Basetrack began as a place for embedded journalists to post photos. Later it became a social media site where families could keep up with their troops in Afghanistan. Now it has transformed again, into a new way for the most recent generation of veterans to tell the story of their service and survival.
Run the site past a composer from Juilliard, add a combat vet-turned-actor, a string section and a DJ, and you get BASETRACK Live.
"Not so much a play or a concert or art gallery," says Ed Bilous, the composer who created the project, "it represents ... not only a new kind of warfare, but also new way of creating art."
BASETRACK Live starts like a video documentary, with interviews of Marines in Afghanistan projected on a screen behind the stage. Strings, a horn and percussion take cues from what the Marines are saying. Their tales from patrols in Afghanistan morph into hip-hop.
Amid the videos, the rap and music, an actor takes the stage, playing the part of a Marine in Afghanistan. An actress plays his wife back home — live via Skype to the theater. The actor in the current production touring the East Coast is Tyler LaMarr, himself a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, in Fallujah and Ramadi.
"It does help that I'm a veteran — but this show is 100 percent authentic. Everything is verbatim text from interviews," says LaMarr.
The story climaxes with the Marine in a firefight — and his wife giving birth to their daughter alone back home. He comes home after he gets wounded, and post-traumatic stress disorder and trouble adjusting rip his marriage apart.
The character is based on A.J. Czubai, a former Marine.
"Believe it or not, my story's actually pretty common among service members who deployed," he says.
Czubai says it wasn't easy to let his story be made into a stage show, but he felt a duty to share his story of getting help for PTSD.
"I was really hurting at the time and, at first, you know, I didn't want to share," he says. "It doesn't exactly show me in my best light. But if I could just show a couple people who are hurting you can make it out, then I'm extremely happy I did it."
Most of the audience for BASETRACK Live won't be veterans, but people who want to know about their experience. The show's producers say that's the point.
"We didn't want audiences walking away saying, 'Look at those poor guys,' or 'It's all a bunch of heroes,' or 'It's all a bunch of fanatics,' " says executive producer Anne Hamburger. "War changes ordinary people."