DO-GOODER JIM TASSE Photo by Lisa Fadden
A Play’s Power to Heal:
Jim Tasse Summons Shakespeare to Reconnect Military Veterans By Linda Presto
Four hundred years after his death, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is still relevant. Jim Tasse, senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and former associate artistic director of the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, is using his stagecraft skills and Shakespeare’s words and themes to help military veterans manage post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, dependency issues and more as they return from active duty. Tasse, a Vietnam-era veteran and longtime Shorewood resident, is co-founder of the Feast of Crispian, a Milwaukee nonprofit that uses Shakespeare’s universal messages to help veterans deal with reintegration into civilian life. In 2013, Tasse worked with Bill Watson and Nancy Smith-Watson to develop workshops for veterans participating in the Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s music and recreational therapy group. “We’re not therapists, but our work is therapeutic,” Tasse says. “A lot of veterans are dealing with big emotions that sometimes cause big problems. Our goal is to give vets a safe outlet for those big emotions and to foster conversation between vets and the larger community. We developed intensive weekend programs that allow vets to feel safe behind the ‘masks of character’ that a Shakespearean role provides.” Their inspiration for this effort came from the work of Shakespeare and Company of Lennox, Mass., an intensive arts-in-education program that works with a local juvenile court system to provide an alternative to more punitive consequences for adolescent offenders. Tasse and colleagues considered creating a similar program for youthful offenders in Milwaukee County, but were instead drawn toward the veteran community. The Feast of Crispian is a nonprofit organization funded by the Bader Philanthropies and the Charles E. Kubly Foundation. Using basic acting tools and techniques and the powerful stories of William Shakespeare, Tasse helps wounded warriors be heard and seen in the expression of their thoughts and feelings, reconnecting them with their own sense of self-worth and with their communities. The name “Feast of Crispian” comes from the “band of brothers” speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V: “This day is called the feast of Crispian: He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named, And rouse him at the name of Crispian.”
Jim Tasse as Brutus in a Fall 2015 Feast of Crispian production of Julius Caesar at Next Act Theatre.
Last year, the group staged its first theatrical performance, Julius Caesar, at Next Act Theatre’s performance space. Because participants are not trained actors, the program uses techniques such as prompters on stage to feed lines. Eventual memorization is encouraged, but starting out this way reduces stage fright and allows performers to focus on the emotion of the words and the scenes. “Some of them start out reluctant to be on stage,” Tasse says. “Eventually, we can’t get them off.” This year, the 10-week workshop will conclude with a performance at the Peck School of the Arts Mainstage Theatre on the UWM campus (7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2). And Comes Safe Home will be an evening of familiar Shakespearean scenes, original material based on true stories of veteran’s experiences, and music performed by army veteran and Madison-based musician Jason Moon. The group’s association with UWM enables it to partner with MAVRC, the campus Military and Veterans Resource Center that helps students transition from the military into college and supports them and their families as they pursue academic degrees. In addition to Tasse and his co-founders, two other Shorewood residents are participants in the coming production: Maylan Thomas, technical director for Shorewood High School and former productions stage manager and scenic designer for the United States Army entertainment tours, and Christopher Guse, associate professor at UWM, who will handle sound and video projections. Tasse and his wife, Amy, have lived in Shorewood for 25 years and have two daughters: Jennifer, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Isabelle, a senior at Shorewood High School. n SHOREWOOD TODAY 23