Entertainment Local

'The Fighting Season' explores medicine on the front lines

By Brian Paterson

Bleeding Heart Collective presents The Fighting Season at The Cultch Vancity Culture Lab Jan. 10 to 21. (Emily Cooper/Handout photo)

Bleeding Heart Collective presents The Fighting Season at The Cultch Vancity Culture Lab Jan. 10 to 21. (Emily Cooper/Handout photo)

In the middle of a war zone, it must be a difficult thing to be a healer. This complexity is at the heart of The Fighting Season, an acclaimed three-person play that explores the experience of Canadian military medical personnel in Afghanistan.

“It’s about a nurse, a combat medic, and a surgeon who have a shared event in their past,” explains producer and director Evan Frayne. “Each one is situated in a different place and time, but they recall their personal experience through three intertwining monologues.”

The work offers a window into a relatively unexplored aspect of Canada’s overseas operations.

“There are lots of Canadian plays about war experiences – but most that I’m aware of are from a soldier’s perspective,” Frayne says. “This is unique, as it shares from a [military] healthcare professional’s experience.”

The piece’s origins can be traced directly back to the front lines of our country’s efforts in Afghanistan.

“The seed of the idea came from [playwright Sean Harris Oliver’s] father, who is an orthopedic surgeon,” Frayne explains. “In 2008, he answered a public call from the Canadian military and served six weeks at the Kandahar Airfield Base hospital.”

When his father returned, Oliver noticed that something seemed to have changed in him. This ignited a process of research and dialogue around the experience of Canadian medics serving abroad.

Frayne was first exposed to The Fighting Season when invited to assume the role of the combat medic in an early draft reading. “I remember thinking, ‘There’s something vital here.’” Frayne recalls.

“There’s something extraordinary about the play because Sean has such a personal connection to the material. There’s something that feels – to be quite frank – that it’s not bulls---. It feels like there’s truth in what we’re doing.”

Frayne would continue development on the work through Bleeding Heart Collective, where he is Artistic Director, eventually directing its hit premiere at the 2015 Vancouver Fringe Festival.

The production would receive both the Georgia Straight Critic’s Award and the Cultchivating the Fringe Award (next week’s Vancity Culture Lab presentation is the prize for this latter honour).

“It was beyond what we were thinking the best case scenario would be,” Frayne confesses. “The Fringe was really meant to be a chance to get [the play] on its feet. The response was overwhelming.”

He was quick to explain that the work does not set out to preach, make a statement, or take a position on Canada’s overseas operations.

Instead, he says it sets out to honour military medics by giving their stories and experience a voice. Our conversation concluded by touching on why theatre can be such a particularly powerful medium for endeavours such as The Fighting Season.

“I love films, but I think there is something about actual voices in a room that resonates differently with us than TV or a movie,” he says. “I think there’s something about the agreement to turn everything else off and be with other people in a room that’s special.”

“[The Fighting Season] really is more of an experience than it is a show,” Frayne adds. “If you come and see it, you’re kind of going on a ride with these people.”

Bleeding Heart Collective presents The Fighting Season at The Cultch Vancity Culture Lab Jan. 10 to 21. Info at Thecultch.com.