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La Jolla Playhouse Enlists Vets For ‘What Happens Next’

The cast members of

Credit: Sonia Diaz

Above: The cast members of "What Happens Next" in an undated photo.

La Jolla Playhouse Enlists Vets For "What Happens Next"


Nico Marcolongo, actor, "What Happens Next"

Michael Garcés, director, "What Happens Next"

A half dozen or so veterans will gather at the Challenged Athletes Foundation Thursday night, working out some of their trauma using the theater as therapy.

They are part of La Jolla Playhouse’s latest Without Walls production, a series of shows staged outside a traditional theater. “What Happens Next” centers on an acting teacher working with veterans in a therapy program, but about half of the cast are actual veterans, with little theater experience.

The play, written by Naomi Iizuka, is based on dozens of interviews she conducted with local veterans and their families. Retired Marine Nico Marcolongo, a program manager at the Challenged Athletes Foundation, plays a composite character partially based on his own experiences returning home with post-traumatic stress. Marcolongo says despite not having acted before professionally, he hasn’t gotten stage fright.

“Standing up there and knowing that I’m not just doing this for myself, I’m representing an entire veterans’ community and I’m getting their story out,” Marcolongo said. “That’s where I get my strength.”

The show runs through April 29.

Marcolongo and “What Happens Next” director Michael Garcés join KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday with more on turning these true stories into theater.


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