Arts, On Campus

Artist Stephan Wolfert Confronts Trauma Through Theatre

Crawling around on a dark and empty stage, artist Stephan Wolfert told the story of the day he stumbled off a train in the middle of nowhere Montana and into a theatre that was showing Shakespeare’s Richard III. Slipping into a monologue from the famous play, Wolfert, a former medic and infantry officer in the United States Army, recounted the emotional moment he sat transfixed, watching his own story reflected in the character of King Richard III. Evoking laughter from his audience, he described how he threw himself cluelessly and passionately into the work of The Bard, impulsively deciding to leave the army to attend acting school.    

The artist came to BC—virtually—as part of the Lowell Humanities Series Wednesday night to talk about his one-man show Cry Havoc with Luke Jorgensen, the acting theatre department chair at BC. Wolfert has performed his solo show in living rooms and theatres across the country, and also had a run performing on Off-Broadway in 2016. 

Stephan Wolfert captures his audiences with a new and surprising perspective on the work of Shakespeare. The artist pieces together the script for Cry Havoc! from the monologues of The Bard and original writing about his life as a veteran dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

As he moved between the monologues of Shakespeare and his own experiences after returning home as a soldier, Wolfert emphasized the power of the imagination as he gave the audience a look into his memories. 

“When we get in the room together and we’re talking about our personal experiences, the other stuff can wash away,” Wolfert said on the power of storytelling in theatre. “When we center around our stories [they] are a common unifier.”

Although he wrote from the specific perspective of a veteran, Wolfert said he believes the show can connect with anyone who has experienced childhood trauma—past audience members have approached him after performances to share stories of family members dealing with PTSD.

Addressing his distinctive choice to use the words of Shakespeare to tell his story, Wolfert explained that he has always related to the plays in a different manner than his colleagues. Lines that normally read as excited battle cries, he interprets as acceptances of the likelihood of death soldiers face he said.

“Shakespeare provides the language that we may lack,” Wolfert said of the playwright’s ability to depict a soldier’s trauma when their own words cannot capture their pain. 

Initially, audience members may be skeptical of any connection between Shakespeare’s plays and the story of a modern-day soldier. Wolfert pointed out, though, that as Shakespeare was writing in the Elizabethan era, he would have witnessed two wars—the Nine Years’ War in Ireland and the English War against Spain—and likely wrote about the veterans he walked by on the street. 

In addition to creating his solo show, Wolfert founded the organization DE-CRUIT, which runs theatre groups for veterans. Through this foundation, the artist advocates for more reintegration programs for soldiers when they return from service. 

Wolfert advised students to consider their purpose for acting and remain realistic about the difficulty of breaking into the industry, especially during the pandemic. 

As an artist who found his place on stage later in life and discovered the healing influence of theatre, Wolfert demonstrates how theatre can connect with anyone. His artistic journey is a source of inspiration for students to tell their own stories through theatre. 

“I’m going to do this for me. I’m going to do this to make myself a better human, to reconnect and deeply examine my humanity,” Wolfert said about his decision to pursue acting. “Who I am as an artist almost always aligns with who I am as a person.”

Graphic by Allyson Mozeliak / Heights Editor

November 8, 2020