SmallWaR Creator’s Notes

Valentijn Dhaenens, the creator and performer of 2016’s hit BigMouth, returns to the York Theatre stage with his new work, SmallWaR. Read on to discover the inspiration behind the companion piece to a show The Georgia Straight called “a mind-blowing celebration of the power of the human voice.”

BigMoutH (pictured above) was a smash hit of The Cultch’s 2015/16 Season

Photo by Inge Lauwers

SmallWaR Creator’s Notes by Valentijn Dhaenens

The idea for SmallWaR was born while touring BigMouth. I soon felt the urge to make a companion piece dealing with the reverse side of those historical speeches. In contrast to BigMouth’s sensational speeches, dynamic rhythm and mankind trying to be God, SmallWaR is about the small victims, the paralyzing standstill, and the trauma of being stuck in the mud. I grew up in the area of Flanders Fields in the early 1980’s and remember playing on those impressive Canadian, Australian, and British cemeteries. Once in a while, schoolmates living on farms would still find bomb-shells while playing on the ploughed fields of their family. I’ve always been fascinated by the First World War as a symbol for war in general. It was the first industrialized war – war as we still know it today. Tanks were invented, air bombing played a new crucial role, lung-hitting gas introduced first weapons of mass destruction and the ripped apart victims of it all allowed surgeons to experiment with the first plastic surgery.

SmallWaR became the necessary sequel to BigMouth. More than 80% of the speeches in BigMouth are directly or indirectly linked to events that led to war. Nevertheless, they’re speeches with wonderful words, where heroism is emphasized. Leaders try to convince the masses to go to war, then they praise the ones who died and pretend to be grieving with their families. While performing BigMouth, I felt more and more obliged to show the other side. There are millions of people who suffered the consequences of what was being said in those speeches. I felt the urge to tell these stories.

Photo by Inge Lauwers

The First World War proved to be the perfect backdrop to tell these stories. Not only because of the 14-18 commemorations. The First World War was the mother of all modern wars. It was the first time that killing had been industrialized. Modern warfare took shape back then and has barely changed since. And to me, after months of reading on the subject it seemed the most useless and meaningless of all wars. Its cause was preposterous – as if the world just felt like fighting. What most struck me in lots of soldier’s diaries was the difference between the sheer excitement and optimism about entering the war and then not much later the total horror of being stuck in the muddy trenches, fearing to die.

There has been so much literature, movies, poetry, and documentaries on the topic of war. As a theatre-maker, I felt compelled to explore the strongholds and laws of this medium in contrast to the other arts. Rather than depicting battle or reconstructing history, I found an opportunity to make an emotional reflection on the trauma and the repetitiveness of war, concentrating on the deadlock instead of the action. To whisper in fear as not to scream for blood.

SmallWaR runs at the York Theatre from November 6th-11th as part of The Ceasefire Series, an exploration of war to commemorate the 100th anniversary of WWI. To learn more about The Ceasefire Series and to get your tickets to SmallWaR click here.

SmallWaR image credit Daily Dolores


SmallWaR runs Nov 6-11 at the York Theatre. Book tickets online or by phone by calling The Cultch Box Office at 604.251.1363.