Pensacola Woman Going On National Stage With ‘She Went To War’
Four years ago, Army veteran Tabitha Nichols stood on stage at the University of West Florida and talked openly about her military experience as part of “Telling: Pensacola.” It was a changing experience, she said.
“It’s scary. It feels like you’re undressing — exposing yourself, sharing your trauma. But it was so healing. I’m grateful for it.”
Shortly after, Nichols was asked to join the cast of “She Went to War” alongside three other female veterans from across the country. The show has been invited to Washington, D.C., to perform as part of Veteran’s History Project 20th Anniversary event Nov. 7. A fundraising effort has begun to help cover travel costs for cast members.
“She Went to War” is a presentation of The Telling Project. It debuted in 2017 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis for a three-week run. It ran again for one weekend last May at the First National Veteran’s Theater Festival in Milwaukee.
The show is centered on the real stories of four female veterans. It’s their words, their experiences.
“(The Telling Project) is not an organization that promotes the military, we support these folks in telling their own stories,” said director Jonathan Wei. “It helps create conversations between military and the communities they live in. There’s not always a lot of opportunity for that. We, as citizens, have a great deal of say when it comes to the military. We should know what we’re asking them to do and the impact it has on them.”
“She Went to War” includes Nichols, as well as fellow veterans Racheal Robinson, Jenn Calaway and Gretchen Evans, who served 27 years in the Army.
“It’s a female powerhouse,” Nichols said.
The show is more theatrical than Telling Project. It’s more than monologues. There are props and cues and effects.
“It’s more intense,” Nichols said. “It brought the trauma back up and there were times when I had to take a step back. (Combat) doesn’t look like the commercials. The reality is you’re going to see bloodshed. You’re going to see trauma.”
Nichols was just 17 when she joined the Army. Her parents had to sign the enlistment papers.
“I thought I was going to be a badass,” she said. “It was two years after 9/11 and I wanted to do something good for my country.”
In 2005, during a tour in Iraq, she was injured during an RPG attack, which fractured her ribs, two cervical vertebrae, and two lumbar vertebrae. That pain still sits with her today.
“Sometimes, I’ll be sweeping and I have to push my ribs back in place,” she said.
When she was honorably discharged at 24, she returned to civilian life lost and angry. And she shares those emotions on stage.
“I was angry at the VA, I was angry at the military,” Nichols said. “The transition (to civilian life) is hard. I’m glad I came around.”
Today, Nichols feels a sense of pride in her service. She halfway jokes that she wouldn’t relive the experience over again, but she also wouldn’t change it. And she’s more than happy to shine a spotlight on female veterans.
“Most of the attention gets put on the guys,” she said.
Even in 2019, people are still unfamiliar with the role of women in the military, Nichols said. She recalls after one show, an audience member asked earnestly “When did women start to go into combat?” As part of a female-centric show — and as a mother — Nichols said she’s proud to set an example for young girls who have military aspirations.
“You can be the baddest soldier,” she said. “You can serve your country and be a mother. Women are stronger than men anyway.”
After “She Went to War” is performed in Washington, D.C., Nichols will reunite with her “Telling: Pensacola” castmates for two shows Nov. 10 and 11.
Nichols may have a newfound purpose on stage, but she says she doesn’t necessarily feel like an actor.
“I’d say performing artist. It’s my lines and my life. I’m not really acting, but performing.”