In 2011, 69 people at a summer camp in Utøya, Norway were killed in an act of terror. Inspired by these tragic deaths, Scottish playwright David Greig wrote The Events in response.

Presented by Vancouver’s Pi Theatre as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, rather than a biopic, The Events of the attack, the story follows Claire, a female priest and choirmaster, who has recently experienced a faith-shattering act of terror.

Struggling to understand the event that changed her life, it follows her attempt to understand how someone could cause so much harm, and how this leads her on a path to self-destruction.

“With increasing frequency today, we find ourselves confronted by devastating acts of violence. The Events is a moving and fearless play that lives in the complex, human aftermath of such an incident,” says Pi Theatre’s artistic director Richard Wolfe, who also directs the work. “Greig daringly explores our destructive desire to comprehend the unfathomable; asking how far forgiveness will stretch in the face of atrocity.”

For the PuSh Festival’s programming director Joyce Rosario, it is much about the show’s form as it is about any attempt at understanding the repercussions of a mass shooting that attracted her to the piece.

“This hits a sweet spot between experimentation and resonance that we aim for each year with our programming,” she says.

The form Rosario refers to is in how the playwright helps to tell this story through John Browne’s musical score, sung by a different choral group at each performance.

“Part of the joy of The Events is the synthesizing of real community with a pre-written theatre piece" - director Richard Wolfe
“Part of the joy of The Events is the synthesizing of real community with a pre-written theatre piece” – director Richard Wolfe

“Part of the joy of The Events is the synthesizing of real community with a pre-written theatre piece,” says Wolfe.

Originally struggling with writing his play, Wolfe explains how Greig was having difficulty in finding a way to move beyond the evil which inspired The Events.

Almost giving up on the project, Greig was invited to a choir performance. While listening to the choir rehearse in a small Norwegian hall, he found himself gradually feeling human again.

“To Greig the choir represents the best of what we are: loving, warm, sharing, celebratory. He left that rehearsal knowing how to write this play,” says Wolfe. “We’ve purposely put the show in the Russian Hall as a way of amplifying the experience. We’re not building a representation of a choir rehearsal hall on the stage of a theatre, we’re building a stage in a hall where actual community choirs rehearse.”

The twelve choirs who perform come from a cross-section of over 200 people from across Metro Vancouver. Surprisingly, the choirs do not meet the actors until the night of their performance.

“This brings the event alive in a way that could not be possible otherwise,” says Wolfe. “The choir members, much like a classical Greek chorus, are living through the story with the actors in real time. They also play a significant role in the actual story itself. Because of this construction, every night is going to be a unique experience. Unlike digital media, a live performance happens only once, and you have to be alive and present in a shared space to experience it.

The Events plays the Russian Hall (600 Campbell Avenue, Vancouver) as part of the 2018 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival from January 17 to 28. Visit http://pitheatre.com for tickets and information.