How Theater Can Heal: Shakespeare and Veterans

Deborah Hansen Contributor
Theater for Veterans
Read Time: approx. 2:04

Tag The Flag Salute SALUTE


What do Shakespeare and veterans who return home have in common? They both struggle with the horrors of war. This is a story of how theater can heal, and how it’s helping America’s veterans.

The Milwaukee non-profit organization, Feast of Crispian, held its first festival last month, partnering with similar groups from Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and New York. The group was founded in 2012 as a platform for veterans to tell their stories with the goal of connecting to others that have similar experiences. The group also aims to reconnect Veterans with their own communities and show how theater can heal.

Over the course of the festival, performances highlighted a diverse array of veterans, including African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and women, all with the goal of “reintegrate[ing] military veterans using Shakespeare, psychology, and classical actor training.”

Project Director Nancy Smith-Watson said, “The festival is an important cause for the health and well-being of our veterans who have put their lives on the line for us.”

how theater can heal

Photo Credit: Feast of Crispian






The nonprofit group has its roots in the cafeteria at the Veterans Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Professional actors stand next to the veterans as they act out the emotional content of Shakespeare plays, with the actors responsible for providing the lines to the veterans.

“This is an innovative strategy to confront new and old challenges facing our veterans,” said Rebecca Holderness, stage director, choreographer, and professor for a related program called The Battery Factory.

how theater can heal

Photo Credit: Feast of Crispian






Feast of Crispian is a rallying cry from Shakespeare’s Henry V and the program is open to all veterans.  No theater experience is required and there is no fee to participate. Smith-Watson explains the connection to the Bard when she says that “…most of Shakespeare’s characters say exactly what they mean, something that rarely happens in the real world. And by digging deep into the feelings and motivation of the character they’re portraying, they’re deepening their ability to connect emotionally.”

One veteran who has participated in the program said, “It allowed me to express myself better than I ever have with any of my psychologists, or anyone who was trying to help, because it was just pure openness—and yet at the same time we had fun.” We salute the Feast of Crispian for their work and dedication to America’s veteran community.

how theater can heal

Photo Credit: Feast of Crispian