|A German officer, played by Jeffrey Miller (right), confronts a British soldier (Aaron Epstein) in "Soldier's Christmas." (Photo by Matt Steffen)|
The holiday season is always filled with various celebrations, entertainment, and traditions. This year, a new play is premiering, and you will certainly want to add it to your Christmas to-do list. Award-winning Fort Thomas playwright Phil Paradis has penned an impressive work of historical fiction. According to the play's website, Soldier's Christmas “is an epic tale of war and peace set in Belgium in late December of 1914, dramatizing the Great War’s effects on front-line soldiers as well as on their families at home. This original play with song presents the personal stories of disenchanted, battle-weary British and German soldiers who throw down their rifles, leave the mud of the trenches, and join hands in one of history’s most astonishing Christmas celebrations.”
The inspiration for Soldier's Christmas came long before the first draft was ever written. “I heard about the Christmas Truce from my eldest uncle when I was a boy. It struck a chord with me. Over the years, I came across it in history classes. And maybe a dozen years ago, I heard author Stanley Weintraub on NPR discussing the Truce and his book Silent Night and was very impressed. That rekindled my interest. I thought that the story of the Christmas Truce might make a good stage play, so I began to conceptualize how that might be. And I sketched it out. Then I started the research,” said Paradis.
For this fictionalized retelling of the Christmas Truce, Paradis launched into an extensive researching process. He looked to reading materials and films to help inform him about the lives of soldiers in the trenches during 1914. “I just read everything that I could get my hands on from the library,” said Paradis. “I read articles on the web, and watched movies and documentaries, and really got immersed. I attempted to imaginatively put myself in the shoes of the soldiers at the Western Front, in a manner of speaking, trying to get their perspective and capture a small bit of what it might have been like.”
|Playwright Phil Paradis talks with assistant stage manager Mary Gascho, during a rehearsal. (Photo by F. Anderson)|
Any writer will tell you that it takes a lot of work to make those words seem effortless on the page. Paradis worked through countless drafts to make sure his version of the Christmas Truce was ready to hit the stage. “I wrote and rewrote it over ten years. I worked on it and other projects, other plays, on and off over that period. I must have rewritten it a dozen times. It's evolved slowly, I guess you could say. I don't consider myself a particularly fast writer. But I do like to keep working on a project if it excites me and I think it has the potential to warrant the investment of my time,” said Paradis.
Paradis organized readings throughout the Greater Cincinnati area, including the Clifton Performance Theater and the Cincinnati Playwright's Initiative. Thanks to the readings, Paradis was able to see what parts of the script needed to be tweaked. The readings also kept him inspired throughout the writing process. “Those things kept me motivated, and working on the project on and off over the years. In between all these stage readings, the time that transpired was when I would re-work the script, change things, add things, delete things,” said Paradis. When Paradis finally sees his plays performed on stage, he experiences an entire spectrum of emotions. According to Paradis, seeing his work performed is “exciting. Gratifying. Humbling. Terrifying. Exhilarating, and excruciating by turns.”
Paradis' talent for writing started at a young age. “I've always been fascinated with writing, even when I started as a kid. In high school, I wrote poems. In college, I studied journalism and wrote poems. I was encouraged by my college teachers, and so I just kept at it for going on 50 years,” said Paradis. He now encourages other writers to keep writing, and to trust your writing process. “If your strongest desire is to write, good for you. A writer's life may not be particularly easy, but it is fascinating and rewarding, though the rewards might not be what you expect at first. If you love to write, keep reading, keep writing. Give yourself time to develop. Improvement with your writing is the kind of success you want. It will come. Be patient with yourself and the process. Keep at it. Be open to life beyond books, relish your experiences. If you still love to read and write after ten or fifteen years, you're probably meant to be a writer,” said Paradis.
The play is certainly more than a holiday story. It's inspiring and also creates an encounter with humanity even during the darkest of times. “Just taking time out from war to say Merry Christmas, or Happy Christmas to each another, shake hands, and be civilized human beings in a time when it was essentially their duty to live in sub-human conditions in those awful trenches, under terrible, brutalizing, de-humanizing conditions. To me, it's such an inspiring story of human beings, who in the worst of conditions, can be civilized to each other and wish each other well. Even though they have great differences, they also as human beings have great similarities, of course,” said Paradis. The play is both serious and humorous at times, and will give something audience members to talk about after leaving the theater.