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Artists Series presents 'All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914'

| Denise Olson

The Artists Series at UW-Eau Claire will present Peter Rothstein’s "All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914" at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 26 in Schofield Auditorium.

The musical play depicts an extraordinary event during World War I — a day that brought out the best of humanity in the worst of times.

Written and directed by Rothstein, and featuring the acting talents of his Minneapolis-based Theatre Latté Da, the Cantus ensemble and the musical direction of Erick Lichte, “All is Calm” details the real-life Christmas Eve truce between Allied and German troops along the Western front in 1914. This unofficial and highly illicit truce began spontaneously and spread to include what is estimated to have been thousands of troops at various points along the front, lasting through the night and into Christmas Day.

WWI soldier during Christmas Eve Truce of 1914, holding packages, gifts

Photo credit: Imperial War Museum, London.

The story is brought to life by a cast of 10, and blends iconic World War I patriotic tunes, trench songs, medieval ballads and Christmas carols from England, Wales, France, Belgium and Germany, with text woven from letters, autobiographies, poetry, gravestone inscriptions and an old radio broadcast.

Rothstein chose to employ a Ken Burns-like approach to sharing this story, taking advantage of historical artifacts to supply the text.

“I am interested in creating performances where the content dictates the form. In the creative process I continually to ask myself how the characters would tell their story, if they could. What language, what tools were available to them?” Rothstein has said.

The obvious choice was radio, a key operational tool of the war, and a mainstay of mass communication and entertainment of the day. The story became a radio drama, bouncing between musical arrangements and vignettes of deeply personal accounts of the experience. 

One eye-witness account, from a Saxon soldier named Johannes Niemann who was interviewed in the 1960’s, describes the most iconic scene of the event.

WWI Christmas Eve Truce statue at Mesen, Belgium

World War I Christmas Eve Truce statue at Mesen, Belgium.

“Looking cautiously over the parapet I saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy. Later, a Scottish soldier appeared with a football which seemed to come from nowhere, and later a real football match got underway,” Niemann recounted.

“All is Calm” has earned ongoing critical acclaim, performing sold-out shows for over a decade. Rothstein’s choice to let these soldiers’ writings and recordings tell the story in their own words is one that resonates in profound and lasting ways.

Graydon Rice of the Minneapolis Star Tribune called the show a “holiday balm ... destined to become timeless. Without an ornament or a shred of red drapery anywhere on its stark set, 'All is Calm' has no peer in the Christmas theatrical sweepstakes, in terms of celebrating the possibility of peace on earth, goodwill to all.”

Peter Rothstein, a graduate of St. John's University and UW-Madison, has earned many awards for his work, including multiple Minnesota Artist of the Year awards, Ivy awards, and grants and fellowships from the National Endowments for the Arts. He currently serves on the board of directors for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre and the steering committee for the Minnesota Theater Alliance.


TICKETS

All seats are general admission

Tickets available at the Service Center and at the door.

Visit the Service Center in Davies Center’s east lobby
Call 715-836-INFO [4636] or 800-949-UWEC [8932]

$17  General Public
$15 UW System Faculty/Staff • Age 62 & Over
$7  UW System Student • Age 17 & Under
Student tickets are $3.50 until the day of the show
*Programs are subject to change