‘1917: Over There’ Opens at Saint Mary’s College
Kathryn Marshall | Thursday, March 2, 2017
One hundred years after the United States entered World War I, the dramatized concert “1917: Over There,” presented by the Saint Mary’s College Department of Music, captures the historical and emotional components of the war through music and poetry.
The concert is a product of associate professor of music Dr. Laurel Thomas’ time on sabbatical, and uses readings and music to craft a recital that traces American’s changing attitude about joining the war while also expressing the psychological and philosophical meaning of the war, she said.
“Woodrow Wilson is re-elected in late 1916 on the platform of staying neutral, and keeping the U.S. out of the war,” Thomas said in an email. “But Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare and the horrible plight of the French and the British in trench warfare causes public opinion to change, and we enter the war in early 1917. Changing political attitudes are reflected in popular songs of the time.”
Thomas said she intentionally selected both art music and popular music for the concert.
“This juxtaposition reflects, I believe, the dichotomy between the classes, and the wide gulf between imperialistic rulers and their subjects, who sacrificed their lives at the bidding of their rulers,” she said. “Nationalism in general, and the arms race between Britain and Germany, edged the world into a horrific war.”
The writing of poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Edmund Blunden, and readings from Erich Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” are used to focus on the horror and meaninglessness of the war, Thomas said. Headlines from the New York Times are used as a historical timeline for the audience.
She said preparing the concert is a work in progress, as she collaborated with the cast to fine tune the project and consider what pieces do and do not contribute to the goal of the piece. The concert itself is put on by her Opera Scenes class, which performs scenes from operas or whole operas during years in which the College is not putting on a large show.
The cast of 10 includes five Saint Mary’s students, two Notre Dame students, Saint Mary’s political science professor Marc Belanger and two South Bend Chamber Singers, she said. The cast, and the two pianists, are dedicated and fantastic, Thomas said.
One class and cast member, first year Reagan Stohler, said she is excited to perform on stage alongside Saint Mary’s students for the first time.
“I’m technically a middle class woman in Act I, and in Act II, I dress as a solider,” she said. “In this show, I like how everyone plays an equal part. We’re seen as equals and I think that’s really important especially with such a small cast.”
Along with getting to know classmates during rehearsal, Stohler said she has enjoyed learning more about World War I as they work on the show.
“Going into the show, I had no idea what I was supposed to convey on stage, and was afraid I wasn’t going to make it convincing at all,” she said. “But the more familiar I become with the music and the poetry, the more I figure it out and begin to feel what they felt during [World War I].”
Blocking a scene where Stohler returns to the stage as fog settles after a gassing and experiences a beautiful poem about saying goodbye to a dead soldier, she said, was the moment she felt she grasped the show and all its emotions in its entirety. She said she thinks the concert holds something for everyone.
“I want the audience to feel the emotions that people felt back when the World War was starting,” she said. “I want them to feel the different levels of emotions. I want them to feel the excitement that was emitted with the propaganda, I want them to feel the pain that the soldiers felt at the time and I want them to feel what everyone felt after the war.
“I want the audience to realize it’s an ongoing thing, and it’s not really over when it’s over.”
The dramatized concert runs Thursday to Saturday and showtime is 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. in Saint Mary’s Little Theatre.