In the theatre world, success can be measured in many different ways. Tickets sold, audiences touched, discussions started, lessons learned by the cast and crew – these qualities are all required for a production to be deemed a true ‘success.’
Last week, Creighton University was fortunate enough to have a success occur on its campus. “Gone the Rainbow, Return the Dove,” an original play with music, was staged in the Lied Education Center for the Arts Studio Theatre. The historical and war-centered production was written and directed by Michael McCandless, a Creighton professor. The product is the culmination of over a decade of work.
McCandless had been subconsciously working on the show since the terror attacks of 2001. A version of the work was first staged in 2005 at Creighton Prep. So what exactly prompted him to revive and restage the show?
“The primary reason was our nonchalant view of the current situations in the Middle East,” McCandless said. “One day, I was reading the newspaper, and the front page news was about Lindsey Lohan who was in another scrape with the law. On page seven, there was a small article about three marines who had died in Afghanistan. Their names weren’t even listed. This really hit me hard. These families are grieving and couldn’t care less about Lindsey Lohan, yet that is where our attention is focused.”
With the production finished and completed, a flood of emotions and a reflective mood have befallen McCandless.
“I personally feel relief that we did it and did it so well,” McCandless said. “There will always be a sense of incompleteness … wishing we could have had more performances and reached a bigger audience.”
Despite these wishes, the play did serve one of its chief purposes – to provide a learning experience for all involved.
Brynn Martin, Arts & Sciences sophomore and member of the cast, said that this play sent a message to everyone involved. For her, the entire perception of war changed.
“I had never really paid much attention to it [war] before,” Martin said. “Desert Storm was before our time and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began when I was pretty young. This play made me think of the abstract concept of ‘war’ on an adult level, and it also forced me to examine what I believe in and what I stand for, and why I feel those things.”
McCandless agreed that this experience had a powerful impact on all those who participated in the production.
“It’s almost a cathartic effect because it was so emotionally charged,” McCandless said. “The cast and the crew were affected too, not just theatrically but personally. Everyone took something from it, and this makes me see it as a success.”
If ticket sales were any indication, the play can most certainly be considered a success. Four of the five performances were completely sold out. McCandless said that the audiences were comprised of a number of different
types of people, including the very young, the very old, veterans and active military personnel.
However, one did not have to have a military background to connect with the subject matter. The performance was a trip through the history of combat and conflict in America. The audience was transported back in time to the American Revolution via letters written to and from soldiers and their families. After nearly three hours, the audience had seen the American Civil War, WWI and WWII, the Vietnam War and the current situations in the Middle East, with many other conflicts mentioned in between.
One way McCandless pieced the different time periods and situation was with music. Selections ranged from Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell” to the Andrew Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” to Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Daylight Again/Find the Cost of Freedom.”
“I spent a lot of time on the music,” McCandless said. “Each song was chosen carefully. We identify so much of our past with songs, and in this case it served as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on what had just happened and what was going to happen.”
Humor was both an integral element and unexpected surprise in “Gone the Rainbow, Return the Dove,” as the subjects of conflict and violence do not automatically lend themselves to upbeat feelings. While the humor and comedy did serve as comic relief for
the audience, McCandless said that it also served another purpose.
“It was necessary for me to [put it in] as a writer,” McCandless said. “I became affected by these stories … I came to know these people and find out what happened to them.”
Writing the more serious and tragic scenes proved to be difficult at times.
“I would be writing when I would stop with my fingers over the keys and hope that maybe [the outcome] could change. I knew what was going to happen. Besides, using humor can also make tragedy that much more poignant.”
One such example can be found in a scene set in the War of 1812. In this scene, first lady Dolley Madison, played by Brynn Martin, calmly composes a letter while packing up various momentos from the White House while the British march towards her. Despite the peril she faces, Dolley Madison used dry wit and humor to address her dire situation.
“Strictly from the standpoint of an actress, I feel that humor is more difficult to portray,” Martin said. “Dolley Madison is about to be taken over by the British troops, but she still believes that old papers and artifacts are more important than her safety. It’s almost like a coping mechanism for her, which I think is true to life. War is not funny, but humans can find light in the darkest of situations.”
Now that the hours of rehearsal, the details in costume, lighting, and set designs, the numerous rewrites and the sold-out performances are finished, McCandless has time to reflect on the journey he has been on the past few months. McCandless smiled
and sighed when talking about he feels now that the production is over.
“I am just amazed at the reaction,” McCandless said. “I had been so immersed in the play, I wasn’t expecting all of the attention it received. I’m not so sure I was prepared for it!”