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PEO IEW&S Product Lead Pens Intense Play About Jim Jones

PEO IEW&S Product Lead Pens Intense Play About Jim Jones

Story by John Higgins on 02/08/2019

BALTIMORE, Md. “Would you like to buy a monkey?” asks a door-to-door salesmen in a gray flannel suit. It gets a good laugh from the audience, as much from delivery as just being absurd. The monkey salesman is Jim Jones, portrayed on stage in the play Thank You, Dad throughout his life by Lance Bankard in a play penned by Aladrian Wetzel, the Product Lead for Joint Tactical Terminal (JTT) under Project Manager Distributed Common Ground System-Army (PM DCGS-A).

The play presents Jones by himself on stage at three very different points in his life, first as the humble door to door salesmen supporting his church, then as a fiery and driven preacher, bellowing from behind a podium about his power, his will and his plans for the future. The last act finds Jones at the end of his life, defeated and believing that death is a better alternative for him and his congregation than living in an unjust world.

Hard hitting would be an understatement.

Wetzel partially saw the initial creation of the work along the same lines as her work for the Army under Program Executive Office Intelligence Electronic Warfare & Sensors. “With this play I was commissioned by Rapid Lemon [the production company],” she said. “To do it specifically in three acts using existing contexts and contents, texts and transcripts that existed in the open atmosphere. I had a frame work for how I wanted to do it, no different than the DoD acquisition framework or with milestone decisions.”

Wetzel speaks from experience, she has been working in the DoD for 15 years including as a Test Manager for the Army Test and Evaluation Center on the program Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) which had several coalition partners that had to agree on a number of things, then as a Department of The Army Systems Coordinator (DASC) for DCGS-A at the Pentagon before taking on the role of Product Lead for JTT. The Test Manager and DASC roles both involved creating a degree of consensus between many people for a final product, not unlike play, where a whole team will have their input into the final product. All the while, Wetzel was also doing creative work in theater productions.

“I feel it is necessary to have an outlet in order to be a more effective manager and well-rounded individual,” said Wetzel. “I also think that being a theater artist helps improve my management skills and vice versus. Public speaking, writing critically, being creative in your decision making, and managing resources are skills that are interchangeable across both arenas.”

In the same time frame while Wetzel was with Department of the Army, she was working in theater production. She wrote several 10-minute plays, performed on stage in 11 full productions and three staged readings; staged readings being akin to prototyping for theater productions and can be equally critical to the final product.

Wetzel was not merely the writer for Thank You, Dad, but also had the role of dramaturge. A dramaturge is a combination of researcher, fact-checker and editor that combines selects and adapts existing material that informs a story to help create a sense of place. Since Jim Jones was a historical figure of the very recent past, Wetzel’s research for the play itself also went to creating timelines and display pieces for the lobby just outside the performance space to ground the production in reality.

Wetzel found something of a cautionary tale doing the research of Jones’ rise and fall. Jones began his ministry with a very justice-oriented mission and was a pioneer in equality in America. However, Jones became corrupted over time. That appeared as a warning to “be careful of the kinds of people who we follow, the types of people that we listen to, to be cognizant of how society, or news or how words can be bent and refocused be used in a nefarious way.” said Wetzel.

The play ran from January 11 to January 20, at the Baltimore Theater Project on Preston Street. Even after that run, Wetzel was still considering ways to do it better. “It’s still a work in progress.” she said. “I have seen the play a couple of times and there still pieces I want to edit and change. It’s the same thing for program management, we have to be able to be flexible and we have to be creative in how we meet our goals.”
Since the initial run is over, Wetzel plans to develop the work further, first by submitting to solo actor and playwriting showcases across the United States and second by considering how to make the production “portable,” for a tour or regular traveling show.

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