BELFAST, Maine — Veterans Day will be marked next week in Belfast with traditional activities including a parade and the awarding of prizes for a student patriotic essay contest.
But there will also be something a little out of the ordinary: A concert performance of “FOCUS,” a new rock opera centered on the Vietnam War that will be held at the American Legion Post No. 43.
Mark Power of Knox, the writer and director of the show, said that it’s based on true stories of the draft lottery, the veterans who fought in the war and the people at home waiting for them.
“It gets real,” he said. “We do songs about veterans and their experiences.”
The West Coast native moved to Maine recently with his wife, Kathleen Power, who is originally from Waldo County. He has written several other original musicals, most of which were for kids, with Todd Dunnigan, a Boise, Idaho-based musician and producer who has toured with performers that include Smokey Robinson and the Moody Blues.
Power and Dunnigan worked together again for “FOCUS,” the first show by their new production company, Opera That Rocks. Power got the idea for the plot when he joined a band in Bainbridge Island, Washington, and one of his new bandmates started telling him stories about the Vietnam era.
“The story was that they had this band. They were very young, and becoming stars. They toured with the Doors,” Power said.
But just before the band was due to start a tour with Paul Revere & the Raiders, their upward trajectory was interrupted by the Dec. 1, 1969, draft lottery, the first national draft lottery since World War II. Capsules containing birth dates, 366 of them, were placed in a glass container and drawn by hand to assign a lottery number to all American men between ages 18 and 26. Those with a low lottery number would be called up first.
One of the members of the band — the brother of the musician Power met — had a very low number and went to Vietnam.
As the friend told him stories, Power began writing songs, starting with one called “The Lottery.” About 30 of those songs have become the backbone of the musical about a band facing war.
“You get to see their ups and downs,” Power said. “Their story kind of drives it, and there are side stories, too. Somebody dies. Somebody gets drafted. Somebody gets severely injured in Vietnam. The music drives it along as an opera would.”
Power, Dunnigan and a large cast and crew staged the premiere of “FOCUS” this summer at the Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Idaho. But next week, a much smaller core group will put on two pared-down performances of the show in Waldo County.
“This one’s the concert version,” Power said. “We don’t have any kind of name or following out here, but this is where I live, and this is where I wanted to do it.”
A matinee of “FOCUS,” which includes a question-and-answer session with several local veterans, will begin at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Fair Haven Camps in Brooks. Tickets will be $10 for kids under 18 and $12 for others. The second show begins at 7 p.m. Thursday at Belfast American Legion Post No. 43 on Church Street in Belfast. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Veterans can attend for free, and some of the proceeds will go toward the Ride to the Wall Foundation, which assists homeless and at-risk veterans.