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Nashville Actors, Robert Kiefer and Carol Ponder, Perform ‘My Father’s War’ to Central Students

Jacob Johns

ROBERT KIEFER AND CAROL PONDER PERFORM TO CENTRAL STUDENTS -- Ponder (left) and Kiefer (right) perform 'My Father's War' at Harrison Elementary.

Zeena Whayeb, Chattanooga Central High School

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Students at Central High School were treated by Carol Ponder and Robert Kiefer’s performance of My Father’s War. On February 16, the actors performed their play in front of nearly 120 high school students in Harrison Elementary’s auditorium.

My Father’s War is based on the story of Carol Ponder’s late father, Lt. Herschel Ponder, who joined the Army Air Corps after the incident at Pearl Harbor in 1941. After four decades of silence about the war, Mr. Ponder finally opens up about his war wounds through writing. The play conveys to the audience what it is like to be in combat from excerpts of Mr. Ponder’s memoir, Ponder Anew, What the Almighty Can Do.

Sally White, the Central Theater Arts and English 10 teacher, applied to Tennessee Arts Commission for a grant of $2,000 before the 2016-2017 school year even started. She got confirmation for the grant after the first week of school and invited her theater friends from Nashville, Tennessee, Carol Ponder and Robert Kiefer, to her theater and honors English classes.

White has some history with the two actors. Kiefer gave White her very first paid acting job, and Ponder was an actress who had coached Ms. White in the past; both performers have been acting for more than 50 years. They met in college and have been together for 39 years.

They shared the difficulties of performing My Father’s War to the students.

“We have performed this play more than 150 times. So the hard thing is, how do I make it new every time?” shared Mr. Kiefer.

The one-hour play was performed to Theater Arts, Honors U.S. History and Honors English 10 students. Before and after the performance, Ponder and Kiefer came to White’s theater and her honor English class and helped the students with script writing by using parts of Mr. Ponder’s memoir. The two actors shared tips about acting including the usage of stage directions, emotion, and character personalities.

“Becoming somebody else and engaging with the audience by learning to become completely vulnerable is the best part of acting,” explained Ms. Ponder.

They also gave advice to students who are thinking of pursuing a career in acting.

“Make sure you have other ways to make money. If you can think of anything else that makes you happy, do it,” they both stated.

White and many of her students were excited about their visit and performance.

“I loved the play. The way they performed it made the audience feel more connected to it,” commented Edicklee Frias Cruz, a sophomore at Central.

Ms. Ponder and Mr. Kiefer were excited to meet the students and were more than happy to perform their play.
“We came to engage hearts and minds and make you feel what it means to be human,” stated Ms. Ponder.

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