Soldiers In The Arts, a program that uses theatre and improv to address traumatic stress and related problems encountered by veterans and their loved ones, will be hosting a free fall theatre workshop in Kingston on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. The program aims to give veterans and their families new skills and motivation to support their individual recovery, as well as to ease their transition into civilian life.
Ryan Hawkyard is a Program Coordinator for Soldiers In The Arts, and is himself a Canadian veteran who completed three tours in Afghanistan. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and turned to acting as a form of treatment. He discussed how it has helped him work through his traumatic stress.
“Acting gave me the ability to just not get so caught up on failure: I think that was one of the first things I noticed. Coming into the [Canadian Armed] Forces, you spend so much time in these missions where things have to happen, otherwise, there are lives at stake. There are all kinds of other things [you have to pay attention to] more than just yourself. So that didn’t give you that ability to just be in the moment,” he explained. “You’ve got to pay attention to… whatever it is you’re doing and you’re just going to do it: if it’s bad or if it’s good, doesn’t matter.”
With acting, the approach requires a completely different mindset, Hawkyard said. “The only way you fail is by not attempting. So I found that very cathartic. And just being able to divulge emotions that I really didn’t want to deal with, or I had problems with dealing with the past, was also quite helpful.”
Nearly one fifth of Canadian veterans experience a diagnosed mental health disorder such as PTSD during their lifetime. On top of this, over six in 10 veterans experiencing depression and anxiety report that they had a difficult transition from military service to civilian life.
“Obviously, you come out of [the military] 20 years later, with all these experiences, this whole new world that you’ve been through,” Hawkyard reflected. “And now you’ve just taken the uniform off and you’re out the door. And while the Forces have been great in a way of supporting us as we make the transition out, once you’re out, you’re out. So, there’s a lot to deal with in that way.”
Hawkyard noted that he didn’t really get involved in the arts before aligning with Soldiers In The Arts. His personal mission as a young man was to pass high school and join the military, and at the time he felt that acting, and the arts in general, were not in his wheelhouse. But after trying acting and improv for himself, he found that it helped him conquer the stressors that used to hold him back. ”It really gave me something to immerse myself in, and like I said before, not to worry about what the outcome was,“ he said. ”At the end of the day, the outcome was just me doing something that I enjoyed, and whether that’s through acting, whether it’s through writing, whether that’s through drawing, whatever it is, the arts really is a great tool for helping people.”
“I think for us vets,” he said, “we’re so immersed in this hyper laser-focused world where things are very serious, and yeah, [acting] can be serious too, but things can also be really great, enjoyable… it’s sharing that experience.”
Hawkyard will be present at this weekend’s workshop, and had a message for any veterans who are on the fence about giving the workshop a go. “It might not be for you, but it’s always good to come and try something because that’s a big thing for us. We need to get it out of ourselves, especially post-service and especially for the family members post-service. We need to move on from that, and we need ways to come together and talk about the things that are sitting with us, in a supportive fashion with people who know and have been there… They can even just come out and watch and not participate. It’s not a big deal.”
Soldiers In The Arts has chosen Kingston and the area for part of a three-year pilot project because of the high number of veterans who decide to stay here post-service, explained Hawkyard. “We want to build a community and Kingston is a great place. It’s got tons of people that this will speak to, and we want to see them come out and have some fun.”
The Soldiers In The Arts Fall Theatre Workshop takes place on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 from 12:30 to 3:30 pm at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 560, located at 734 Montreal Street, and is open to all veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as their spouses and adult children (18+). All experience levels are welcome. To sign up, visit the website or fill out this registration form.