Why This Matters: An ASC Cultural Vision Grant is helping Brand New Sheriff stage “Boys to Baghad,” which highlights the contributions of African-American soldiers and shines a light on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among veterans.
By Bernie Petit
No war fought by the United States has been waged without African-American soldiers, said Charlotte playwright and Brand New Sheriff (BNS) Productions founder Rory Sheriff.
Yet, the service and sacrifice of African-American soldiers throughout the country’s history is often overlooked, he said.
“Every time I see a movie or stage play about the military, there’s no more than one or two African-Americans in it,” Sheriff said. “If there are two, one of them is dying. If there’s one, he’s a goner.”
A desire to highlight the military experiences of African-Americans like himself prompted Sheriff, a U.S. Army veteran who served during the Gulf War, to write “Boys to Baghdad.” The play is loosely based on his experience as well as those of his army comrades.
“It was therapeutic, just getting that out on paper,” he said. “It helped me a lot. It’s equivalent to me talking about it. I made myself vulnerable with sharing those stories.”
First staged in 2015, Sheriff is bringing back the award-winning production this month with new material that adds background and understanding of the characters.
“We can’t depend on other people to tell our stories, to share our stories,” Sheriff said. “It’s not African-American history. It’s American history. Everyone needs to know these black men and women are just as vital to the American story as any other soldier.”
A $7,500 ASC Cultural Vision Grant supports BNS Productions’ remount of the play. The funding allows the troupe to flourish and grow as a legitimate theater company, Sheriff said.
“The ASC Cultural Vision Grant helps us to expand our mission into communities we only dreamed about,” he said. “We are building professional sets, designing awesome costumes and, most importantly, we are creating more opportunities and a space for community members who love all things theater.”
“Boys to Baghdad,” which sheds light on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among veterans, also creates a space where service members can see experiences similar to theirs celebrated. To reach local veterans, BNS donates 50 tickets a show through VetTix.org.
Veterans that attended past performances of the show have, in true military fashion, ensured their onstage counterparts get the details right (“If somebody’s nametag is off or someone’s boots are not shined correctly, they let us know,” Sheriff said). They’ve cried, they’ve thanked Sheriff for writing the play and they’ve left feeling uplifted.
“It gives them a moment to be proud,” he said. “It lets them know that what they did is not in vain. It reminds them of their story and it’s not something that would trigger any anxiety.”
There’s plenty for community members with no service record to glean from this production, too.
“Once they see this play, they understand the comradery soldiers have with each other,” Sheriff said. “They understand how PTSD affects the soldiers, how we get it and how we go from the process of being these clean cut kids to experiencing something so traumatic that we have to suffer with PTSD for the rest of our lives.”
“Boys to Baghdad”
The Brand New Sheriff production of “Boys to Baghdad,” supported by an ASC Cultural Vision Grant, runs Sept. 12-22 at Duke Energy Theater, Spirit Square (345 N. College St., Charlotte). Tickets are $18-$22. More details available on CharlotteCultureGuide.com.