Soldiering on: A theatrical approach to helping traumatised veterans

Written by EY on 29 April 2019

Soldier On, a highly successful play produced by the Soldier’s Arts Academy and backed by EY, enjoyed an extended run in London’s West End. It depicted the struggle faced by veterans trying to cope with their physical and mental wounds – and changed the lives of those who took part. CSW talks to Helen Sunderland from EY about the work of the academy 

Tell us more about the Soldiers’ Arts Academy

It is a community interest company grounded in the concept that the support for veterans is quite mixed - an area government recognises needs continued improvement - and that performing arts therapy can help. Being involved in different forms of expression helps people reintegrate to society through doing something that is both creative and productive. For me, I think the difference between this and other charities I've come across is that the academy has a real focus on outcomes as well as the therapeutic process.

One of their recent successes is ‘Soldier On’. It’s a play within a play: a production starring veterans highlighting post-traumatic stress disorder through the telling of their stories.

Why did EY get involved in sponsoring Soldier On?

We saw an excerpt from the play by Jonathan Lewis, who wrote Soldier On, and Amanda Faber, its producer, and they made a big impression. Neil Sartorio, our partner who leads our public service business, decided we should help support them.

Mental health is a hugely important focus for us as a firm, and the Soldier’s Arts Academy works to promote positive mental health and recovery. EY has a military network, where we support ex-service personnel find work, retrain and get new skills so backing this play was a good fit.

We covered half the cost of putting the play on at London’s Playground Theatre and helped promote it through our social networks. EY bought 600 tickets during the play’s recent run at the Other Palace Theatre, London, which was the equivalent to buying up all the seats for two nights.

What impact has Soldier On had?

Sometimes we talk a lot about how we support a charity but you don’t necessarily get to see the outcomes – but this time we’ve taken pretty much all our local public service people to see this play. They also performed an extract of it at our summer event and there was not a dry eye in the house.

When you hear: “we couldn't have done this if you hadn't helped, this is my story, this is where I was and this is where I am now, this is the impact you’ve had on individuals by collectively making this decision to support us” – well, that had a big impact on people at EY.

When you hear: '“we couldn't have done this if you hadn't helped, this is my story, this is where I was and this is where I am now, this is the impact you’ve had on individuals by collectively making this decision to support us” – well, that had a big impact on people at EY. 

It’s more about individual stories than metrics. One of the actors in the play was Cassidy Little, his Twitter profile says: “A Royal Marine who loved Afghanistan so much, he left a leg there to keep kicking ass.” He told his story in the play, which was really about people who have been through trauma being given a platform to tell their stories. Cassidy is a successful actor and has also starred in Strictly Come Dancing specials. He’s a real success story.

What is the biggest challenge facing the academy?

They are heavily reliant on grant funding and donations, and so need to find other sources of funding to strengthen their financial position to do more work – but that’s a challenge facing most arts companies. It’s quite hand to mouth because when you are producing a show you are reliant on future ticket sales to pay the bills.

What does the future hold for the academy?

I think they’ll continue to scale-up and find unique ways to raise the profile of PTSD – and the profile of the arts as a therapeutic outlet. Ultimately, I hope they continue doing this great work and hopefully write another play.

We would hope to look at a variety of projects from the academy and see if there are different things we can get involved with. For us, they’ve got the expertise and actually we are happy to be guided by them on how we can support going forward.

Some partnerships you lead and some partnerships you support. With Soldier’s Arts Academy, they’ve got a good thing and it’s for us to see how EY can help them continue that good thing as far as possible.

 

Click here to download EY's report 'How can data tell a story that keeps a vulnerable person safe?'

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