Christmas is both an exciting time and a stressful time of the year. At the end of a particularly busy year, Barbara and I decided to just get out of town after Christmas. We looked at cruises, flying to see relatives on distant shores, and other options; we then decided on a whim to spend a week in Asheville, North Carolina – an eight-hour drive from our home base in Central Florida.
While looking for things to do while in Asheville, I looked online for shows in the local theaters – live musicals or other productions. Unfortunately, most theaters had shut down just before Christmas, and I was only able to find one show for the week after Christmas in all of Asheville.
The North Carolina Stage Company had extended its run of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914. Found in Downtown Asheville, the theater is a small equity theater with three banks of bleachers and a ground level stage. Entering the theater, we had no idea what to expect of the theater or the show. We were, in a word, delighted.
The theater provided a wonderful experience of being right up close to the stage – we had front-row tickets. However, the stage was set with eleven wooden stools, eleven music stands, and a white backdrop. Interesting. As the show opened on a darkened stage, eight men took their places, one at each stand, with the front three remaining empty. What followed was magical and inspiring.
So some background – in World War I, the German and Allied forces faced each other in what was called “trench warfare.” On one side, the German army; on the other, armies from England and France. Snipers, shrapnel bombs, grenades and outright infantry charges across “No Man’s Land” were common. Sixty-eight million men were called to fight on both sides, and nine million were killed, mostly in this line-to-line warfare. The trenches were rat-infested holes of disease and death, separated sometimes by not more than eighty yards, protected by dirt berms and rolls of barbed wire. Day after day, season after season, the fighting was deadlocked in the trenches.
The show opened with songs sung in the day, recruiting English men to become soldiers. The three vacant stands in front were then filled by three narrators, using the text from letters sent home by soldiers in the field, and identifying the authors by name and military unit. As things progressed, the narration showed that the thrill of going to war for the good of King and Country soon wore off, and the realities of trench warfare in Belgium soon set in.
On December 7, 1914, the Pope asked for a truce during the Christmas holiday, which was supported by the Germans, but refused by the English. Fighting continued up until Christmas eve, when German and English soldiers engaged in a different kind of warfare – who could sing the loudest Christmas carols. Then a lone unarmed German soldier climbed up on the parapet and sang a beautiful rendition of Silent Night; an English soldier then ventured out, unarmed, into No Man’s Land and met him. They shook hands, and before long both sides emptied out of their trenches to join each other in the celebration of Christmas. True story, although when the holiday was over, fighting
resumed for four more bloody years.
The soldiers involved were proud that they – on the lowest end of the military ranks – could do what the Pope could not; call a Christmas Truce in 1914.
This show was unlike anything we had seen in the theater – ever. Talking to one of the singers after the show, he said that it was nice to be able to tell a Christmas story that was true, but not one of the old worn-out favorites, and still told a tale of Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men. And it really happened.
Originally produced in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2007, All is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914 must be on your list of must-see productions when it comes to your town.
This particular production was supposed to close on December 23, but was extended an extra week due to the demand for tickets. We are sure glad that they did.
All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 was written by Peter Rothstein, with musical arrangement by Erik Lichte and Timothy Takach. Read more about it here and see more about the North Carolina Stage Company at http://www.ncstage.org/.