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Theatrical Production About WWI "Christmas Truce of 1914" at Walton Arts Center

The Walton Arts Center presents "All is Calm" by Peter Rothstein, performed by his Theater Latte Da company and Cantus Vocal Ensemble. KSMU's Randy Stewart spoke with Rothstein.

RANDY: Director and playwright Peter Rothstein, Artistic Director of Minneapolis-based Theater Latte Da, became fascinated with this story a number of years ago.  When the First World War broke out late in July 1914 with the Austro-Hungarian Empire's invasion of Serbia, troops on both sides of the conflict were promised by their commanders that they'd be home in time for Christmas.  As Rothstein says, disgruntlement set in when things didn't work out that way.

PETER ROTHSTEIN: As the weather turned and people were living in water up to their ankles or up to their knees, the soldiers began to feel more of a sense of simpatico with their enemy than they did with their commanding officers, feeling like they had been lied to.  More men were actually dying from influenza and from, just, trench conditions, than were dying from actual enemy combat in those firt months of the war.  Pope Benedict XV had actually called for the signing of a Christmas truce in November of 1914. And the German forces agreed to a truce over the Christmas holiday--but the Allied forces did not.  So there was definitely this sense that this truce was brewing--this fraternization was happening in towns, across "no-man's lands."  Those trenches got mighty close together--and as we know, in cold air sound travels. And so those cold winter nights, they began to hold impromptu "concerts" back and forth across no-man's land, singing songs to each other.  And music became this common language.

RANDY: What made you decide to depict this on stage?

PETER ROTHSTEIN: Well, I knew the story was very powerful, and for being such an extraordinary event it really has been denied access in most of our history books.  I grew up without knowing anything about the "Christmas Truce."

RANDY: Since the climax of the story--the lack of conflict--isn't inherently "theatrical," Peter Rothstein knew that if he adapted the story to the stage he'd have to find a less "conventional" way to tell it.  And that's when he spoke to representatives of Cantus, one of the world's premiere male vocal ensembles, about collaborating on the piece.  Eventually they got Minnesota Public Radio involved to produce a radio-drama version of the play, called "All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914." Theater Latte Da and Cantus have toured nationally with the show since about 2007, and they bring it to the stage of Baum Walker Hall at the Walton Arts Center, Thursday evening (11/30/2012) at 7:00.  Peter Rothstein spent a good deal of time researching the 1914 Christmas Truce in London, France, Belgium, and on the Western Front itself, and he realized the story could best be told docu-drama style, in the soldiers' own words.

PETER ROTHSTEIN: And so 95 percent of the show is all text pulled from war journals, diaries, official war documents, gravestone inscriptions, old radio broadcasts, as well as quite a bit of material pulled from the great World War One poets.  Every quote, every poem is cited by which soldier and which regiment they served in.  And we don't hear those names as, necessarily, "characters"--we aren't necessarily tracking character. But it was important for me that we said those names out loud, because I believe these men were heroic--and sadly, most of them neer ended up in history books for executing peace!

RANDY: Peter Rothstein, Artistic Director of Theater Latte Da, talking about "All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914," featuring the vocal ensemble Cantus, at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Thursday (Nov.30) at 7:00pm.  For ticket information visit www.waltonartscenter.org, or call (479) 443-5600.