When you think of Adam Driver, you likely associate him with his performances as the hot-headed villain Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens or as the aloof Adam Sackler from HBO’s comedy-drama series Girls. But Driver is also making news for a passion project he’s been committed to for the past six years: he’s the co-founder of a nonprofit called Arts in the Armed Forces that brings theater to both the active duty and veteran members of the United States Armed Forces.

What’s inspiring him to honor and entertain the members of the military? Before Driver’s success in the entertainment industry, he was a Marine with the 1/1 Weapons Company at Camp Pendleton, California. He felt compelled to join after the attacks on September 11, 2001, and soon grew to love the Marine Corps. “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of having done in my life,” he said in a recent Ted Talk. “But I found I loved the Marine Corps the most for the thing I was looking for the least when I joined, which was the people: these weird dudes–a motley crew of characters from a cross section of the United States–that on the surface I had nothing in common with. And over time…the Marine Corps became synonymous with my friends.”

As fate would have it, Driver dislocated his sternum in a mountain-biking accident shortly before being deployed to Iraq. In turn, the injury rendered him unfit to serve, which he found devastating.

Once again a civilian, Driver tried to find direction in his life by pursuing acting. He’d caught the acting bug while in high school, and now was accepted to Juilliard. However, Driver experienced difficulty with the transition; he missed the sense community, loyalty and purpose he felt in the military. But at the same time, he says he discovered a whole new world of expression that he found deeply moving. “I was really, for the first time, discovering playwrights and characters and plays that had nothing to do with the military, but were somehow describing my military experience in a way that before to me was indescribable. And I felt myself becoming less aggressive as I was able to put words to feelings for the first time and realizing what a valuable tool that was,” he stated.

Over time, Driver came to see the theater and military communities as having a lot in common, asserting, “You have a group of people trying to accomplish a mission greater than themselves; it’s not about you. You have a role, you have to know your role within that team. Every team has a leader or director; sometimes they’re smart, sometimes they’re not. you’re forced to be intimate with complete strangers in a short amount of time; the self-discipline, the self-maintenance.” In turn, he wanted to bring these two “seemingly dissimilar communities” together. So, he started Arts in the Armed Forces with the goal of selecting plays and monologues from contemporary American plays to be performed by theater actors, meanwhile keeping production value to a minimum. Driver now feels a tremendous satisfaction in knowing he’s indeed able to be of service to those in the Armed Forces. “It’s a powerful thing, getting in a room with complete strangers and reminding ourselves of our humanity, and that self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder…And I can think of no better community to arm with a new means of self-expression than those protecting our country,” he said.

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