A time for Remembrance: Theatre as a means for survival

A time for Remembrance: Theatre as a means for survival

This month, The Cultch is presenting the Ceasefire Series: an exploration of war to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice of WWI. The series features three unique shows that explore the causes, effects, and traumas of war from different lenses; one taking place during WWI (SmallWaR), one taking place during WWII (Three Winters), and one taking place in contemporary times (The Believers Are But Brothers). We hope you will come and enjoy all three!

As part of our Ceasefire Series we are please to present the world premiere of Amiel Gladstone’s Three Winters. Three Winters is a highly theatrical case for the creation of art as a means to survive, inspired by the experiences of Amiel Gladstone’s grandfathers who was a prisoner in Stalag Luft III POW camp—made famous by 1963 film The Great Escape. One of the ways the men in the POW camp survived was by making theatre.

“If it weren’t for their ability to make theatre, my Grandpa said he would have died in those WWII POW camps. This play is about that reality, told with immediacy and connection.” — Amiel Gladstone

Though not commonly known, theatre was one of several ways that men in the trenches, and men in POW camps kept themselves occupied during war. Early this year, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK) exhibited Lagertheater  an exhibition about theatre in concentration camps and POW camps, about which they say: “The assembled documentation reveals how difficult it was – in spite of the radical methods of extermination used – to extinguish the prisoners’ sense of their inner worth, which they expressed through the creative act.”

Amiel Gladstone’s play, Three Winters, has an all-female cast as a way of re-contextualizing this tale of war. “I became very interested in how much of a statement that was about why we make art and its importance…I got interested in how it was all men acting in those places and decided to reverse it to a cast of all young women. They aren’t used to playing war heroes anymore than my 22 year-old grandfather was in his POW situation,” says Gladstone.

Cross dressing was common in prisoner of war camps as well as in theatre for soldiers at the front. Some men became famous for their female impersonations, as shown in these archival photos images:

The idea of theatre as a means for survival is alive and well today. Theatre has used in many therapeutic ways from Drama Therapy, to helping Veterans who are suffering from PTSD, to theatre in refugee camps.

The cast of Three Winters…performing as men performing theatre in a POW camp! Photo by Emily Cooper


Three Winters runs Nov 7-17 at the Historic Theatre. Book tickets online or by phone by calling The Cultch Box Office at 604.251.1363. See all three Ceasefire Series shows for as low as $65 with The Cultch’s Choose 3 Subscription package.

A time for Remembrance: Three Winters captures the defiance of the human spirit

A time for Remembrance: Three Winters captures the defiance of the human spirit

Louise Chapman, Cultch Development Associate

This November The Cultch is presenting the Ceasefire Series: an exploration of war to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice of WWI. The series features three unique shows that explore the causes, effects, and traumas of war from different lenses; one taking place during WWI (SmallWaR), one taking place during WWII (Three Winters), and one taking place in contemporary times (The Believers Are But Brothers). We hope you will come and enjoy all three!

Our Development Associate, Louise Chapman, had the opportunity to hear the early read through of Three Winters. She responded by writing this post.

After seeing any of the shows in this series, if you would like to share your reflections, memories, or stories, please email us at outreach@thecultch.com


 

Playwright, Amiel Gladstone revisits the site of his Grandfather’s internment

Part of the Ceasefire Series, Three Winters is a based on the true-life experiences of Playwright and Director Amiel Gladstone’s Grandfather in Stalag Luft III, a World War Two Prisoner of War (POW) Camp. Stalag Luft has become one of the most infamous POW camps of the war, mostly due to the escapes engineered by the Canadian, US and British soldiers held there.

Three Winters is set against the backdrop of the famous escape, but the real focus is the plays that the soldiers perform in the camp. Men in Stalag Luft were sent plays by the Red Cross which they staged in the camp, providing a creative space to escape to during the long months of incarceration.

The 1963 film with Steve McQueen immortalized the escape efforts of the prisoners in Stalag Luft III

 

I’m from the UK and growing up, every Christmas I would sit down with my Grandpa and watch the The Great Escape, an iconic 1960s movie based on the Stalag Luft story. We’d laugh at the jokes, whoop at Steve Mcqueen’s motorbike stunts, and hum the theme song for days afterwards.

My Grandpa was in his early twenties when World War Two started. He lost his best friend, watched his city turn to rubble in the Blitz, and experienced the brutality of the army. Like many people who have experienced war, he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and had nightmares into his nineties. Yet he found humour in the darkest of memories and would wistfully recall dances, dates with barmaids in towns he was stationed in, and one boozy night when he slept through a bomb blowing the roof off the house was staying in.

I’ve found this same humour in other people of my Grandpa’s generation. My friend Helma, now in her nineties, lost both her brother’s in the conflict. She still cries with laughter when telling stories of how, in occupied Holland, she would win local potato peeling competitions. Even friends who lived through the more recent Gulf War in Kuwait will share hilarious anecdotes of people escaping whilst hidden in boxes of underwear drenched in pungent fish sauce.

The characters in Three Winters, performed by an all-female cast, have the golden glow of youth that tinged my own Grandpa’s memories. They banter, they joke, they dream of the future and their sweethearts back home. In a world where millions are suffering and dying and their own fates are so uncertain, they explore morality and humanity in the form of theatre. Three Winters captures this defiance – to laugh and dream and live in the face of hopelessness.


Three Winters runs Nov 7-17 at the Historic Theatre. Book tickets online or by phone by calling The Cultch Box Office at 604.251.1363. See all three Ceasefire Series shows for as low as $65 with The Cultch’s Choose 3 Subscription package.

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.