forward with courage even as her character’s relationship grew more strained. Searing, emotionally charged live music was a bit overpowering at times, but this intensity suited the plot well.
In the conversation following the performance, the artists said that they wanted to create a balanced picture of the humanness of war without victimizing veterans, and BASETRACK Live succeeded in using the words of real-life Marines and their families to tell their story with integrity.