On Christmas 1914, somewhere between Germany and France, one of the most brutal scenes in human history gave way to one of it’s most inspiring. Late on Christmas Eve, the guns stoped. Out of the silence came a song. The soldiers stepped into no man’s land singing Silent Night.
“I studied World War One in high school and college, but I don’t remember reading about the Christmas truce in any of my textbooks,” says Peter Rothstein, show creator and director. “Thousands of men put down their guns and left their trenches to meet their enemies.”
All is Calm is a chance to experience this legendary true story for oneself as it comes to the Flato Markham Theatre on Nov. 29.
“The heroes of this story are not the generals, the battle strategists, the kings and queens, the stuff of bibliographies and history books,” says Rothstien. “The heroes of this story are the lowest ranks of the armies: the young, the hungry, the cold and the optimistic.”
This re-telling of the unlikely and short-lived armistice that happened during the first months of World War One is a reminder that, despite humanity’s worst, we’re capable of much, much more.
While the guns were silent that night the soldiers met between their trenches. For a few hours they sang together, they celebrated together and they even shared tears together. They sang songs, buried their dead and even engaged in a soccer match before finally singing Auld Lang Syne and heading back to the trenches.
Much of the script is derived from the real-life remembrances of the men from both sides of the front who lived through the truce. One character declares his astonishment and disbelief, despite having taken part in it.
“I wanted to tell the story in their own words,” says Rothstien. “I created the drama by stringing together letters, war documents, autobiographies, World War One poetry, gravestone inscriptions, even an old radio broadcast. For decades, the truce was considered a romantic fable – fiction – and I wanted to give legitimate voice to this remarkable moment that had somehow been denied its rightful place in history. I cannot express how gratifying it has been to share the story of these heroic men, in their own words, across the country and around the globe.”
The show is anchored by three actors portraying soldiers supported by a larger vocal ensemble. The music ranges from trench songs to patriotic and sentimental tunes, as well as Christmas music from the various countries. From war songs like Pack up Your Troubles and Deutschland Af to standards from the era like Keep The Home Fires Burning and Christmas classics, the music adds texture and context to the story.
“Two years ago I attended a Cantus Christmas concert,” says Rothstien. “I was struck by their remarkable sound. I approached Cantus artistic director Erick Lichte about collaborating on a piece about the Christmas truce. He immediately said yes and our work began.”
The show is staged simply, just wooden crates and risers set against a simulated night sky. According to Rothstien, it’s in order to keep the focus on the humanity of performers for its entire 70 minute running time.
“Their story puts a human face on war, and that’s the story we hope to tell,” he says. “May we do their story justice.”
All is Calm runs at the Flato Markham Theatre on Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 905-305-7469 or online here.