NEWBURYPORT — A city native has found himself at the center of a living history of World War I.
The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission has been working to produce projects and activities commemorating the Great War’s centennial anniversary ever since it was created by an act of Congress in 2013.
Sculptor Sabin Howard, who has a studio in the Bronx, New York, has been commissioned to create Washington, D.C.’s first World War II memorial. He has been using a first-of-its-kind, 160-camera “photogrammetry” rig to do so.
Howard has been working along with roughly 35 actors who are portraying Word War I soldiers for the project and Newburyport native Paul Emile Cendron is one of those doughboys.
“The World War I Commission chose (Howard’s) design which was something that I modeled for along with some other actors,” Cendron said. “We would go to his studio and put on these World War I uniforms. We had guns or we had sticks which stood in for guns. Sabin would take around 1,000 pictures with his iPhone and he would send them to someone who did Photoshop.”
Cendron said he has spent much of the past four years working with Sabin and his fellow actors to portray the story of a soldier’s journey through World War I as he leaves his family for the battlefront, his battles and eventual return home.
“I’m not sure you can say I was playing any one particular character but I’m playing a soldier’s journey,” Cendron said. “It’s a soldier leaving and coming home and what happens in the middle as well.”
Cendron said his face and body have been used to create 10 different characters and he expects audiences to see his face “six or seven times.”
“It was basically Photoshop, and iPhone and hours and hours of posing,” he said.
Cendron grew up in Newburyport and graduated from Newburyport High School in 2009. The 28-year-old also spent the summers of his youth learning his craft at Theatre in the Open and has appeared on TV and in films such as “I Love You... But I Lied” and “The Juror.”
As a professional actor, Cendron said he spent many hours researching World War I history to help him get into his doughboy role.
“It is impossible to ignore the fact that 130,000 American soldiers died fighting this war in France and there is nothing to commemorate that in DC,” he said. “When you think about the number of men who were lost in Vietnam (58,200 Americans), it is dwarfed by the numbers in World War I. It’s hard to imagine such a war taking place today.”
Cendron added that he feels a “tremendous responsibility” in portraying soldiers from the World War I era.
“It’s really unfathomable today the amount of people who died in that war,” Cendron said. “I am overwhelmed by being a part of this project and I hope I can do my little bit to help people become inspired to learn about the history.”
Cendron said he expects to continue working on the project over the next three to five years but is currently focusing on his upcoming role as the groom in his own wedding in June.
“My life is moving fast,” he said.
Jim Sullivan may be at 978-961-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.