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Bringing remembrance to centre stage
Damon Fultz is putting meaning back into Remembrance Day.
After seeing one of the most "pathetic," uninspired Remembrance Day performances of his school career 11 years ago, Fultz sought change.
"It was sad actually because it was so un-meaningful," he said. "It was Flanders Fields, a 10-minute video, O Canada. That was it. And unfortunately, for too many of our schools, that's what Remembrance Day has become."
For Fultz, whose father, grandfather, and great grandfather all served, that wasn't good enough.
Eleven years later, the G.W. Graham middle secondary school drama teacher has penned three screenplays – all based on local stories – that have been performed in schools across the Fraser Valley.
"For me, they constitute a labour of love," he said.
Fultz started his research on Chilliwack's first world war veterans in 2000 at Chilliwack Archives. He spent hours reading through scores of letters and diaries, and days and months of visualizing the men and women in those stories, his heart felt the ups and downs of the times, and broke with each lost character.
Within a year, his first screenplay was written.
He didn't stop there.
Fultz became a regular at the local legions, interviewing second world war vets. One minute, he'd be laughing with them over beers, and the next, his stomach would be curdling over the horrific, somber scenes rehashed.
He met veterans who had gone over as excited boys, but came home tortured men. He met veterans who saw their best friends killed in front of them, who lost their own limbs, who went into combat with unnerving letters in their front pockets for their loved ones "just in case" they didn't make it.
He met mothers who never saw their boys again.
These were stories, he knew, had to be told.
On Remembrance Day.
"I've always felt Remembrance Day has got to be meaningful," said Fultz.
"I think too often in school, we see Remembrance Day as 15 minutes out of our day, as a holiday, as something that's not really important.
"But what these people sacrificed for us... My intention has always been to enlighten students to the veterans' experiences. To show them the realities of war."
Today, Nov. 10, G.W. Graham's theatre department is performing Journals of Remembrance, Fultz' second world war screenplay, three times throughout the day for their peers.
Two weeks ago when the nine young actors, between the ages of 14 and 18, performed in front of veterans, there "wasn't a dry eye in the house."
"Some lines, I actually had to pull myself together just to get through them," said Grade 10 student Faron Giltaca, who plays a soldier who helped liberate the death camps in Poland, and who came home suffering nightmares every night, where he could still smell the decaying flesh of the death camp decades later.
"What this person went through, it was horrible and unimaginable."
Grade 11 student James Rawson remembers the spotlight hitting him on stage and coming face-to-face with a veteran bomber sitting in the first row, who had lost both legs.
"I looked up and I saw this man in a wheelchair, and when he looked at me, I thought there is no way I can botch this up," said Rawson. "I have to portray this in a good way for these men who have done so much to change and alter our world."
Grade 12 student Colin Muir, who plays a 17-year-old sailor in a hospital bed, said it was the most rewarding performance he's been a part of.
"These guys fought for my freedom, for my country," said Muir. "If anybody deserves respect, it's them."
The exact response Fultz was aiming for.
G.W. Graham's theatre department has created a Youtube account where veteran interviews and student reenactments have been posted.
To view the videos, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/GWGrahamTheatre