‘Dogfight’ spins cruel bet into love story: UW-Stout Theatre presents award-winning musical April 5-13

Tale of Vietnam veteran dives into mental health
Abbey Goers | March 22, 2024

Audiences at UW-Stout’s Harvey Hall Theatre will soon enter the flashback of Vietnam veteran Marine Corporal Eddie Birdlace, as he relives the eve of his deployment.

University Theatre students will perform the award-winning musical “Dogfight.” Set in San Francisco on Nov. 21, 1963, Birdlace and other young Marines plan to celebrate their last night of freedom with a bit of debauchery and play a game they call a “dogfight.” 

But when Birdlace meets Rose Fenny, an awkward and idealistic waitress whom he enlists to win a cruel bet with his fellow recruits, she rewrites the rules of the game and teaches him the power of love and compassion.

Theater cast of production 'Dogfight'
Cast and crew of 'Dogfight' on the Harvey Hall Theatre stage / Kaden Copelan

“This performance is different. It’s a beautiful love story and musically challenging,” said Director Audric Buhr. “It’s dramatically different than what we’ve done in the past year since University Theatre reopened in spring 2023.”

“Dogfight” is also unique as its theme is somewhat true, Buhr said. Birdlace’s flashback offers audiences a glimpse into posttraumatic stress disorder and how it can affect veterans.

Tickets are free for active or retired military members, and are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at uwstout.universitytickets.com:

  • Evening performances: 7:30 p.m., April 5-6, and April 11-13
  • Matinee: 2 p.m., April 7

The performance is held in conjunction with UW-Stout’s Destination Weekend, Friday, April 5, and Saturday, April 6; and Spring Showcase, April 5 to May 11.

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A tale of ambition, emotion and self-discovery

The lead role of Birdlace is played by Quincy Aaron, who plans to sacrifice his curls and shave his head for the performance of the Marine corporal. He believes that “‘Dogfight’ gives a deeper perspective on U.S. history, especially of a time period not many discuss in my generation.”

Dogfight theater cast member
Quincy Aaron plays the lead role of Marine Corporal Eddie Birdlace. / Kaden Copelan

Aaron, a game design and development sophomore from Farmington, Minn., finds Birdlace to be a compelling character. “He has this internal struggle that is centered around the dichotomy between who he is and who he wants to be. Eddie wants to be blissfully ignorant but can’t help but feel a sense of responsibility for his behavior,” he said. 

Aaron thinks it’s important to connect his personal experiences to the characters he portrays on stage and channels his own emotional moments into his performance.

“Eddie is quite the hot-headed guy, but he also experiences a level of hurt that few can relate to. The pain that he experiences, especially at the end of the production, is so nuanced,” he said.

Cast member Steven Lee was a corporal in the Marine Corps and served from April 2017 to April 2022. He plays the role of Fector, one of Birdlace’s fellow Marines involved in the bet.

“For me, Fector was a small enough role to juggle my work-life balance and still find a way to be a part of this amazing show,” said Lee, a computer science sophomore from Oceanside, Calif.

Dogfight theater cast members
The award-winning musical will be performed at 7:30 p.m., April 5-6, and April 11-13, with a matinee at 2 p.m., April 7 / Kaden Copelan

The Marines were told the Vietnam War would be quick to prevent the spread of communism across Southeast Asia, Lee explained. 

“Many were drafted and fewer returned. The beginning of the show quickly sets the tone for that,” he said. “However, during this story, you get the perspective of young Marines hoping to make a big impact in the world – with a do-or-die attitude. Their potential last night on American soil really sells the idea of enthusiastic, unapologetic men who were willing to die for their country. 

“I think we often forget that the people who go into war are young and ambitious adults, many who just graduated high school. I want to bring that young, abrasive mindset of the young men who were sent off to war in Vietnam spending their last days stateside,” Lee said.

Birdlace’s potential last night on American soil is spent with Rose, played by Kat Schlauderaff, a senior in digital marketing technology from Chaska, Minn.

“Rose has dreams as big as the sky. I relate a lot to Rose,” Schlauderaff said. “We’ve both had sheltered, awkward upbringings but carry lofty ambitions. Drawing from my own life, it’s easy to slip into character, especially as Rose is on the cusp of major growth and, just like me, ready to ‘spread her wings.’”

She encourages people to see the show because it’s a “beautiful tale of self-discovery and change. On the surface, it’s a heart-warming and inelegant love story. But dive deeper, and you’ll find a truly relatable narrative. In our daily lives, many of us sense there’s something more, just out of our grasp. The musical is not just entertainment; it’s an invitation to embrace the unknown and dream big.”

Dogfight theater cast members
'Dogfight' is ultimately a tale of the power of love and compassion. / Kaden Copelan

Lee is reminded of the saying “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

“For many still in the service, it’s a big old joke,” he said. “But post service, I find value in it. Meeting veterans, I find we all carry the same core values and share fond memories of boot camp, deployments and our times spent training. We have a shared collective experience. 

“I just want to thank all of the veterans who will be attending this show for their services. They are not unheard in their struggles, and we are all brothers and sisters, even after the ranks have been taken off. I hope they look forward to seeing this show and can be reminded through ‘Dogfight’ of the young, head-first attitude when they enlisted in the service,” Lee said.

Connecting to the characters’ mental health

To help the student cast and crew connect to the experiences of veterans, including those with posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental health topics, Buhr invited M.S. clinical mental health counseling professors John Klem and Julie Bates-Maves and Dunn County Veteran Services staff to rehearsal.

PTSD symptoms are an indicator that a person has encountered serious stress, Bates-Maves explained. 

“When in front of the threat, the responses make sense – the body is responding in order to survive,” she said. “But when the threat is no longer present and the survival response remains active, it causes trouble. The brain continues to operate in the past, protecting itself from the threats it encountered, even though they no longer exist in the present. Responses become mismatched to the moment they’re in. 

“Wonderfully, PTSD is very treatable, and there is great cause for hope. Just as the brain learns to notice and protect from threats, it can learn to better assess the difference between the past and present, real versus perceived threats. Help is available and effective,” Bates-Maves said.

Student cast members of theater production of 'Dogfight'
Cast and crew meet to learn about posttraumatic stress disorder and how to connect to their characters. / Kaden Copelan

Lee believes the effects of the Vietnam War continued for many years after its resolution. “Many veterans who emerged from the Vietnam War were not treated well, and we need to tell that story because it's a reminder that many complicated and unexpected events took place during both the Cold War and Vietnam.

“The world these men returned to was not the same as the one they left. People often remember those with PTSD as broken, unable to reintegrate back into society. But we hope to show all sides of these Marines, from boot camp to the end of the war,” Lee said.

“Posttraumatic stress disorder is the invisible challenge many veterans deal with,” said Greg Quinn, Dunn County Veteran Service officer. “It can be difficult for family and loved ones to understand because one doesn't wear a cast or brace for the injury.

“A better understanding of how trauma affects an individual can allow a family to support them through the challenges. Many of our heroes silently deal with trauma through isolation and avoidance. Showing support and understanding can help the healing. The stronger the family support, the better outcomes when dealing with trauma,” Quinn said.

ROTC cadets to take helicopter from UW-Stout to Fort McCoy

As of Tuesday, April 9, the Blackhawk helicopter landing scheduled for Thursday, April 11, has been canceled. However, a landing may be scheduled in the fall. Read on to see what the future experience may bring for UW-Stout ROTC cadets.

The Wisconsin Army National Guard will land a Blackhawk helicopter on campus to transport a group of 20 UW-Stout Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets to Fort McCoy, a U.S. Army Reserve installation, for a spring field training exercise.

The public is welcome to watch the helicopter land at approximately 9 a.m. on Thursday, April 11, behind the UW-Stout softball field, 1606 S. Broadway St., Menomonie. 

UW-Stout Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets’ training exercise at Fort McCoy, between Sparta and Tomah, will involve land navigation, maneuvering soldiers to accomplish set missions and testing leadership skills under pressure. It will help prepare cadets for upcoming training at Fort Knox, Ky.

Helicopter on campus
A group of 20 UW-Stout Reserve Officers will be flown by helicopter to Fort McCoy on Thursday, April 11. / UW-Stout Veteran Services

SFC Nicholas Manor, military science instructor and Wisconsin National Guard recruiter and liaison, has ridden in a Blackhawk twice in his career. “They were both awesome experiences and like nothing you have ever done before. This will be the first time cadets will be picked up from UW-Stout and taken anywhere, so it is an awesome event and experience for these young soldiers. 

“This is just one of the amazing things people can do when they serve in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. Opportunities are endless. Go Guard,” Manor said.

Helicopter flights can be canceled the day of for many reasons, he added. “So, don't get your hope too high until you hear them coming.”

The Landing Authorization Agreement, sent to the deputy chief of staff for Aviation and Safety, was released by the approving officer, Chancellor Katherine Frank.

The Wisconsin Army National Guard landed a UH-60 helicopter on campus for a static display before the Military Appreciation football game in October 2023. The crew met with students and community members.

A Military and Veterans Career Expo will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, at the Memorial Student Center. Hosted by UW-Stout’s Career Services and Veteran Services, the expo focuses on addressing employment challenges, navigating resources, and connecting veteran and military students with employers who value their experience. All student veterans are encouraged to attend this networking event.


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