After the House Lights

Searching for the reason behind the risk in Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes


Bradley Doré in Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes. Photo credit: Giselle Boehm. Designs by Foolish Designs

Cardiac Theatre is quickly becoming known for bringing new, unique stories about young people to Edmonton following their debut production, Ella Hickson’s Hot Mess last February and Pacamambo by Wajdi Mouawad at last year’s International Fringe Theatre Festival.

To kick off 2017,  artistic producers Harley Morison and Jessica Glover are bringing Jordan Tannahill’s Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes to the PCL Studio Theatre, January 10 – 22 in an Edmonton first for the playwright’s work, and an Alberta first for the play.

Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes is Tannahill’s imagining of the 59 minutes that pass between when 18-year-old Peter Fechter was shot in the pelvis and when he dies, becoming one of the first people killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall. During the actual events, his screams for help are unanswered by those on the East side of the wall and those and the West side cannot reach him to offer help and prevent his death. In the play, as the clock counts down – both metaphorically as well as the clock that’s on stage – Peter comes to terms with the loved ones and decisions that brought him to try to escape from East Berlin with his friend Helmut Kulbeik.

What is worth dying for?

Bradley Doré in Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes. Photo credit: Giselle Boehm. Designs by Foolish Designs

Harley Morison, who directs Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes explains Peter is “left with the question ‘What was worth this? What was worth dying for?’ He’s left trying to answer that question… His hearing is intensified and he can hear everything from the grumbling of the stomach of the tower guard who shot him, all the way back to his breakfast-time conversation, so it’s this re-hearing of all these events that have happened; hearing these echoes in real time that drives the story… He listens to his relationship with his estranged mother and father, and most importantly with his friend Helmut, who he jumped with, and all these moments that led up to him deciding to jump and to do it then, that day, and in the manner they did.”

“It’s Peter trying to make sense of that, of what he’s done with his life. He’s searching for that sense of love and for the reason behind the risk, because if he didn’t have that, he wouldn’t be able to die at peace. There’s a quote that starts the play: ‘Never fall asleep with an unanswered question, lest it haunt your dreams.’ That’s the mantra that keeps him awake and alive is trying to answer the question of how he comes to terms with dying.”

Ghosts of loved ones supplement solo performance

Bringing Peter’s loved ones to life are Michele Fleiger, Morgan Grau, and Doug Mertz, who only appear in the play as recorded voices, leaving Bradley Doré as Peter Fechter, the only character we actually see on stage. Harley said he was drawn to the challenges this play poses, including the use of recordings to supplement a one-person play, “That was intriguing, to stage a show that has invisible characters… Rather than just having the audience hear the recorded portions of the play as they would music or spatial sounds, to have a sense that they’re occupying physical space as well. So, establishing that these are people that move through the spaces, but aren’t there – like ghosts.”

Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes is ultimately an examination of a motivator strong enough to lead a teenager to take such a huge risk as crossing the Berlin Wall. And while that seems like a very adult decision, Harley notes that the playwright Jordan Tannahill describes his Governor General’s Award-winning collection ‘Age of Minority’, of which Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes is part, as work for young audiences, “Not that this isn’t relevant to adults, but it’s not your typical TYA play… He wrote it with adolescents in mind. It’s about a 19-year-old and it’s about teenagers facing really excruciating decisions about their family and life and the world they live in. As well as struggling to come to terms with their identity, whether that’s political or sexual, and extracting yourself from a dangerous place.”

Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes plays at the PCL Studio Theatre January 10 – 22. Tickets are $19 – $24 through the Fringe Theatre Adventures box office. Admission to previews (January 10 and 11) is $17, and on Tuesday, January 17, tickets are $13.

PS – for more on the ‘Age of Minority’ collection by Jordan Tannahill, which also includes Get Yourself Home, Skylar James and rihannaboi95, check out John’s thought’s thoughtful blog post about the collection.