In 1914 during World War I, a series of unofficial ceasefires broke out along the Western Front, as soldiers on all sides of the conflict put down their weapons for Christmas. Fighters from warring countries walked into the no man’s land between the lines. They greeted each other, shook hands, talked and even played soccer.
This historical event is the subject of a musical, “All Is Calm,” which the Modern Theater is staging for the third straight holiday season. Its 10-man cast tells the story of the Christmas truce through real letters written by soldiers from the front line, and through songs performed a cappella.
Abbey Crawford, the Modern’s resident director, again is helming the show, which opened Friday at the Spokane theater. In an email interview, she talks about the challenges presented in staging a now annual production, and what she hopes audiences take away from their night at the theater.
Q: This is the third year the Modern has staged “All Is Calm.” What are the difficulties in revisiting a work on an annual basis?
A: The biggest challenge, I think, are the different stages we’ve been on. First year we were out at the Modern Coeur d’Alene, second year at The Bing and this year on the thrust stage at the Modern Spokane. Staging it, so it feels honest, and still being able to create the beautiful pictures year after year.
Q: Who is new in the cast this year and who is returning?
A: We have four new men this year: Jonah Taylor, Chris Jensen, Mitch Heid and David Kappus. Returning: Zack Baker (who is also music director for all three years), Terrance MacMullen, Nick Bailey, Jim Swoboda, Brendan Brady, Dan Bell.
Q: As a director, do you learn things each year that you’re then able to incorporate the following year?
A: It’s a continual learning experience. I think about it all year long. How the men in the trenches dealt with the day-to-day life of war, the relationships they created, not just with their own troops, but also with their enemies during the truce. I’ve read many books, research and have taken much of that into the shows with me.
Q: What is it about this show that makes it one worth revisiting every year?
A: This show moves me more than any other I’ve worked on. The dialogue is from the men who were actually there. It feels as if we are reaching across the generations and promising to keep the story alive. This show is as relevant today as it was 102 years ago. It speaks to the actual goodwill of man, and I think that is the most important point of the show; especially with where our current world affairs have brought us.
Q: What do you hope audiences get out of the performance?
A: I hope the audiences walk away being moved by the courage it took from these men to create this truce. They chose to lay down arms, against the orders of the hierarchy, to create a safe place for enemies to become brothers for one night. They chose love over hate, and I want the audiences to know how it is possible to create that, even though it may seem impossible.
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