As America prepares to honor its military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces with parades, pomp and circumstance on Veterans Day (Friday, November 11), a D.C.-based service and advocacy group for African-American playwrights whose members include women writing their first play and those honored for their work, will pay tribute to an all-but-forgotten group of Black soldiers.

The 172 soldiers who died while fighting in Europe during World War II were buried in Margraten, Netherlands, will be honored by the Black Women Playwrights’ Group (BWPG) in “The 172.”– with celebrations presented through a creatively-designed theater app that debuted on October 31. The 172, which embraces both the 20th  and 21st  century in honoring World War II’s African-American soldiers will be shown in both live performances and on the web via 12@12 NOON – BWPG’s innovative theater app, which one D.C. theater critic described as “the biggest technological game changer for theater in the 21st century.”

Scenes written by BWPG members explore the experiences of soldiers fighting for freedom on foreign soil. And while they liberated Europe, they died in service – their bodies never returned to their families.  The 172 represented many states nationwide, including Hawaii, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. Performances will be held during the Veterans Day weekend on Nov. 11 and 12 in Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne, respectively.

Discussions focusing on their lives, legacy, and sacrifice, which families of
Margraten honor each year will follow both performances. The celebration can be downloaded via the free app for those interested in reading the scenes on BWPG’s private SMS, 12@12NOON. The dynamic 12-line scenes imagine the soldiers as multi-faceted human beings with hopes, realizations, and honor. Through the app, viewers can comment, share the
scenes with others and write their 12-line scene inspired by the original scene.

Founded in 1989 and incorporated in 1993, the Black Women Playwrights’ Group supports the playwriting process by critiquing its members’ work, providing workshops and readings, and information on production opportunities, as well as introductions to producers. BWPG as counts as a touchstone for writers of color at local universities, in the D.C. Public Schools, residents of group homes and programs for spouses and children of the incarcerated. Karen L.B. Evans, the organization’s founder and executive producer, said the most memorable things about performing in Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne was being able to honor Black men, so young and with so much promise who hailed from the Midwest, who gave their lives for freedom. “The journey to develop the app, takes its readers into the inner workings of the world our award-winning playwrights have created for these young men,” Evans said.

BWPG member Pamela Armstrong-de Vreeze, who developed the 172 Project and lives in the Netherlands said, “As an American with dual citizenship, I was surprised to learn about the Dutch supporters of the fallen soldiers,” she said. Armstrong-de Vreeze noted that American soldiers often encouraged Dutch families to mistreat African-American young men. “But they didn’t prevail, and the families have passed their appreciation of the sacrifice made to ensure their freedom from one generation to the next over the years,” she said. The Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre supports the project in Indianapolis and Black Liberators of the Netherlands. The technical development is by Zingworks, LLP.

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