All is Calm, Theatre Latte Da’s moving musical look at the Christmas Truce of 1914, has gotten more than a face lift for its 2015 edition.
Vocal ensemble Cantus is off doing its own Christmas program, and has been replaced by a company of actor/singers. The program has been changed up as well, with more attention given to the events of the actual truce, when soldiers on both sides of the trenches in Flanders put down their guns to celebrate Christmas.
While the shift away from a chorus and actors to just a group of actors instigated the changes, All is Calm has evolved throughout its history. “When we first did it, I knew we would record it for radio. In radio, you have a 53-minute 'hour.' Part of my challenge was how to do it in 53 minutes,” says show creator and director Peter Rothstein. “In year two, I made changes to the script. It has been evolving ever since.”
In past years, Cantus has opened the program with several traditional carols ahead of the story. “Without a concert choir, that didn’t make sense. As a theater director, the point of entry for the evening is something I relish,” Rothstein says.
Also, the experience of presenting the piece in numerous places around North America helped Rothstein draw additional conclusions. “After doing a lot of post-show discussions, the questions started to more of the same,” Rothstein says.
The director spent time in Europe this past year doing additional research on the Truce. “The main expansion was in the Truce section. We expanded on the moment when it happened and what did they do together. There is quite a bit more text in that section," Rothstein says.
He also added a song in Flemish. “It’s set in Flanders and it always bothered me to not have a song in Flemish,” Rothstein says.
Even with the changes, the show’s considerable vocal challenges remain. “We needed expertise in a cappella singing. There are 38 songs and they do it without a piano or an orchestra behind them. When we did call backs, we brought them together in groups to make sure we had the right mix of voices,” Rothstein says.
Casting also looked closely at the acting chops. “The show has numerous dialects. Not just different languages, but different classes. We needed men with an ear for dialect, so they could do a German accent and then an Irish one and then sing in French,” Rothstein says. “I also wanted a diversity in ages. I wanted some older men, and we also know that a lot of men lied about their ages and were 14 or 15 when they went to fight.”
Even a century after the events, the Christmas Truce still resonates with audiences. “I think contemporary audiences feel powerless as to how frightening our world is now. There is gun violence and terrorism. There is a lot of courage in someone saying, ‘I want to live my life in peace rather than fear.”
That comes out in the central image of the Truce — of a single soldier putting down his rifle, stepping out into No Man’s Land, and inviting the enemy to do the same.
“I can’t imagine the courage it took to put down his gun and stand out in that field. It took thousands of them to deny their superior officers to do all of that,” Rothstein says. “Do you want to be led by peace? That takes a lot more courage than fear and hate.”
IF YOU GO
All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914
Wednesday through Sunday
710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 800-982-2787 or visit online.