For those of us who remember September 11, 2001, our lives were immeasurably affected by those attacks. This was especially true for those in the Mid-Atlantic states where many lost love ones, were first responders, or were at the sites of the attacks. Many Americans from around the country were horrified and frightened by the reality that our country had been attacked on the mainland for the first time since the early 19th century. It’s hard to believe that it was more than twenty years ago and for many, the pictures, sadness, fear, and pain will always be in our minds and hearts.
That’s why plays like “The Team Room” are so important. They help recall that time and teach those who are too young to remember what happened and how it affected almost everyone. The play was written by Bill Raskin, and the plot revolves around his Special Forces A-Team at Camp Diamond, West Virginia. On September 10, the day before the attacks, they went about their daily duties and exercises. Then suddenly, the whole world was transformed.
The Team Room Foundation will be performing “The Team Room” at the Keegan Theatre, produced by Michael Hare and directed by Ray Ficca starting October 7, 2023.
Bill Raskin served as a career Army Special Forces officer, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel with 20 years on active duty. This included multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wide-ranging overseas deployments. Bill led and commanded special operators at every level from small teams to command of a Special Forces battalion and battalion level task force. He continues to consult to the national security community, and holds an MA in Security Studies and a BA in History from Georgetown University. In 2019, he published the novel “Cardiac Gap.” “The Team Room” is his first play. A native of Dallas, Texas, Bill now lives in Bethesda, Maryland with his loving wife, a college student (when he’s passing through), and an awesome dog. Together they pursue many adventures.
I read “The Team Room” is your first play. Did you have any special training in playwriting or theatre in general?
That’s a great question! The short answer is I’ve had no formal training in playwrighting or theatre. But I’ve benefited from more than two years of amazing apprenticeship and mentoring. And, really, it was the nature of the story that led me to the format of a play.
After retiring from Army Special Forces, I published my first novel, “Cardiac Gap,” in 2019. That near-future story followed some older, very experienced special operators who were grinding out in the ‘forever wars’ so to speak. Next, I aimed at a fictional short story anthology for “The Team Room.” It would cover my generation’s path in the Army; the end of the cold war and peacekeeping in the 1990s; and then the jarring shift of 9/11 and the wars that followed.
The more I worked on that early-career anthology, however, I kept wanting more than the written word. In special operations, each team really becomes an incubator. Place strong personalities together under equally strong leadership, and you get the full range of human experience: tough mission sets that demand high commitment and focus; young operators who are finding their way and need help; and occasional interpersonal conflict in such close quarters. I really wanted people to be able to experience the energy and camaraderie of being in such a room.
I asked my wonderful editor, Kathryn Johnson, what if we tackle this as a play? She was immediately game. We worked on drafts and published an initial version in 2021. Kathryn’s not in the theatre industry, so the next step was to find a stage/theatre mentor. That became Ray Ficca, our director. Ray has mentored me since 2021, and I know we’ll get to that in a later question!
9/11 impacted many people’s lives forever. How did it impact you directly?
It changed everything. I had actually left active duty in 2000, following ten years of service. My plan was to keep a reserve commission, enter graduate school, and pursue a civilian career. But by the end of the day on 9/11, it was very clear that any US response would be special-operations intensive. That’s a very small community, and many of my closest friends would surely be deploying on contingency operations. The training time on those skillsets are quite long, so they can’t just generate more operators from thin air.
I called friends that afternoon and said that if there was a need to be filled, I’d return immediately. Things were moving very fast. They had me back on active duty by September 18, as I recall. On October 11, I landed in a staging base in the Middle East. I joined a team that infiltrated into Afghanistan shortly after Thanksgiving 2001. In many ways, you could say much of the next ten years were a blur. I completed a twenty-year, active duty career, and retired in 2011.
What do you want your audiences to take away from your play?
From the previous question, I obviously had a very specific experience in regards to 9/11. But I did not want this to be an autobiography about that experience. Instead, the goal was to share a more universal story about the apprenticeship and growing up process as a special operator, and the incredibly tight bonds of comradeship and friendship that develop.
When we first meet the team on September 10, there’s a range of experience and maturity. The Team Sergeant is the only combat veteran. Some of his charges are snapped-in and performing their jobs efficiently. Some get distracted and he has to motivate them. A couple get too wrapped up in peer-rivalry and the Team Sergeant has to rein that in.
But then 9/11 happens and overnight we see why this community must have such deep and immersive training and preparation. They have essentially no time to prepare and deploy. These young, special operators quickly fall into their training, and know how to prepare and undertake these very complex tasks.
We last see the team the day they return from the Afghan invasion. Here, I hope, the audience gets a sense of two things. The first is the incredible confusion that dominates most combat engagements, and how challenging it can be to sort through what happened and why. The second take away is the tremendous, life-long bond that often develop among comrades who have entrusted their lives to each other.
Have you worked at all with the director, actors, or others involved in the production?
Yes! As we took the first version of the play to publication in 2021. My editor, Kathryn, said that was the end of how far she could guide the process. She charged that next I would need to find a mentor from the professional stage ranks.
Through a mutual college friend (who actually is now our producer, Michael Hare), I was reconnected with Ray Ficca. We had all graduated Georgetown in 1989, but I had not seen Ray since. Ray is a career stage professional, with many years acting professionally on Broadway. In later years, he returned to DC. Ray is President of The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, and he continues to both act and direct.
We met in spring 2021 after Ray had read the script. Within about five minutes, I knew I’d found the mentor I wanted to work with and learn from. Ray said he found the story fresh and compelling and over the next 90 minutes, he walked through a very detailed description of the kind of work it would take to revise the script for production. In Ray, I sensed a passion for honoring the authenticity and truth in a story; someone with a rock-solid knowledge of the craft; and a positive motivational style that would carry through the hard work of revision and production. All these things have proven true and then some.
Over the past two years, Ray has led us through a series of “rinse and repeat” phases. We’ve brought in professional actors to perform readings; hot-washed with them where the script was working and where it needed to tighten; and then sent back to me for revision. Late last winter was when he said, ‘this is the version we’re taking to stage.’
Yes, two of the actors in the cast have been with us through this entire process. Ricardo Frederick Evans will play “Jose,” the second in seniority on the Special Forces team we meet. Frances Bagette will play “Julian Burke,” a curb-side reporter at the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. All of the early-reading actors were wonderful and gave so much to inform the script revisions. It’s really special to see Ricardo and Frances continue onto stage for the production.
Will you be writing any more novels or plays? If so, will they also be about your time in the military?
I believe that my next work will be non-fiction narrative focused on a 20th century military campaign. There are so many rich and largely untapped stories in the non-fiction realm. It’s what’s calling me for the next project.
However, something says I’ll return to fiction at some point and to writing for stage. Fiction gives the freedom to really seek a through-line truth. What I’ve experienced the past two years has hands-down made me happy that “The Team Room” became a play. Actors can draw us into a story with a power that’s hard to match anywhere else.
“The Team Room” will be playing October 7-28, 2023 at The Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. For tickets, go online. For more information on the Team Room Foundation, go to their website. As part of their 501 C- 3 charter, all net proceeds will benefit the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
Maryland Theatre Guide would like to take this time to thank Bill Raskin for his service.