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APSU Playwright-in-Residence gets salute from a soldier in Iraq

I sat in my hootch, alternating Toby Keith and light opera in my headphones and read your play ‘A Heartbeat to Baghdad, said Lt. Kip Clayton in a Sept. 29 e-mail to Austin Peay State Universitys Playwright-in-Residence Glyn OMalley.

Clayton is stationed 50 miles outside Baghdad in Camp Anaconda. How did OMalleys script get into the hands of a soldier halfway around the world?

It was e-mailed to him by Jim Simpson, head of the New York City theatre where A Heartbeat to Baghdad will have its commercial debut Nov. 8.
“I sat in my hootch, alternating Toby Keith and light opera in my headphones and read your play ‘A Heartbeat to Baghdad,'” said Lt. Kip Clayton in a Sept. 29 e-mail to Austin Peay State University's Playwright-in-Residence Glyn O'Malley.

Clayton is stationed 50 miles outside Baghdad in Camp Anaconda. How did O'Malley's script get into the hands of a soldier halfway around the world?

It was e-mailed to him by Jim Simpson, head of the New York City theatre where “A Heartbeat to Baghdad” will have its commercial debut Nov. 8.

In their theatre, The Flea, Simpson and his wife, Sigourney Weaver, previously produced “The Guys,” a play about the role of NYC Ladder 9 firefighters following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Clayton was a NYC firefighter.

“After 9/11, which permanently changed our country, everyone did something,” he writes. “I went to Saudi Arabia as a firefighter.”

In Clayton's absence, his wife went to see “The Guys” and met its author, Anne Nelson. Afterwards, his wife sent a copy of Nelson's script to Clayton. The play, ultimately, was made into a movie, directed by Simpson. According to Clayton, he has carried that small movie with him from one assignment to another.

Clayton e-mailed O'Malley: “Recently, I wrote Jim and told him what his ability to express that day through a firefighter's eyes meant to me. Surprisingly, he wrote back, (and) the attachment to his e-mail was a draft of your play.

“It's been my passion when I'm not too tired to read. In the same way Nelson captured firefighters, you have an iron grasp on the funny patois of the American soldier, the hard, loud-on-the-outside soldier with a well-hidden but rock-solid set of core values and beliefs.”

With common bonds established despite the miles between, Clayton shared with O'Malley some of his impressions as one soldier on the front lines: “I had breakfast yesterday after PT, and there was a (colonel) at my table. We got to talking about all the good that's being done across the country, the pride his men take in these missions ... The Iraqis, like us, just want families, jobs, homes, schools and a place in the world that's quiet.

“We are surely no more than a ‘heartbeat' from each other. Living with characters of your play had me spellbound when I read the script. I was given a gift, and I wanted to thank you for it.”

A full production of “A Heartbeat to Baghdad” will premiere in APSU's Trahern Theatre Oct. 6-10, after which O'Malley will return to NYC to attend the last week of practice prior to his play's premiere in that city.

Performances of “A Heartbeat to Baghdad” begin at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 6-9, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee presentation on Sunday, Oct. 10, all in Trahern Theatre. Admission is $4 for students and $6, general. Be advised that the play does contain adult content.

For more information about the APSU production, telephone (931) 221-7378.
—Dennie Burke