Four Questions for Kacie and Karen Devaney
"Understand war through the eyes of women and re-think their historical relevance."
By Cheryl Farrell
Staff Writer, United States World War One Centennial Commission
The daughter and mother team of Kacie Devaney and Karen Devaney are authors of The Great Forgotten, which had a sold-out run in the 2015 New York City International Fringe Festival. With the 2018 centennial commemoration of The Great War, Kacie and Karen hope to bring their play to a larger audience with a longer run. They also hope to turn the play into a series for Netflix. Kacie and Karen talked with us about the play, its origins, and what the future holds for the production.
You wrote the play, “The Great Forgotten” that honors and remembers the thousands of women who served as nurses with the American Expeditionary Force during World War One. What inspired you to write this play?
I was living in Paris, France, when a bolt of inspiration hit me to write The Great Forgotten. I had been studying at The American University of Paris for two years and traveling in France. The history in France is incredibly visceral, so as a writer it gets my wheels turning. I have always been obsessed with World War II and knew very little about “the war to end all wars.”
After visiting a handful of war museums and memorials in France, it was disheartening to see the lack of inclusion of the women who also served, particularly the nurses. When I moved to New York City five years ago I picked up a novel about the men of the Lost Generation, many of the writers and artists and some just merely “lost” after The Great War. I wondered about the women who also served during the war.
Now my mind was rapidly brainstorming. I was determined to learn everything I could about the American nurses who served during World War One. Additionally, I started thinking of a way I could merge these two abandoned histories - the American nurses who served during World War One and the soldiers who returned from the war who we call the Lost Generation. Thus, The Great Forgotten was born.
As a writer, I am always digging deep for untold stories. I am also an ardent supporter of championing women's tales, particularly in history where much of the literature is about men. Realizing this would be an enormous undertaking, I reached out to my mother who is not only a fellow writer but also a registered nurse. Together as a mother-daughter team, we wrote The Great Forgotten.
Tell us a little about the play.
The Great Forgotten started out as a large ensemble piece with a plethora of characters we had to temporarily eliminate. We say temporarily because these characters are being resurrected for the potential Netflix series we are now writing. For the stage it was imperative we whittled the play to seven characters who each tell a slice of the story from his or her own perspective. The main characters are Elizabeth and Celia, American nurses working long exhausting hours caring for injured soldiers. Most of the play takes place in Rouen, France, at a base hospital outside of Paris.
Every character faces personal conflicts that help narrate the story. Elizabeth, the head nurse at the base hospital, is strong and stoic who likes to think that she keeps it together under duress. Elizabeth’s Sister Celia signed up as a Voluntary Aide, and unlike her sister, wears her emotions on her sleeve. She is artistic and unrealistic in thinking the war would be an adventure without anticipating the horrors she would ultimately see. Fellow nurses at the base hospital are the passionate Dottie, brave but outspoken about the endless hours and lack of sleep, and young Lauren, who is naive to much of the world relying on her fellow nurses for stability.
James, Leandre, and Ben are the male leads who play critical roles in portraying the grim realities of war on the western front. James is an injured soldier who fears he will never see his family again as he convalesces at the base hospital. Elizabeth saves the life of French medic Leandre.
Leandre is angry at the Americans for waiting too long before joining the war while thousands of French died fighting. Leandre falls in love with Elizabeth during his convalescence at the hospital. Ben is a Harlem Hell Fighter, a unit of African American soldiers who fought side by side with the French Army. Ben is a proud soldier who merely wants to get back to his unit. As Ben convalesces at the hospital he and Celia fall in love.
Where has this play been performed as far, and what has the feedback been from those who have attended these performances? Do you have future performances scheduled?
The Great Forgotten had its debut in the illustrious New York City International Fringe Festival in 2015 at the Robert Moss Theatre and sold-out nearly every night. Over 1,000 plays get submitted to The Fringe Festival each year, and The Great Forgotten was one of the two hundred chosen. My mother and I were ecstatic. We had an eager cast of dedicated actors, directors, and stage-hands, and were able to cast a talented and distinguished actor from New York City, Julie Voshell. The feedback from audience was tremendous saying we had a compelling story that needed to get out into the world!
After Fringe, my mother and I were able to flesh out what worked and didn't work from a theatrical standpoint. As it goes with all writers, it's the rewrites where the magic unfolds. Since Fringe, we have re-worked, re-written, and nuanced The Great Forgotten a dozen times to adapt it precisely for the stage.
We have had two industry readings of the play since Fringe, one at The Producers Club and the other at The Alchemical Theatre. Both Broadway and off-Broadway producers have shown immense interest in our piece but it’s the audience members who encourage us to never give up on our project. Everyone has agreed that the story is too important to be forgotten and that we would prevail with our continued dedication to honor these unsung heroes.
What are your plans for the play after November 2018? Do you think there will be continued popular interest in America’s involvement in World War One after the 100th Centennial is over?
Our plans for The Great Forgotten are ambitious. We want a full-scale production that will end up touring not only here in the states but will also grace the stages of Europe. Also, we are currently working on a Netflix series that we hope will get picked up in time to air this fall. We began writing this play in 2014, long before the 100th Centennial of American involvement in the war. We were drawn to the story and never gave the Centennial any thought during the writing process. Now that it's here, we hope to attract a broader audience.
The Great Forgotten pays homage to the women’s contributions during WWI, an element in all wars that is unfortunately often glazed over. Regardless of the Centennial, we will fight to the end to get their voices heard. The Great Forgotten is the story of struggle, triumph, and loss for women everywhere who have gone unrecognized for too long. Our play provides audiences a chance to see the parallels between then and now and to begin to understand war through the eyes of women and to re-think their historical relevance.
If you are interested in supporting The Great Forgotten, please contact Kacie and Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can like The Great Forgotten on our Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/Thegreatforgotten/
Cheryl Farrell is a volunteer with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.