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‘Girls’ Star Acting for U.S. Military

Former Marine Adam Driver and Wife Joanne Tucker Offer Free Performances

When Adam Driver takes the stage Monday night for a special free performance geared toward veterans and active duty military, he does so not just as an actor but as a Marine.

Mr. Driver, the Emmy-nominated actor from the popular HBO series “Girls,” is behind a charity that stages theatrical performances for the military. He founded Arts in the Armed Forces with actress and fellow Juilliard alumnus Joanne Tucker more than five years ago, while they were still in college.

Adam Driver and Joanne Tucker founded Arts in the Armed Forces.
Photo: Claudio Papapietro/The Wall Street Journal

Now, they are married and have rising careers, but they still perform for the military. This will be the biggest year for Arts in the Armed Forces, with five shows—including Monday’s in New York at American Airlines Theatre and three in December at military bases in Germany. Only veterans, active military members and their families can get free tickets.

“We desire to use what we do to serve something bigger than ourselves,” said Ms. Tucker, 30 years old, who finished filming in “Listen Up Philip” by director Alex Ross Perry and is now working on a documentary.

The urge to perform for military audiences stems from the Mr. Driver’s own rocky path to the Marines and into acting.

In 2001, Mr. Driver was living in the back of his parents’ home in Mishawaka, Ind., having failed to find stardom on an ill-fated trip to Los Angeles after graduating high school. His car broke down in Texas, he ran out of money and when he arrived in California he made an “about face,” he said. Back home, he was working odd jobs, with few prospects.

With pressures at home to be more productive and against the backdrop of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mr. Driver made a decision to enter the Marine Corps. “All things converged at once,” he said. At age 18, he enlisted in January 2002 and was off to basic training the next month. Mr. Driver jokes that the speed of the decision caused recruiters to inquire if he “was on the run from the law.”

Mr. Driver was trained as a rifleman and, later, as a mortar man. He was waiting to be deployed to Iraq when a serious bicycle accident halted him. He was put on limited duty and eventually, he says, received a medical separation from the Marine Corps.

After his discharge, he entered the University of Indiana, developed an acting talent he had discovered in high school and ultimately landed at Juilliard. Without a “compression period,” he said, he was angry and struggling to find the words to express himself. Theater provided a natural outlet. Military training gave Mr. Driver discipline.

“It wasn’t until I was at Juilliard and exposed to expressing myself that I wanted to share that with a military audience,” said Mr. Driver, 29.

Mr. Driver and Ms. Tucker staged one of their first Arts in the Armed Forces performances at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where Mr. Driver trained, before graduation and with the financial support of Juilliard’s president, Joseph W. Polisi.

“He was always motivated by a desire to use his art to touch other people in a positive way,” said Mr. Polisi of Mr. Driver.

An Arts in the Armed Forces performance is a stripped-down 90 minutes of actors sitting in a semicircle, without costumes or props. The ensemble cast, mostly friends of the couple or their agents, work through two- or three-minute monologues or scenes, both serious and funny.

The focus of the performance is on language, the material, the actor and the audience, said Ms. Tucker. Audiences range from a few dozen people to 700, as at Monday’s performance in New York.

“We try to create a totally comfortable, approachable, democratic, nonproduced event that just focuses on the quality of the performer” and the quality of the material, Ms. Tucker said.

In return for the performance, the military audience absolutely “weeds out sentiment,” said Mr. Driver. “They don’t have the patience or the time.” The result is that there’s an “electric feeling” in the room, said Ms. Tucker, with “a reward on both ends.”

Monday’s performance features actor François Battiste, who has appeared in the television shows “The Good Wife” and “Person of Interest,” and has performed with Arts in the Armed Forces several times.

Mr. Battiste says he experiences a “visceral” reaction to the performances because they aren’t “just for the glitz and glamour and lights.”

“To tell stories, to heal the afflicted, for those reasons, it’s very rewarding and puts everything in perspective,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal | Melanie Grayce West | November 10, 2013

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