“You’re a ball of energy!”
It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday, and Pi Theatre’s artistic director Richard Wolfe can’t help but notice that actor Douglas Ennenberg hasn’t just entered the rehearsal space, but has begun practically bouncing around it. It’s a marked contrast to the more sober tone of the play they’re working on, but both he and his costar, Luisa Jojic, have to take their escapist joy where they can find it right now. They’ll soon be performing in Pi Theatre and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival’s presentation of David Greig’s The Events, which was inspired by the 2011 mass killing of 69 people at a youth summer camp in Norway by a 32-year-old right-wing terrorist.
Its source material is horrifying, but both Jojic and Ennenberg describe the play itself as “beautiful”. Yes, it has its roots in an evil act, but it spends its time in the aftermath. In it, Scottish playwright Greig (whose Midsummer [A Play With Songs] was a Cultch hit in 2009) explores the complex negotiations through grief following an unfathomable act of violence. Jojic’s character, Claire, is a priest and choirmaster whose faith is shattered as she grapples with the personal consequences of the massacre, while Ennenberg is playing 11 characters, all of whom factor into Claire’s journey through trauma.
“I think there are a lot of people who, like me, don’t really feel the reality of these things when they happen,” Ennenberg says. “I’m a millennial, I’ve been raised with global violence on TV and in the media. Even just realizing that it’s about real people sometimes is a stretch, so to really explore the insides of it, to study it, is difficult.”
Jojic and Ennenberg met just a few weeks before rehearsals began, but the depth of the material has fast-tracked their bonding. They’ve also taken steps to create boundaries in order to manage the emotional toll of the work.
“We established very quickly on in the rehearsal process that we needed parameters because we’re dealing with this material,” Jojic says. “We chime in at the beginning and we chime out so that we enclose everything in the space.” Wolfe, who is directing The Events, has them choose a song to play at the end of every rehearsal. “A song of beauty or joy or fun at the end of the day so that we are sent out into the world with that reminder. We’re accessing ourselves as performers and artists, but also containing it.”
They’re quick to clarify that The Events is not wholly depressing or dark. As a playwright, Greig is interested in compassion and the healing power of community, not carnage. This is not a play that dwells in the exploitative or the macabre, but it doesn’t shy away from hard truths either. The emotional terrain is extreme, but there’s also a tremendous amount of hope in the text and on-stage.
“Luisa has a line to the audience—‘We’ve lost our souls, haven’t we?’—and there’s something that rings true about that and desensitization, because what does it mean about us if we can skip over these headlines?” Ennenberg says. “So part of what this is, actually, is that ritual of getting back our souls, to use the language of the play.”
Music also plays a significant role in The Events. By the end of this production’s run, more than 220 singers from 12 different local choirs will have performed on-stage alongside Jojic and Ennenberg. One of the reasons that so many choirs are involved is that almost every choir will come in cold, never having seen the show before. The actors will not have a run-through with a choir until the dress rehearsal. Each performance will therefore create a new community, night after night, effectively modelling possible ways for our culture to process trauma together.
“Coming together in this act of song—that is such a beautiful thing,” Jojic says.
Ennenberg echoes this sentiment. A former member of the Vancouver Peace Choir, he attends the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, which also has a choir.
“The way this play interacts with it [music]—it’s not a musical, it doesn’t use it romantically, it’s not sappy. Music is very much an act of strength and unity,” Ennenberg says. “You can’t have a choir if you’re not together in service of something bigger than you.”More