The Hippo


Nov 20, 2019








See Raining Aluminum

Where: Stockbridge Theatre, 5 Pinkerton St., Derry
When: Friday, July 8, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 9, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, July 10, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $20

History on repeat
theatre KAPOW explores parallel devastation in Raining Aluminum

By Kelly Sennott

 If you look back at stories from hundreds, even thousands of years ago, you’ll find humans haven’t changed all that much. This is the premise of theatre KAPOW’s Raining Aluminum, which takes the Stockbridge Theatre stage this weekend. 

The play weaves together two parallel storylines. One tackles the 1917 explosion in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, and the corresponding American relief efforts. The other looks at Operation Yellow Ribbon, the Canadian response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
The Halifax Explosion was a maritime disaster in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in December 1917, in which a French cargo ship laden with high explosives collided with a Norwegian vessel in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin. About 2,000 were killed in the blast.
Raining Aluminum has been about 21 months in the making, and much of the structure was inspired by Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917 by Laura MacDonald, who thought there were a lot of parallels between the recovery efforts after both Sept. 11 and the 1917 Halifax Explosion.
“For us with theatre KAPOW, we’re always looking to tell timeless stories that are really about exploring the human experience. And I think with this piece, we’re looking at these snapshots of recent and distant history, and finding those places where people are having the same thoughts, feelings, emotions,” said theatre KAPOW cofounder and director Matt Cahoon. 
Theatre KAPOW members wrote the piece during a residency at Charlestown Working Theatre in May and drew feedback from an audience at the end of the week. At the time of their interviews, it was structured so the piece would start and end in 2001, with the middle occurring in 1917.
The concept
Matt Cahoon, musician Nat Ward and the actors — Carey Cahoon, Candace Gatzoulis, Peter Josephson and Rachael Chapin Longo — met for an interview at Pinkerton Academy’s Shepard Auditorium two and a half weeks before showtime to talk about the piece, but they still had a lot of rehearsals, rewriting and rearranging to do.
Carey Cahoon was practicing with their newest marionette, named Marcus, while the other puppet, Karkulka (“Little Red Riding Hood”), sat close by. They were created by a puppet carver in Prague and will play the children in the story. 
“In a certain respect, [the puppets] cool down what is happening on stage. And so when a child dies and it’s a puppet, the audience can watch it, and it’s OK. But in other respects, they really heat up what’s happening onstage. I think that’s because it’s a little bit like watching a black and white movie. You’ve got to bring the color to it. And when there’s a puppet onstage, it makes a demand on the audience and a demand on the imagination,” Josephson said.
Vit Hořejš and Bonnie Stein of the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre have been helping the company use the puppets and design the sets to allow better object manipulation. Time is another important aspect; props will hang from Bungee cords and string to look as if someone pressed pause mid-explosion.
“One of the things we play with is, what time did the 1917 explosion occur? Because nobody actually knows precisely. It was about 9:04. So I was really interested in ... a minute before and a minute after. And there’s this idea of surprise,” Josephson said. “We live for a little while and we say, ‘Well I’m not going to be surprised by that again,’ and then we’re surprised by the next one.”
All the actors are playing real people from history, and the company will go back to 9:04 multiple times, showing, for example, what the explosion looked like to a couple out at sea, or what it looked like for a firefighter. 
Human spirit
Longo was in New York during the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I don’t think I’ll ever better understand it. It’s more about accepting it. It think it is just building strength … in the way of processing events in life and being able to use creativity to share those events with people,” Longo said. “And to not forget. Because we just keep forgetting what we do wrong. And then we do them again and again.”
Matt Cahoon said the idea is to continue to draw parallels from past events and today.
“Talking about Halifax in 1917 is two times removed because it’s not here and it’s not now. But talking about 9/11 was very hard here. And so we’ve been pretty delicate and have had a lot of conversations,” he said. “I think at times in the piece, period is less important — it’s about that kind of human willpower, getting through stuff, and in those instances, it’s less important whether it’s 1917 or 2001 because they’re all trying to do the same thing, which is pull themselves up by the bootstraps and move on.” 

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