Local playwright Andrew Kooman’s highly-anticipated play, We Are the Body, will be making its world premiere in the City May 5th.
Performances continue through to May 9th at the Scott Block Theatre, with several more planned for Calgary and Saskatoon. Performances are 7:30 p.m. nightly with 2 p.m. matinees.
Tickets are on sale for $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Tickets are also available online at www.burntthicket.com.
We Are the Body explores the lives of three prisoners of conscience in communist Europe in the 1950s. Kooman, who also wrote the acclaimed play She Has A Name, said he was inspired by two incredibly powerful stories as the idea for the play surfaced – Brother Andrew’s harrowing recollections of delivering Bibles into communist countries in the height of the Cold War and Richard Wurmbrand’s experiences of being imprisoned for his Christian faith, as recounted in his book Tortured for Christ and other writings.
In We Are the Body, the story focuses on three prisoners – each in solitary confinement – behind the Iron Curtain of post-war Romania. Elsie’s (Heather Pattengale) only companions are two other tortured prisoners Richard (Tim Bratton) and Micah (John McIver) who she cannot speak to or see in person.
In bringing the production to the stage, Kooman has teamed up with Calgary’s Burnt Thicket Theatre and Stephen Waldschmidt, who also directed the mesmerizing She Has A Name. “I stumbled on Brother Andrew’s writings again – We Are the Body is influenced by the work of Brother Andrew who risked his life to smuggle contraband Bibles to people behind the Iron Curtain.
“As I was reading about his completely fascinating story, which has inspired generations, I also came across sermons by Richard Wurmbrand which he constructed, tapping them out in Morse Code and memorizing them in his solitary confinement while he was behind the Iron Curtain as well. He had a brutal 13-year imprisonment, and for some of it he was tortured almost everyday.
“Though they had experienced different risks in this volatile political climate in eastern Europe after World War II, they both shared these same convictions and defied tyrannical regimes. So I imagined a story of someone who has no access to the literature that they want, feels that they need yet it’s illegal to have it.”
As said, the story focuses on Elsie who is on the receiving end of the contraband literature and ends up in jail. “It asks that question to what extent can people hold onto what they believe, and why do they hold onto it? So there’s a universal theme here of what do we believe and why do we believe it, and how strongly will we stand behind what we believe especially when the powers that be try to knock us off our feet?”
Elsie, Richard and Micah secretly tap out messages to each other in Morse code. These sounds trigger memories so the past and present collide in heart-wrenching and occasionally humorous ways.
As the synopsis point out, the communication between Elsie, Richard and Micah become a survival strategy as they cling to the hope of escape or release. “It’s a survival mechanism for them, but then the sounds trigger memories that bring them into their pasts, which gives the back story of how they got there.”
For Elsie, Richard and Micah, the choice presented to them by their captors is to turn in their friends, give up names and betray people they love in order to end their suffering. But in order to enjoy freedom they must imagine a life without their faith.
“I’m fascinated by that time and I think that what’s interesting is how I realized how universal the story is,” said Kooman. “I also see how there is so much religious persecution around the world – I’m seeing it everyday in the news. So it’s actually a really relevant story.
“What is the nature of suffering when people believe in something, and hold onto that belief?”
As for teaming up with Waldschmidt again, Kooman couldn’t be more pleased.
“He’s such a creative visionary,” he said. “The creative team he’s helped to bring together, and his vision, are really exciting. I really trust him with the work that I write, and that gives me such confidence to hand it over to someone like him because he really understands my sensibility. He can bring to life the things that I put down on the page in a way that, I think, has really enlivened my vision.”
Waldschmidt calls the story one of, “High stakes as the characters come to terms with their confinement and wrestle with how they became imprisoned in the first place: for defying a brutal government regime.
“I believe the play will resonate deeply with audiences, especially given the daily headlines about people globally who are facing extreme brutality because they belong to a specific faith or adhere to a marginalized worldview.”
Meanwhile, plans for a feature film interpretation of She Has a Name are in the works. Kooman is holding meetings with producers and consultants from the UK and Los Angeles. “It’s picking up heat and momentum. We still have some money to raise, but our aim is to film in September overseas.”
Check out www.burntthicket.com or www.andrewkooman.com.