MANHATTAN – Two Soldiers of the 701st Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division are performing in "The Pirates of Penzance" with community members through Oct. 6 at the Manhattan Arts Center.
Described in its program as frolic, fun and silly, the show is filled with toe-tapping and tantalizingly familiar tunes. Under all the bravado of the pirates, the wistful innocence of the young wards, the tarantaras of the police, lies a simple story about true love, joyous love and love that thrives between two people, and the amazing rapture that boils up in the hearts of those who feel it. The play features love songs that are the heart and soul of the production, said director Penny Cullers.
Capt. Karl Kelson, physician's assistant, and 1st Lt. McKinsey Hulen, platoon leader, both with 701st BSB, or the "Diligent" Battalion, are cast members in the play, dedicating their free time during the past six weeks to practice alongside their fellow performers preparing for the show.
"I really admire and respect the military for all they do," Cullers said. "What they're really fighting for is our freedoms, and one of our greatest freedoms is the right to express ourselves through art. To me, it's a natural fit having Soldiers cast in the play and performing … We're celebrating the freedoms they provide us."
Hulen, cast as a ward, makes numerous onstage appearances singing and dancing her way through the set.
"I was pretty involved in community theaters growing up; I have a performing-arts Family," she said. "Since moving here two years ago, I've always wanted to be involved, but, due to a deployment, I haven't had a chance until now."
Though she said it's been tough juggling her Army schedule and play rehearsals, Hulen said it has been worth it because of the new friends she's made and the ties she's built with the arts center.
"It's all about commitment; we apply that discipline both in the theater and the Army," she said. "All the principles to succeed in the military apply to theater. In the Army everyone counts on each other; within theater it's the same concept. Everyone has a job to do."
Samuel, the second pirate in command, played by Kelson, jumps, fights, sings and dances throughout both acts of the performance.
"Soldiers have hobbies, too," Kelson said. "Hopefully Soldiers and the local public both realize that we're all part of the same community. If we have similar interests and hobbies, we should get together and make new relationships and friendships."
One thing that he said he really enjoyed was the opportunity to take a step away from the military and work with people from the local community. Although many of the cast members didn't know much about the Army and the life that comes with it, he said it was good to make a change to his daily routine and spend time with like-minded, everyday people.
"Love is our greatest joy in life and that's what I'm trying to express with this play. It's a great honor to have these Soldiers in the show because of the freedom they provide us… the freedom to create art and express ourselves," Cullers said.
Cullers encouraged Soldiers and their Families to come see the performances and get involved. For those who are not performers, there are plenty of opportunities off stage – set construction and crew, costume design, makeup or hanging posters, even art and photography, she added.