What is the nature of faith, and what is the nature of duty in wartime?
Those are two of the profound questions at the heart of Whitehorse playwright Celia McBride’s new work-in-progress, GITA: God in the Army.
The play centres on a Canadian soldier, Cpl. June Wright, who witnessed war atrocities while photographing the activities of her platoon in her role as an imagery technician.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she seeks counselling from a Canadian Forces chaplain in an attempt to reconcile what she has seen with what she believes.
“It’s not an antiwar play, and it’s not a pro-military play. It’s a play about a woman who’s trying to figure out what her duty is,” McBride says.
“She is a woman who believes in some kind of higher guidance, and yet she is a woman who is full of doubt, and whether this force is a force for good or not, because of the atrocities she has witnessed.”
McBride, a co-founder of Sour Brides Theatre, describes herself as a spiritual seeker who wasn’t raised in a religious household and had no connection with military life. The inspiration for GITA came almost by chance, when McBride saw a notice that the Canadian Forces was looking for artists to do short residencies on military bases in Canada or overseas.
The proposal McBride submitted was to talk to military personnel and their spouses about such “deeper spiritual questions” as whether or not they have hope, how they reconcile themselves to violence, and how they deal with loved ones while they are away.
“These are questions about the human condition,” the playwright-actor says.
“I’m trying to make a connection to the human journey, and I’m trying to share that connection with people, because I think we need that kind of sharing. We need that kind of connection.”
By the time she learned her proposal had not been accepted, McBride says, “the idea for the play had crystallized, and the title for the play had appeared, and I was convinced that this play was now writing me and I had to go along for the ride.”
Thanks to a territorial advanced artist grant, McBride went to Ottawa, where she had “incredible conversations” with the director of chaplain operations for the Canadian Forces, Col. John Fletcher, and another military chaplain, Maj. Denis Bujold.
“I learned so much from them. It was fascinating research and incredibly inspiring as well.”
From those conversations emerged the play’s second character, Padre Givin; although what form that character will take once the play is finished is still an open question.
At this point, McBride sees the play as a multi-media work, with the chaplain’s role as a hologram being created by photographer Marten Berkman.
“So, does this manifestation of the chaplain have my voice, because it’s a bigger question: is it June’s higher self? Is it God? Who is it?”
That’s one of many things McBride hopes to determine during an extensive workshop process this week with Toronto-based director Steven McCarthy, along with Berkman and musician Dave Haddock, who is writing music for the play.
What they come up with will be on view at a “workshop production” next week.
As with Sour Brides’ last successful outing, So Many Doors, McBride’s latest piece doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter.
“People who know my work know I go to dark places, and I bring us into the light. My understanding of the human journey is experiencing dark places and finding a path into the light,” she says.
While she admits that some people may be uncomfortable with the word God, or afraid of theatre that challenges them, McBride hopes audiences will come with an open mind.
“I’m all about healing and hope. I don’t want anybody to leave feeling like they want to kill themselves. I want people to experience profound emotions, and I want people to be inspired to live as fully as possible.”
Following the local production of the current draft, McBride will take the play to the prestigious Banff Playwrights Colony in May for further development, then on to Victoria, BC for Intrepid Theatre’s UNO Festival of solo-performance work.
“The play is having a rich life,” says McBride, “and it hasn’t even had its world premiere yet.”
The workshop production of GITA: God in the Army takes place Monday, April 4 at the Yukon Arts Centre, beginning at 7 pm. For information, phone 667-8574.