MU Theatre tells tale of collegiate conflict during Vietnam era

“Moonchildren” reveals the director’s own experiences during a time of war.

It isn’t often that a director’s personal — and sometimes traumatic — memories are visible in the play that they’re leading. For MU theater students, most of the stories portrayed by student performers may be ancient fairy tales, such as the recently performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Yet the upcoming show, entitled “Moonchildren,” dives deep into material that director Dr. Suzanne Burgoyne has lived through.

“This is sort of a trip back in time, because I graduated in 1968, so I lived through this,” Burgoyne says. “I think that it was a very difficult and confusing time period.”

The play features all MU students, and has been in the works for the past five weeks. Opening on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., “Moonchildren” centers around the United States during the Vietnam War era, and how college students reacted to the change and pace of the time period.

Burgoyne, who’s been affiliated with the MU Department of Theatre since 1989, has used numerous forms of preparation for her actors, ranging from improv exercises to presentations of anecdote artifacts she owns from that decade.

“We examined the historical context, because it really is important to understand what was going on,” Burgoyne says.

The play separates itself from previous plays Burgoyne has directed, starting with the opportunity for more performers with 16 spots, instead of casts of only four people. Furthermore, she has a personal stake in the storyline, because she witnessed the material “Moonchildren” is based off of firsthand.

“A lot of us felt lied to and betrayed,” Burgoyne says. “The play is about the (students’) feeling of betrayal, while also living their lives and coping with everything going on.”

In addition to her own experiences, the director thought it would be beneficial for her actors to see the effects the war had on real members of society through a more personal experience. To do this, she discussed her ex-husband’s time during the war.

“He was corresponding with me while he was in 'Nam, and I read parts of a couple of his letters to my cast,” she says. “Years later, he applied to the (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs) for disability payments for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I also read a couple of parts of his application to the cast, in which he relayed traumatic events he had observed while on duty.”

Burgoyne believes the play will be well-received by younger MU audiences, who may empathize with the play’s emphasis on standing out for one’s beliefs through respect and revelations concerning life goals.

“College audiences usually like it, because it reflects their lives and concerns,” she says. “Plus it’s funny, a total dark comedy.”

“Moonchildren” is sure to spark thoughts in attendees on how even with tragic days behind us, the turmoil never fully stops.

“The fallout from that war continues to this day,” Burgoyne says.

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