Friday, October 12, 2007

"Stuart Little" Delivers Presents from Iraq

Posted by Bruce Miller
From the It’s a Small World After All Dept. …

Sgt P. J. Whiteway IV, Barksdale and Theatre IV’s envoy to Iraq (through the Virginia National Guard), was discussing “folks back home” with a friend and fellow guardsman, Sgt Ernest Woods, earlier this week. Sgt Woods happened to mention that his son and wife were looking forward to an upcoming school field trip to Richmond to see Stuart Little.

Bells of recognition rang in P. J.’s head, and he told his buddy that the son and wife must be going to Theatre IV. P. J. knows these things because, although he may look like a soldier today [that's Peej 2007 in the photo to the left], it wasn't long ago that he played a Munchkin on the Empire stage. After P. J. 'fessed up to his TIV connections, the two military men came up with the seed of a plan.

Sgt Woods missed his son Jacob a lot. Was there any way that P. J.’s contacts at Theatre IV could obtain and deliver a small present to Sgt Woods’ son as a surprise gift from his dad in Iraq? (The photo to the right was taken by Mike Morones for the Free Lance-Star at the most recent deployment of the Virginia National Guard.)

After a couple of inter-continental phone calls and emails, it all came to pass. Yesterday morning, as the bus from Central Elementary in Palmyra, Virginia pulled up to the Empire to unload, Jennings Whiteway (P. J.’s sister and Theatre IV’s Events, Access and Food Services Manager) was on hand to identify covertly the targeted mother and son.

Before the show began, Andy Boothby took the stage. After the familiar theatre manners speech, he continued:

“We’re especially happy this morning to welcome two new members to the Theatre IV family, only they don’t know it yet. Will Amanda and Jacob Woods please stand?”

With looks of surprise on their faces, they both arose.

“One of our longstanding family members here at Theatre IV, Sgt P. J. Whiteway IV, is serving with the Virginia National Guard in Iraq. We’re proud of him, and think about him every day. We were pleased and surprised earlier this week to hear from Sgt Whiteway, and learn that one of his best pals in Iraq was thinking about Amanda and Jacob Woods, and their upcoming field trip to see Stuart Little right here at Theatre IV.

Jacob’s father, and Amanda’s husband, is Sgt Ernest Woods, also with the Virginia National Guard. After he learned that his friend and fellow soldier in Iraq was part of the Theatre IV family, Sgt Woods asked if he could work with Theatre IV to send a special gift to his son and wife, to let them know that he was thinking about them and missing them every day.

So Amanda and Jacob, we’re honored to pass on to you this small present from your husband and dad, who asked also that we tell you that he can’t wait for the day when he’ll be home with you again.”

Jennings Whiteway then delivered a gift bag (Theatre IV t-shirt, etc) to the startled mom and son, and everyone in the audience applauded. The applause was for Amanda and Jacob Woods, I’m sure, but also for the tens of thousands of men and women who represent our nation abroad and the tens of thousands more who wait for them back home.

The lights went down, and Stuart Little and company began their joy-filled message of family and friends and growing up. The message seemed to resonate with the children in the audience even more than usual. And as Stuart rode off in his toy car into the sunset, all of us said a silent prayer for the safe and speedy reunion of all families now separated by the troubles of our world.

--Bruce Miller


Scott Wichmann said...

That is a wonderul story, a fantastic and heartwarming effort to make a very special connection, and it is what Theatre IV is all about. Thanks for continuing to make moments that people will remember for a lifetime.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Miller for sharing this beautiful all do so much for Virginia. God bless you all!

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful piece of writing. I had to wait for about 15 minutes after reading it for the tears to stop. Happy tears, mostly. Only then could I write this comment.

All of you at Theatre IV amaze me. Not just this one time, but over and over again. Over the last several decades you've established ... an ethos, I guess. A way of thinking and feeling and believing and following through on those beliefs. It permeates so much of what you do: the shows, the giving away of tickets, the special projects with less advantaged kids and families, the free and unpublicized visits to Richmond's poorest senior centers and children's wards.

You add it all up and it makes an unmistakable impression. It's so Theatre IV-ish. And there's nobody like you.

I can't get over you guys. With all you do, and you seem to be everywhere at once, you still find every opportunity to reach out to people you don't even know.

Please know that there are those of us out there who notice. We commend you, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

The world is truly a better place because of Theatre IV--which means ALL of you.