Healing after tragedy
Mishelle Cuttler has the challenge of supervising the musical elements of The Events, which features a different community choir every show. (photo from Pi Theatre)
In 2011, while he was out with his son, who was then 12 years old, writer David Greig read the news that Anders Breivik had killed 77 people in Norway – eight using a car bomb in Oslo, which also injured more than 200 other people, and then traveling to the island of Utøya to a summer camp for teens, where he shot and killed another 69 and injured more than 100.
“My son saw I was very affected and, because he was wondering why, I began to try and tell him what the news was and its implications,” said Greif in an interview with BBC Writersroom. “He just kept repeating the question why? why? why? and I found the discussion quickly became very profound, about the nature of evil and whether it is ever possible to understand someone who shoots children for a political reason. I found trying to answer these questions became a compulsion I had to try and understand.”
The result was The Events, which came into being when Greig met producer Ramin Gray at the Edinburgh Fringe. Gray had been having similar thoughts, said Greig. “That meeting made me know it had to be a play.”
It’s a play that has been staged around the world, and presenting it in Vancouver are Pi Theatre and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. After every performance, there will be a post-show discussion and, after the Jan. 17 preview, Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan, director of inter-religious studies at Vancouver School of Theology, will speak about various aspects of the play.
While its initial questions came from the terrorist attack in Norway, The Events centres on Claire, a priest who works and lives in her community, including leading a community choir. When The Boy attacks that choir, Claire survives the shooting, setting her on a quest similar to Greig’s – and that of most of us, when such a horrific act is committed. She needs to know, why?
There are only two actors in the production. In Vancouver, Luisa Jojic will play Claire, while Douglas Ennenberg will play six characters opposite her, including The Boy, a grief counselor, the shooter’s father, a school friend of the shooter, Claire’s lover, and various others to whom Claire speaks in her effort to find understanding. A unique aspect of this play is that the choir is “played by” real community choirs, who have practised the music (score by John Browne), sing some songs from their own repertoire, and have some lines to read, but are not given the script.
Jewish community member Mishelle Cuttler has the challenge of being the musical supervisor and accompanist for the local show, which is directed by Richard Wolfe.
“The great thing about The Events is that the choirs are given ownership of the music,” Cuttler told the Independent. “We’ve provided each choir director with the material they need to learn, and my job is to facilitate their integration into the show each night…. I’ll be visiting each choir during their regular rehearsals and hearing how they’ve interpreted the music. I’ll talk them through how they will fit into the play, but they don’t ever see the full script. There will certainly be a lot of variables onstage each night, and that’s what makes this piece so exciting. The singers will be witnessing the show for the first time along with the audience.”
And the focus will be on the dialogue and music, without many other distractions.
“There will be a very small amount of recorded sound in the show,” said Cuttler, “but the majority of the aural experience will come from the singers, the actors and one upright piano.”
Pi Theatre has spent several months planning the logistics. “Essentially,” notes the press material, “more than 220 community members from 12 different choirs will participate over the show’s run.”
It also notes that, while Claire “struggles to understand the event that changed her life, we are asked to decide whether love and hope can survive in the wake of an inexplicable act of violence.”
The Events previews Jan. 17 and runs Tuesdays to Sundays until Jan. 28, with evening and matinée performances, at the Russian Hall, 600 Campbell Ave. Tickets ($31/$26) are available from pitheatre.com/the-events.