Words that restore, words that transform

October 30, 2020 – Defence Stories
Author: Micheline-Marie Filion, DND Strategic Partner Engagement Office, Eastern Canada

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Members of the steering committee at a press conference, 20 August 2020

Photo: Claudia Arana

Angèle Séguin is a playwright and the co-founder and artistic director of the Théâtre des Petites Lanternes. She never dreamed that one day she would immerse herself in a creative endeavour exploring the reality of serving in the military.  Yet she has been working for almost three years on the Monarques project, which takes a compassionate approach to trauma resulting from operational stress as experienced and recounted by veterans, their families and their friends.

This unusual collaboration, in which the arts meet the military, began in 2017 when the Eastern Townships Veterans Committee contacted the Théâtre des Petites Lanternes with a proposition that would reveal the suffering – too often silent – of former military members across the country. “This was a human drama. It was not up to us to express an opinion on the relevance of war or the army, but to use our artistic work as a way of unlocking the words of the men and women who dare not speak. So we chose to begin with their own personal stories and use those to create a sensitive work focusing on what brings us together,” Angèle Séguin explained.   

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Photomontage: Micheline-Marie Filion

Photos: Cpl Matthieu Racette (CAF Combat Camera) and Alberto Bigoni (Unsplash)

The starting point for the creative process will be the Grande Cueillette des Mots (great gathering of words), to be launched in January 2021. This participatory approach was developed by the theatre company, and it has been used in the past to shine a light on human tragedies that have afflicted different communities around the world (the Lac-Mégantic disaster, the widespread violence against women and children in the Republic of the Congo, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti). Beginning in early 2021, nearly 800 veterans and their loved ones will be invited to participate in writing workshops. They will each receive a notebook in which they can write freely and anonymously about post-traumatic stress, suffering, strength, fragility and resilience. This exercise will be made possible thanks to support from various organizations – first in Quebec and the National Capital Region, then in the rest of Canada when resources allow. The notebooks containing the testimonies will be collected and used as raw material for the creation of a bilingual theatrical work, which will be presented in late 2022.

The hope is that giving veterans and their loved ones a platform where their voices can be heard will enable them to reclaim their personal histories, help them reflect on and understand their multiple realities, and contribute to building a bridge between military members and civilian society. Words will be used as a means toward achieving individual and collective restoration and transformation.

The Monarques project involves contributors from various walks of life (universities, the arts, health professionals) and a steering committee that includes fifteen members from the military community: representatives of veterans’ committees, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Transition Unit, the chaplaincy, Military Family Resource Centres, and Primary Reserve and Regular Force members of 35 Canadian Brigade Group.

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Photomontage: Micheline-Marie Filion

Photos: Cpl Morgan LeBlanc (CAF Combat Camera) and Victoria Quirk (Unsplash)

“When I understood that the project would help destigmatize operational stress injuries, including PTSD, as well as inform the public, stimulate discussion in society at large of a subject which is poorly understood, and help our members overcome isolation and perhaps contribute to their recovery, I had no choice but to get involved,” said Major Luc Lacombe, Deputy Commanding Officer of the Transition Unit and a member of the steering committee, during the launch of the Monarques project at a press conference on 20 August.  

Ms. Séguin is delighted by the strong collaboration and response from the military community which is making this ambitious project possible. An important goal for her is to enrich the project’s content by obtaining the testimonies of veterans from diverse communities (women, First Nations, LGBTQ2+, ethnocultural) – and she’s spreading the word. To find out more about this social arts project that affects us all, visit the Théâtre des Petites Lanternes website.

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