by Leah Siegel
VANCOUVER – It’s almost amusing – in a sad, quaint sort of way – how H.G. Wells once called the First World War “the war to end war.” The conflict that spanned from 1914 until 1918 is often overlooked in favour of its flashier successor, a world war better suited to Hollywood’s cinematic tastes. However, Heather Redfern, Executive Director of the Cultch, knew as early as 2015 that she wanted to do something to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Armistice.
“It feels so much like we’re in a place in the world right now where we’re seeing the same kind of oligarchism, you know, grandiose kinds of dictators and despots –including in the United States,” she says over the phone. The parallels between now and then inspired her to launch the upcoming Ceasefire Series, a set of three plays focused on three different wars.
The series opens with The Believers Are But Brothers, a “claustrophobic” (as Redfern puts it) portrayal of modern warfare where the fighting takes place in the trenches of Facebook and Twitter. The play takes a close look at young men in particular, and their inclination to extremism when feelings of powerlessness intersect with a sense of entitlement.
“I think there’s a bold statement to be made by putting that in a war series,” Redfern says. “The internet is a tool of war now. You know, war has gone beyond being about dropping bombs on people.”
From there, we time travel back a hundred years to a field hospital. Despite its historic setting, SmallWaR, like The Believers, relies heavily on technology. Through use of holograms, performer Valentijn Dhaenens embodies several different characters – a wounded soldier, for instance, and a nurse – dealing with the trauma of war. “It’s a testament to the ordinary,” states Redfern. No focus on aristocracy here, nor glorious tales of battle between good and evil.
The series ends with Three Winters, a new piece commissioned by the Cultch and based upon the experiences of writer-director Amiel Gladstone’s grandfather in a Japanese POW camp. As a means of survival, soldiers (all played by female actors) turn to Shakespeare. “It’s not at all like your usual war story,” Redfern says. It’s “about the redemption soldiers found in that camp by doing theatre and making plays together.”
For Redfern, this redemption is what makes theatre in particular so crucial.
“It is so important to learn from history,” she says, “and one of the things we can do as a performing arts organization is tell the stories of the past so that people don’t have to keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again.” With a laugh, she admits, “It’s trying to do a lot with three shows.”
Ceasefire runs from October 30-November 17 at the Cultch.ceasefire, The Cultch, world war one