By Clare-Marie Gosse
Musical drama based on First World War letters sent from soldiers to women they left behind
Writers Sandy Mackay and John Meir used research and material from hundreds of real-life letters written during the First World War to build the script for Two Minutes of Silence – A Pittance of Time, inspired by Newfoundland singer/songwriter Terry Kelly’s song, A Pittance of Time. The musical drama, soon to tour the province, features local actors Brad Hodder and Sara Tilley in two principal roles. The script unravels around the emotional inadequacy of letters – all John and Elsie have to span their separation – and private monologues revealing the newlyweds’ true frustration and pain.
The First World War saga features original live music as well as some well known war songs, Kelly performs centre stage with musicians Floyd King and Trevor Mills. They’re flanked by Tilley and Hodder in emotional time capsules. The unique and moving production explores the unspoken pain behind so many written words. Elsie, the lonely sender of socks and chocolate, privately rages and sobs at the insignificance of her gestures, and John realizes the impossibility of ever describing to her the suicide of fighting at the front, the friends dead, the rats, the lice, the stench.
“They never really told one another what was actually going on because they were being protective of one another and in the letters we get to read between the lines,” Kelly tells The Independent. “We figured the letters would have an emotional hold – everybody knows what that feels like on some level … everybody knows what it’s like to be away from someone.”
Kelly is a well known Canadian celebrity, known for his award-winning singing and songwriting, his athletic achievements, professional and motivational speaking, and perhaps, most notably, his energy for life. Kelly contracted eye cancer as an infant, and his family in St. John’s made the difficult but ultimately rewarding decision to send him at the age of seven to the Halifax School for the Blind, which nurtured a love for music and his love for a challenge.
Last year he was awarded the Order of Canada.
The inspiration for his song, which, in turn, inspired the performance, Two Minutes of Silence – A Pittance of Time, came four years ago when he witnessed a rowdy customer in Shoppers Drug Mart. Out of respect for Remembrance Day, a request was made over the public address system for customers to join staff in two minutes of silence.
One customer refused. Angered by the experience, Kelly went home and started to compose. “I have a venting mechanism by writing songs so I wrote a song in response to that. From that we put a music video together and then from that we got the idea to maybe put a show together.”
The tour kicked off with a special media preview at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre November 3. From there, the musical drama will be performed in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI before returning to Newfoundland and Labrador with multiple dates across the province, wrapping up back in St. John’s on November 21.
“This is a musical drama about remembrance,” says Kelly. “… and we chose to set this in the First World War because it was supposed to have been the war to end all wars but it was really a war that was the beginning of modern warfare as it were … airplanes were being used and explosives and bombs, so even though it was different from today, much is the same