Years of military moves, deployments and holding down the home front had left Army spouse Amy Uptgraft exhausted. But then she was hit with a new idea -- a way to soothe her mind while doing what she loves on stage and bringing communities together.
A stage actor and theater professional, she didn't just want to tell her own story. She wanted to show others how closely the often untold stories of the home front across generations connect Americans, even if they didn't personally serve, even if they had never personally waited.
And so she connected with an old friend, wrote a play about it and staged it in Fort Wayne, Indiana -- a non-military town.
The result? Success.
"The response was pretty overwhelming, the audience absolutely related to it. A lot of them were finding pride in 'hey, my grandpa fought in Korea, and I never thought through what my Grandma went through when he left,'" she said. "I felt like [the play] opened a nice dialogue to make those people who don't feel connected to the military see that in so many ways they really are connected if they are willing to connect the dots."
"I Will Wait: The Veteran's Spouse Project" intertwines the stories of real life military spouses since World War II who have waited at home while their service member goes to war. To write the play Uptgraft interviewed about 30 military spouses and asked them to tell them their own stories.
The production focuses on five spouses, with scripts developed for each character by combining facets of stories from multiple real-life sources. But vignettes of other real spouses' stories, based on one person each, are also featured throughout the production.
Perhaps the most exciting part about the play isn't the play itself -- but the larger project it has sparked. Uptgraft said they are in the process of establishing a non-profit and hoping to take the play on the road so they can share the military home front experience with more communities.
And they are still looking to gather and share the stories of more military spouses from all military conflict eras. Some of those stories may be cycled into the production as vignettes. Others might be shared on the project's website. But all of them help Uptgraft and her team foster that sense of community across generations.
"We're gathering more stories and giving people a chance to sit and share," she said. "I think [military spouses] are made to feel that what we do is just a little ordinary because we're in these communities where everyone is doing it. But when you kind of take that experience and put it out into the general public, you see what we're doing is kind of unique and it is hard."