When the chaos and destruction of World War II came to an end in 1945, over 20,000 Dutch residents had starved to death under the German occupation. Their liberation at the hands of Canadian soldiers was a time of overwhelming euphoria, and many left their destroyed country behind to start new lives overseas.
“The whole of Europe was in shambles. Over 100,000 Dutch people left for Canada and came here. They wanted to leave behind that pile of rubble,” the Capitol Theatre’s Stephanie Fischer told the Advertiser, while discussing the upcoming play Liberation Days. It will be performed between March 3 and March 6.
Written by Calgarian playwright Dave Van Belle in 2014, the story is based on the experiences of his parents, who were young children when Holland was liberated. When Fischer was looking for scripts about the war, that was the one that grabbed her.
“This all really started with the federal government putting forward money to commemorate the First and Second World Wars,” she said. “That money became available for all kinds of things — theatre productions, sculptures or community engagement projects.”
Though the Capitol Theatre produces an annual pantomime and youth theatre during the summer, this will be the first show produced by the Capitol since Fischer took the executive director job three years ago. It’s something she’s been meaning to do.
“For me personally, the whole issue of the second world war was interesting to me because I’m German, and I grew up learning a lot about it. Germany in my opinion has done quite a good job in not letting the people forget what happened during the Nazi regime.”
But she didn’t want to rehash the same familiar story lines.
“I wanted to tell a story that was not well-known to Canadian citizens, so I did a little research on war plays that are more contemporary. When I read David Van Belle’s play, for me it had everything I was looking for in terms of producing a play at the Capitol.”
That means it addresses war and brutality, but it also takes time for a love story. It takes place in a small village where a Canadian private named Alex King falls for a local Dutch woman named Emma de Bruijn.
“It’s about how the people were impacted by the war. You’ll see in the play that there were people both positively and negatively impacted. It felt like something not too heavy — it has war and heroes — but it also has a lightness.”
Van Belle is planning to attend the show, which Fischer believes will be only its second production since he wrote it in 2014. As part of the project she’s also engaged local filmmaker Amy Bohigian, who will be working with youth to film the rehearsal process and the eventual show.
“We’re also connecting with schools in the Nelson area and we’ll work with teachers to encourage them to talk about Liberation Days in social studies, then we’ll have a free school showing on one day during the run.”
A filmed copy of the production will be given to all schools in the area to integrate into their theatre and social studies programs.
“Pat read it and got immediately passionate, like I am, about the project.”
The play has been cast, and will feature Lindsay Clague and Eli Geddis in the lead roles of Emma and Alex. Jordana Champagne, Michael Calladine, Laurie Jarvis, Geoff Burns and Michael Graham fill out the rest of the cast.
Fischer said the play will be a unique experience for audiences.
“This play encapsulates a moment in time when joy, life, freedom and the hope for the future came back into the life of the liberated and the liberators after a grueling war in which more than 60 million people lost their lives.”
“Liberation is celebration,” she said.