By Dennis Garnhum, based on the novel by Timothy Findley
At Theatre Calgary, September 18 – October 7, 2007
Student Matinee Study Guide - prepared by Dom Saliani
Background Information on The Wars
Who Was Timothy Findley 3
Who is Dennis Garnhum 4
Begin Your “The Wars Scrapbook/Journal” 4
What Findley Said About Himself, the Theatre and His Work 5
Other Notable Works by Timothy Findley 6
Major Literary Awards Won by Timothy Findley 7
Honours Conferred Upon Timothy Findley 7
Who’s Who in The Wars 8
Interesting Facts About the novel and play The Wars 9
Setting of the play 9
Summary of the play 10
Interesting Facts about World War I 11
Canada’s Role in World War I 12
Before the Curtain Rises - Student Activities
Note to Teachers and Students 13
1. Exploring Allusions and Historical Context 14
2. War Related Literature Dulce et Decorum Est 15
If We Must Die 16
3. Researching Genre 16
4. Exploring Literary Connection to Pop Lyrics 17
5. Vocabulary Development 18
6. Focus on Heroism 18
7. Exploring Situations and Themes 19
8. Considering Responses to Tragic Events 19
9. Reviewing the Reviewers 19
10. Preparing To Attend the Theatre: Theatre Etiquette 20
While the Curtain is Up - Student Activities
Setting and Mood 24
Essential Questions 26
After the Curtain Falls – Student Activities
Reflection on Pre-performance Activities 24
Casting a Film Version of the Play 24
Create a Scene Ten for the Play 24
Writing a Review 24
Reflective Writing 25
Create a “The Wars Scrapbook/Journal” 26
Answers to Vocabulary Development Exercise 27
Information to help you better understand and appreciate
Theatre Calgary’s performance of
Who Was Timothy Findley?
1. On October 30, 1930, Timothy Irving Frederick 8. In 1967, Findley turned his full attention to
Findley was born in the Rosedale district of writing. His first novel, The Last of the
Toronto. His nickname, Tiff, is an acronym of the Crazy People was published and was
initials in his name. followed by The Butterfly Plague in 1969.
His first two novels were rejected by the
2. In grade 10, because of bad health, he dropped
Canadian publishers and were
out of school at St. Andrew's College. He then
subsequently printed in England.
began to study dance and eventually acting.
3. He worked as an actor in Canada between
1948 and1962. In 1952, he began working “[I was a] “good actor – I could have
for CBC radio and television, often assuming had a career. I'd never have been a
comic roles. He played Peter Pumpkin in Stephen star ... I would always have been a
Leacock's Sunshine Sketches, which also useful actor. ...”
happened to be the first Canadian-produced - Timothy Findley
4. In 1953, he became a founding member of the
9. In 1977, at the age of 47, Findley’s third
newly created Stratford Festival. It was there that
novel, The Wars, was published and it
he met Alec Guinness (Obi Wan Kenobi in Star
firmly established him as one of
Wars) who subsequently financed Findley to
Canada’s greatest writers. In 1981, he
attend a Speech and Drama School in London.
wrote the screen adaptation of the novel.
5. While in London, Findley performed in Paul
10. His commitment to writing is evident in
Scofield's Hamlet at the Phoenix Theatre, taking
the fact that in 1973, he was instrumental
on the role of Osric.
in founding the Writers' Union of Canada.
Between 1977 and 1978, he served as its
“Timothy Findley began his career as an actor,
chair. He also served as president of the
interpreting the words and ideas of others.
When he realized that he had more to say than English-Canadian chapter of P.E.N.
he could express on the stage he became a International between 1986 and 1987.
writer, a creator of words and ideas. His 11. He lived on a farm near Cannington,
experience in the theatre has shaped the novels
Ontario for many years before relocating
and short fiction for which he is renowned.”
- Carol Roberts (The Perfection Of Gesture: to Stratford, Ontario. He spent his winters
Timothy Findley And Canadian Theatre) in France.
12. In researching his novel about the
6. In 1956, Findley’s first attempt at fiction, the
passengers in Noah’s ark, (Not Wanted
short story, “About Effie” was published in the
on the Voyage), he was spotted on a
first issue of the Tamarack Review.
beach in B.C. sniffing rocks and sea-
7. In 1964, he appeared in the television film John weed. He wanted to experience first hand
Cabot: A Man of the Renaissance. what an animal would see and smell.
In 1967, Findley was involved in another first. This was the cause of considerable
He appeared in the controversial The Paper embarrassment for Findley.
People, which was the CBC's first feature-length
13. On June 20, 2002, at the age of 71,
Findley died in Brignoles, France.
What Timothy Findley looked like: http://www.english.ucalgary.ca/markin/wir/2001.htm
Who is Dennis Garnhum
1. Dennis Garnhum was raised in London, Ontario and
received his theatre degrees from the University of
Victoria and the University of British Columbia. He also
studied at The Banff Centre.
2. While in Stratford, Dennis had the opportunity to work
closely with Findley as he directed the premieres of
two of Findley’s plays: Shadows and The Trials Of
Ezra Pound. In regards to his professional relationship
with Findley, Dennis recalls that he was kind enough
to call me a colleague, and gentleman enough to call
me a friend. It is his generous spirit that allows us to
bring his glorious novel to our stages.”
3. Dennis’s first Calgary directing opportunity came in
2005 with ATP’s playRites Festival with the première
of Down the Main Drag by Steve Laplante.
4. He has always dreamed of being an artistic director.
He calls his appointment as artistic director of Theatre
Calgary “a complete dream come true."
Dennis Garnhum, Artistic Director
— Courtesy of Theatre Calgary
Begin Your “The Wars Scrapbook or Journal”
On page 30 of this guide, you will receive details that will help you complete a keepsake
record of your learning experiences before, during and after viewing Theatre Calgary’s
performance of The Wars.
In preparation for this activity, you should read the assignment on page 30 now and
begin to accumulate the responses, artifacts and activities to include in your scrapbook
What Timothy Findley Said About Himself,
the Theatre and His Work
On the gloomy aspects of The Wars: "Dreadful things happen, but the book ends
up saying 'Yes!' "
On what Robert Ross stands for: “He died for life. The thing that moved me in
writing that book was that Robert Ross believed above all else in life. If you
couldn't save people, but you could save the horses, you were, in fact, saving
life. You were making a statement about life. The whole point of life is that life
itself is the embodiment of hope. That is why the birth of a child is always so
On writing a book (Spadework) about theatre life: “I know the theater inside out.
I've been there all my life.”
On not using a computer: “I love the ink. I love the feel of the pen in my hand, and
you don’t get that flow into a machine.”
On his career as an actor: “[I was a] “good actor – I could have had a career. I'd
never have been a star ... I would always have been a useful actor. ...”
On acting as a training ground for writers: Findley believed that actors need to
discover their characters' motivations, why they say what they say. Writers
must do likewise. He referred to his time as an actor as “an apprenticeship -
almost a perfect apprenticeship for a writer.”
On what writing is about: “… exploring. Exploration. You're exploring the people
you write and they develop under your hand and become whole."
On storytelling: “For a good storyteller. There has to be jeopardy. There has to be
danger. And there has to be something for the leading figures to get through
in order to clarify their own lives or whatever.”
Other Notable Works by Timothy Findley
The Last of the Crazy People 1967 Don't Let the Angels Fall 1969
The Butterfly Plague 1969 The Whiteoaks of Jalna 1972
The Wars 1977 The Newcomers 1977
Famous Last Words 1981 Can You See Me Yet? 1977
Not Wanted on the Voyage 1984 The Stillborn Lover 1993
The Telling of Lies 1986 The Trials of Ezra Pound 1994
Headhunter 1993 Elizabeth Rex 2001
The Piano Man's Daughter 1995 Shadows 2001
You Went Away 1996
Short Story Collections TV and Radio Plays
Dinner Along the Amazon 1984 The Paper People televised 1968
Stones 1988 The Journey broadcast 1971
Dust to Dust 1997 John A. Himself 1979
Strangers at the Door (radio script) 1982
Daybreak at Pisa: 1945 1982
Inside Memory: Pages from a Writer's Don't Let the Angels Fall 1970
Workbook 1990 The Wars 1983
From Stone Orchard 1998
Journeyman: Travels of a Writer 2004
Major Literary Awards Won by Timothy Findley
Year Title Awards
1975 Pierre Berton's The National Dream ACTRA award for scriptwriting
1977 Novel The Wars Governor General's Award
1988 Short Stories Stones Ontario's Trillium Book Award
1989 Novel The Telling of Lies Mystery Writers’ Edgar award for
best paperback original
1991 Memoir Inside Memory Canadian Authors Association
Award for Non-fiction
1994 Play The Stillborn Lover Canadian Authors Association
Award for Drama
1996 Play The Stillborn Lover Floyd S. Chalmers Award
2000 Play Elizabeth Rex Governor General's Award
Honours Conferred Upon Timothy Findley
1986 Officer of the Order of Canada
1991 Member of the Order of Ontario
1992 Focus of a National Film Board of Canada production:
Timothy Findley: Anatomy of a Writer.
1996 Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)
2002 Canada 's Walk of Fame
Who’s Who in The Wars
(Descriptions in quotation marks come from Stage Directions or text in the play.)
In Canada In Europe
Robert Ross – young man, 19 years old, Private Cote – French Canadian; collects
from Toronto. He is made a Second stained glass
Lieutenant and leader of his troop.
Private Purchas – comes from Robert’s
Rowena – Robert’s older sister, 25. She neighbourhood.
is wheelchair bound. She is “an adult but
behaves much younger.” Private Levitt – member of Robert’s troop
Mr. Ross – Robert’s father. Private Harris – “sickly” young man from
Nova Scotia. He wants to see whales.
Mrs. Ross – Robert’s mother. She can’t
bear to see her son go off to war. Private Regis – an under-aged boy who
has volunteered for the army
Eve – maid to the Ross family
Sergeant Rodwell – artist and animal lover.
Station Master – at the Lethbridge station He likes to keep things in order.
Maria – “German madam with bright Captain Leather – crazed leader.
copper hair.” Her house is in Lousetown. Insensitive to the plight of horses or people
Ella – prostitute who works for Maria. She Captain Taffler – “tall and built for playing
and Robert spend a night together. sports.” War hero who returns for a second
tour of duty
Flemish woman – upset because she has
Marian – English nurse based in London lost her cows
Helen – English nurse; works with Marian
Guard – stands watch over prisoners in
Interesting Facts about The Wars
– the novel and the play
1. It was The Wars, Findley’s third novel, that brought him critical acclaim and fame.
2. In 1977, Findley received his first Governor General’s Award for The Wars.
3. Findley adapted his own novel for film in 1981. Many of the actors used in this film were
Stratford Festival stage performers.
4. Findley wrote three other works that deal with war:
Inside Memory (1990)
Famous Last Words (1981)
You Went Away (1996)
The last two works deal with World War II.
5. Findley has revealed the inspiration for some of the major characters in The Wars:
Robert Ross’ character is based on T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Findley’s
paternal uncle, TIF (Thomas Irving Findley), one of the people to whom the novel is
Robert Ross is named after Robert Baldwin Ross (1869 – 1918) a Canadian born
British literary figure whose grandfather was a Canadian Prime Minister - Robert
In 1979, Findley wrote the TV screenplay, John A. Himself which focused on the career
of Canada’s first Prime Minister - Sir John A. Macdonald.
Findley found inspiration for the character of Rowena in the life of Sir John A.’s
daughter, Mary Macdonald.
Setting of the Play
Time: 1915 – World War I
Places: Lethbridge, Belgium, France and England
Summary of the Play
Robert Ross, a troubled and sensitive 19 year old, arrives in Lethbridge for army training
before leaving for the frontline in Europe. He has enlisted in the army because he has been
made to feel guilty for his invalid sister’s accidental death. A series of flashbacks explain
why he feels so troubled. While in training camp, Robert meets and develops a friendship
with Captain Toffler, a war hero.
When Robert gets his marching orders, his parents travel to Montreal to see him off but his
mother cannot bring herself to say goodbye to her son in person.
On board the ship, Robert, an animal lover, is horrified by the treatment of the horses in the
cargo hold. Because of his rank, he is compelled to shoot a horse with a broken leg. He
also meets and befriends Private Harris, a sickly soldier from Nova Scotia.
On the front, Robert almost loses his life in the flooded trenches. He moves into his new
home, a dugout where he meets the Frenchman Cote and the animal lover Rodwell. After a
civilized meal, the area is bombed and the dugout destroyed.
The troop regroups after the bombing and are ordered to set up new positions. A quick
thinking Robert saves his men when they are stuck inside a bomb crater during a gas
While on leave, Robert visits Harris in a London hospital. Harris is close to death. Robert
meets and establishes a friendship with Marian, the nurse looking after Harris. Robert also
learns that the war hero Toffler is there and that both of his arms have been amputated.
When Robert revisits the hospital, he learns that Harris has died. He takes Harris’s ashes
and scatters them in the Thames River.
Back on the front, Robert and his troop are involved in intense fighting. Most of his men
have been killed or injured. Rodwell, knowing that he will likely be killed in battle, gives
Robert a letter to deliver to his daughter.
Robert is affected by the plight of a herd of horses and would like to take them to safety.
Captain Leather orders him to leave them where they are. Purchas attempts to help Robert
save the horses and is shot by Leather. A traumatized Robert shoots Captain Leather and
barricades himself in a barn with the horses. Major Mickle succeeds in arresting Robert
who has been seriously burned when Mickle’s men set the barn on fire.
A critically injured Robert, under guard, convalesces in a London hospital. He is awaiting
trial for disobeying orders and shooting Captain Leather. The nurse Marion offers Robert an
escape from his pain and his life.
Interesting Facts about World War I
1. The First World War was referred to as “The Great War” and the “war to end all wars.”
2. At first, it was believed that the war would only last for six weeks.
3. The British Empire (including Canada) declared war on Germany on August 14, 1914
following the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
4. On December 25th, 1914, combatants declared a Christmas Truce. They left their
trenches, embraced each other and celebrated the holiday together. They reengaged
in fighting each other the very next day.
5. On April 22, 1915, the Germans introduced poison gas warfare. Mustard gas was used
in 1917. It caused no immediate damage but 9 to 12 hours later, victims suffered burns
6. It was not until the Americans entered the war on April 6, 1917 that the Great War was
declared a World War.
7. One of the most famous poems to come out of World War I was “In Flanders Fields” by
John McCrae who was a Canadian medical officer.
8. World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
9. Sisters, wives and daughters of soldiers were given the right to vote in 1917. The
following year, all women over 21 were allowed to vote.
10. Income tax was invented during the First World War as a temporary measure to pay
for the war effort. The tax, as you well know, has never been removed.
11. Daylight Savings Time was also invented during the first war in an effort to maximize
production time in the factories.
12. Before the war, long hair was quite fashionable for men. The war made short hair or
the army cut popular. It was not till the Beatles in the 1960s that long hair became
13. Super spy James Bond was inspired by the Canadian born William Samuel Stanger
(1897 – 1989). He was also referred to as “Intrepid.”
15. There is only one veteran of the First World War still alive. He is John Babcock. He is
106 years old and now lives in Spokane, Washington.
Canada’s Role in World War I
• Between 1914 and 1918, over 625,000 Canadians were sent to the European front.
• At that time, Canada’s population was approximately eight million.
• In terms of causalities: 61,326 Canadians lost their lives and over 172,950 were
wounded. In other words, more than one in three Canadian soldiers were killed or
injured during the war. It is not hard to imagine how greatly this must have affected
families and communities throughout Canada.
• It was not uncommon for small towns or villages to lose all their young men in battle.
This was because of the practice of allowing friends who enlisted together to stay
together in special “Pals” battalions.
• Canada became a recognized world power because of its valiant war effort and
sacrifices during key offensives such as the Ypres Salient in April 1915 and Verdun.
• It was at Vimy Ridge that Canadians earned the respect and gratitude of the world.
While other forces retreated because of the merciless chlorine gas attacks, the
Canadian troops stood their ground and halted the German offensive. This came at an
enormous price. In this battle alone, over 6,000 Canadians were killed. Many lost their
lives when they fell victim to the gas.
Activities to complete before
attending the Theatre Calgary
Note to teachers and students: It is not necessary or expected that all of the
following activities be completed.
Deal only with those activities that you consider meets the needs and interests of
It is also recommended that choices and group enquiry be offered to students in
terms of which activities they will complete.
1. Exploring Allusions and Historical Context
The dialogue in The Wars includes a number references that you might be unfamiliar with.
The following exercise will help you better appreciate the meaning and intent of such
Below (in bold print) are the allusions and historical references mentioned in the play.
In small groups, using print or on-line resources, research each of the following.
Find one or more interesting facts about each that you are prepared to share with the class.
As a starting point, you may choose to investigate the provided websites.
a. 30th Battery, CFA – Go here for a history of the Canadian Field Artillery (CFA).
A Battery refers to a grouping of artillery that functions together as a single military unit
b. As Robert and his friend Purchas are about to board a ship to the European front,
Purchas jokes that they are “Two boys from Rosedale off to conquer the Hun.”
Rosedale is a wealthy neighbourhood in Toronto.
Huns were a nomadic tribe that conquered much of Europe in the Fourth Century.
Their leader was Atilla.
c. Bailleul is a small French town close to the Belgium border. During the First War, it was an
important rail, air and hospital centre.
d. St. Eloi – Private Rodwell informs Robert that St. Eloi was the patron saint of smiths and
metalworkers. By the way, the town of St. Eloi has an interesting history in regards to mine
warfare. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Eloi “is the patron of goldsmiths,
blacksmiths, and all workers in metal. Cabmen have also put themselves under his
e. The frequently quoted Carl von Clausewitz (1780 – 1831) was a real author! You can read
his entire book On War on line.
f. At the front, when things got really depressing in the dugout, Private Cote requests a song
to cheer him up. However, he stipulates that he does not want to hear, “Abide with Me.” It
was written by Henry F. Lyte in 1847 as he was in the final stages of dying of tuberculosis.
The hymn has been a favorite of many world leaders as well as the public at large.
g. When MacDonald asks Harris what he is doing on the deck of the ship transporting them to
the front in Europe, Harris replies that he is looking for whales. MacDonald replies
sarcastically that if he spots Moby Dick, he should wake him. Moby Dick is the great white
whale in Herman Melville’s classic by the same name that Captain Ahab so obsessively
wishes to kill.
h. The city of Regina is built on the banks of Wascana Creek. Early in the war, a massive flood
occurred in 1915. This picture will give you some indication of how high the floodwaters
i. The Mauser rifle was a bolt-action German firearm capable of shooting multiples rounds
and “mowing down” the enemy.
j. At the end of the play, Robert suffers third degree burns. Such burns are extremely
serious. They are marked by charring of the skin and involve both the outer and inner layers
of the skin. For detailed descriptions of the characteristics of the other types of burns, check
2. War Related Literature
Many authors, Timothy Findley included, have done what they can to bring people’s
attention to the horrors and stupidities of war. Below are two of the more famous war
poems to come out of the First World War.
Read the poems carefully. For each, write three sentences which deal with what the
authors are saying about war. Focus on such things as what conditions are like during war,
what effects war has on people, and how different people view war.
The two poems contrast strongly in terms of the attitudes towards war that they express.
Which poem expresses most clearly how you feel about war? Explain.
Dulce et Decorum est
Dulce et Decorum Est Pro patria mori - Latin quotation written by
by Wilfred Owen Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs flares - rockets used to light up the battle
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. field
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots rest - camp where soldiers rested between
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind. hoots – sound made by bullets flying
Five-Nines – 5.0 calibre shells
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; Gas! – chlorine gas
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, lime – a white corrosive substance
panes – glass portion of the gas masks
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
guttering – gurgling sound a choking man makes
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, cud – regurgitated grass that cows feed on
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est ardent – fervently eager
Pro patria mori.
8 October 1917 - March, 1918
Claude McKay ( )
If We Must Die
When British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill
by Claude McKay went to America to encourage the Americans to
enter the Second World War, he ended his
If we must die, let it not be like hogs address to the American Congress with this
poem by an American poet. To Churchill, the
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, poem aptly projected his views of the Allied war
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, effort.
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
3. Researching Genre
Timothy Findley’s The Wars is not easy to classify as a genre. Before you see the play, use
on-line or print resources to research the characteristics of the following genres:
As you watch the play, determine which of these genres best apply to this play.
4. Exploring Literary Connection to Pop Lyrics
In the fall of 2002, Canadian rock band Cowboy Junkies released “December Skies” a song
on their One Soul Now CD. Songwriter, Michael Timmins, has shared that “It was inspired
by the news of the day and the Timothy Findley novel The Wars.” In an interview, Timmins
went on to suggest that if people “have any doubt that war-is-hell” or if they believe that
“war is a noble calling,” they should read Findley’s book.
The passage in Findley’s novel and Dennis Garnham’s adaptation which specifically
inspired the song is spoken by Mrs. Ross after attending Sunday services at the church:
"I was afraid I was going to scream," she said. She gestured back at the church with
its sermon in progress. "I do not understand. I don't. I won't. I can't. Why is this
happening to us? What does it mean — to kill your children — kill them and then...go
in there and sing about it! What does that mean"? she wept — but angrily.”
December Skies by Michael Timmins
September skies, bodies falling Time to kill our children
Never again will you catch me admiring and sing about it.
those vast September skies. Let's all kill our children
and sing about it.
October skies, hate is flying,
Crimson leaves slowly falling, December skies, star will be rising.
from azure October skies. Will we heed those lessons ringing
through those dark December skies.
Time to kill our children
and sing about it. Time to kill our children
Let's all kill our children and sing about it.
and sing about it. Let's all kill our children
And sing about it.
November skies, heart is sinking.
No telling where they're leading
these grey November skies. Used with permission of Michael Timmins
As a class, listen to this song and explore the literary connections. You can also listen to
and watch a video of this song at YouTube.com. The video features a series of
photographs that evoke the strong feelings associated with young men and their families
during times of war.
Be sure to check out this video before you attend the Theatre Calgary performance.
• What do you think of this song? What do the photographs add to the overall effect of
• The song describes the September, October, November and December skies during
a war. Write a fifth verse which describes the January skies. Be sure to remain
consistent with the style and metrical pattern established in the first four verses.
Remember that since January marks the beginning of the new year, your new verse
can project an optimistic tone to contrast with the previous verses. Or you may
choose to be consistent in tone with the original verses and make it pessimistic.
5. Vocabulary Development
Timothy Findley has been described as using clear, concise, accessible, and evocative
prose. There are a number of words, however, that appear in the dialogue that may be
unfamiliar to you.
To better appreciate the dialogue during the performance, become more familiar with the
words used in the following activity.
Match the words from the play in Column A with their appropriate definitions in Column B.
Write the letter of the correct definition in the middle column.
You may use online or print resources to find the meanings.
An excellent comprehensive online dictionary can be found at: http://www.onelook.com/
Check your answers on page 31.
Column A Column B
1. coulee ___ a. housing for soldiers
2. rendezvous __ b. ability to walk steadily on board a ship
3. varsity __ c. illness affecting the bronchial tubes
4. lieutenant __ d. Dutch speaking people who live in north western Belgium
5. barbarous __ e. troops who use large but portable firearms and launchers
6. barracks __ f. date or meeting time
7. brawling __ g. relating to the physical appearance of land masses
8. sea legs __ h. stately ballroom dance
9. bronchitis __ i. violent windstorm, similar to a tornado
10. Flemish __ j. shallow ravine
11. dike __ k. a below ground fortification
12. artillery __ l. expensive brandy
13. topographical __ m. uncivilized; extremely cruel
14. impediment __ n. noisy or violent
15. minuet __ o. military officer
16. cyclone __ p. worthy of being despised and criticized
17. dugout __ q. a constructed barrier that holds back rising water
18. cognac __ r. heavy artillery fire
19. despicable __ s. a college or university team
20. barrages __ t. something that interferes with or delays progress
6. Focus on Heroism
In groups, compile a long list of people that you would consider to be heroic.
Consider individuals or characters associated with history, current events, feature films and
other literature you are familiar with.
Once you have compiled your list, identify the common characteristics that the heroes in
your lists share. In other words, what are the main characteristics of a hero?
As you watch the Theatre Calgary performance of The Wars, determine the extent to which
Robert Ross fits your definition of a hero.
7. Exploring Situations and Themes
Before attending the play, explore your thoughts, feelings and experiences in regards to
any of the following situations, issues or themes through personal journal writing.
You can begin by asking yourself if you, or someone you know, has gone through a similar
experience or has been in a similar situation. You can also consider stories or films that
deal with the same situations or experiences.
Remember that you do not have to respond to all of the following - just the ones that you
can most strongly relate to.
a. Being blamed and feeling guilty for something that was not your fault
b. Bowing to peer pressure and doing something that one would not ordinarily do
c. Volunteering to do something that involved serious risks.
d. Insisting on familiar routines when in an unfamiliar environment.
e. Visiting a sick friend
f. Not being able to say goodbye to a love one who is going away
g. Doing something illegal or “wrong” in an attempt to do the “right” thing.
8. Considering Responses to Tragic Events
Think about the kinds of events or situations in real life that make you feel sad or cry.
Reflect on what it is about them that compels you to respond in these ways?
To what extent do you respond in the same way when you see these same events or
situations projected in a feature film or on stage? Explain.
9. Reviewing the Reviewers
By the time you are scheduled to attend the Theatre Calgary performance of The Wars, the
local Calgary papers and magazines will have printed reviews of the play. Find one or
more of these reviews.
What did the reviewers think about the play?
What did the reviewers like or dislike about the production?
What important information did you learn about the play and the performance by
reading the reviews?
10. Preparing To Attend the Performance: Theatre Etiquette
Theatre etiquette refers to what is appropriate and not appropriate to do when you are in
the theatre. This is an important matter to consider before attending a play with your
In groups, generate a list of as many theatre etiquette rules as you can.
Make sure to include reasons. An example is provided below:
a. Don’t take pictures during the The actors are live. They must do rather difficult
performance. work. Noise or flashes from cameras can distract
them and could make them stumble or forget lines.
If you are having problems generating a list of rules, consider the reasons for the following
rules listed at: http://www.vathespian.org/thew.htm
1. The taking of flash pictures is not allowed at any time during a production.
2. No radios or recording equipment are permitted in the audience.
3. Turn off all cell phones, including game programs, when entering the theatre.
3. Stay awake and pay attention to the performance.
4. Do not sit with your feet on the backs of the seats in front of you.
5. No gum, candy, food, drinks, etc. is permitted in the theatre.
6. No one is to enter or exit the theatre during a performance.
Questions to focus on as you watch the play
• What do you think is the most dramatic scene in the play? Why?
• Despite its serious, dramatic subject, the play The Wars is humorous in several
What specific choices do you think were made by the actors or director to
emphasize the humour?
What effects are created by the author in using humour in a play with such a serious
• The climax of a story can be either the point of highest dramatic tension or the
In your opinion, what marked the highest point of dramatic tension in the play?
Is this also the turning point in the play for Robert Ross? Explain.
• Shakespeare once had one of his characters state that “Action is eloquence.” What
this suggests is that deeds or actions often speak louder than words.
Can you think of an instance during the performance where what the character did
on stage was more important in terms of revealing or developing character than
what he or she said? Explain.
• The ending of this play makes a serious statement about life and about people like
Robert Ross. Comment on the ending of the play. To what extent were you
surprised by what happens at the end or by what was said? Explain.
• Casting the characters of a play can often pose a variety of challenges for directors.
Generally speaking, what are these challenges?
What did you think and feel when you first saw Robert and the other major
characters appear on the Theatre Calgary stage?
Were you pleased or disappointed by the casting choices? Explain.
• Much can be learned about character by looking closely at interactions between
Were there any specific moments during the performance when a character’s
reaction to something that was said revealed something important about the
speaker? Describe the moments and what was revealed.
• Playwrights often purposefully depict their characters as being flawed and therefore
very human. In other words, we believe that to be human is to be flawed in some
Choose any two characters and identify the ways in which they are very human in
their behaviour and attitudes. Be sure to identify their flaws.
In what ways did the actors project these traits and flaws to the audience?
• Which of the minor characters do you think were more fully developed than others?
Which character do you wish were more fully developed or explored? Why?
• Contrast is an effective tool for characterization.
Identify at least one pair of characters who contrast strongly with each other.
How did this production emphasize the contrast in character?
• Create a brief character sketch of Robert Ross. Consider important traits, values,
beliefs, attitudes, dominant emotions, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
Setting and Mood:
• What were your first impressions of the set designs?
What did the set design and props contribute to the overall effect of the play?
• A note in the adaptation written by Dennis Garnhum states that “The stage directions
indicate elaborate staging details for information purposes only. The play is intended
to be performed simply and imaginatively.”
The sets, however, should enable the viewer to better understand and enjoy the
play. To what extent did the sets help you better appreciate the performance and the
purposes of the play?
What meaningful choices were made in terms of colours and shapes to help set the
mood of the scenes?
• Identify when and how sound, music and lighting effects were used effectively during
What specific moods, atmosphere or effects did the use of sound, music and lighting
help to create at various times in the performance?
• Ultimately for a play to succeed, it must appeal to a wide audience.
In other words, it should have universal appeal.
Even though the play is set in the First world War, it can be said that the characters
and conflicts are universal.
Do you agree? Does this play have something significant to say to us today in the
21st Century? Explain.
What obvious choices (in casting, costumes, set, props, sound, acting, etc.) has the
director made to ensure that this play appeals to a wider audience?
• The stories in stage plays are frequently told in chronological order. Flashbacks, as
a narrative device, are more often used in printed fiction. The frequent use of
flashback in The Wars poses considerable challenges for the director and actors.
In what ways did the direction and the acting succeed in creating this special effect?
• Despite its serious subject matter, there is considerable verbal and physical humour
in the play. What effects are created by the use of humour in this play?
What purposeful directorial choices did you notice that succeeded in creating these
• Early in the story, much of what Robert says and does can be explained by the pain
and distress that he feels over the death of his sister Rowena. Identify some of the
choices that he makes because of what happened to Rowena.
• What does the last scene of the play emphasize about the ideas or theme of the
• What is Mrs. Ross saying about people and about life when she expresses the
following to Robert before he leaves to become a soldier:
“You think that Rowena belonged to you. Well I'm here to tell you, Robert, no
one belongs to anyone. We're all strangers. You here that? Strangers. I know
what you want to do. I know that you're going to go away and be a soldier.
Well - you can go to hell. I'm not responsible. I'm just another stranger. Birth I
can give you - but life I cannot. I can't keep anyone alive. Not any more.”
• The play is specifically set during World War I.
Why did Timothy Findley entitle his work The Wars?
Why not simply call it The War? What idea is emphasized by referring to war in the
• Besides the physical war that takes place on the battlefront, what other “wars” does
the play focus on?
• Does Robert change or learn anything significant about people or about life through
the course of this play? How does he change and what does he learn?
We relate to the characters and situations in The Wars because the play poses basic
essential questions about life.
Here, for example, are some of the many essential questions posed in the play:
• Why do nations continue to settle their differences through war?
• Why are so many young people so eager to risk their lives for their country?
• Is anything ever really settled through warfare?
• What happens to sensitive and kind people when they are faced with the realities of
• During warfare, why do people respond so strongly to the mistreatment of animals
when so many humans are dying all around them?
• Why are some people so obsessive about maintaining order and routine when they
find themselves in extremely stressful situations?
• How do people decide when they are offered a choice between a lifetime of extreme
pain and suffering or a quick death?
• How do people respond when they are faced with tragic events?
Choose any of the above essential questions to focus on as you are watching the play.
After the performance, complete any two of the following activities:
a. Write a brief composition discussing what the play has to say about one or more of the
b. Create a poem (or series of poems) in which you share your thoughts and feelings on
the treatment of any of the essential questions.
c. Create a promotional poster advertising a performance of The Wars.
The poster should draw people’s attention to the fact that the play deals with some of
the important essential questions listed above.
d. Write a letter to the director and share your thoughts and feelings about how the ideas
and themes of the play are dealt with in the performance.
e. Write at least three other essential questions that you think the play deals with.
Choose any of the following activities to deal with after viewing the
Theatre Calgary performance of The Wars.
1. Reflection on Pre-performance Activities
What pre-performance information and activities best prepared you for the play?
What else could you have done or wished you had done to have better prepared you for
the theatre experience?
2. Casting a Film Version of the Play
Imagine that the play is to be remade into a feature film.
Who would you cast in the roles of the principal characters? Why?
To justify your casting choices, you may refer to examples of other similar roles handled by
Which, if any, of the actors used in the Theatre Calgary production would you cast in your
3. Create an Act Three, Scene One for the play
What happens next? Assume three months have passed. Write a scene in which you
explore what you think will happen next in the lives of the characters in the play.
You may begin by considering any of the following questions:
Will Robert Ross die? If so, how?
How will his death or his continued life affect his family, his friends or nurse Marian?
4. Writing a Review
Write a review of the play you have just seen.
Read several newspaper or internet reviews to get a better idea of the style and structure of
a typical drama reviews.
A good central source for reviews can be found at:
Make sure that you do not follow any one review too closely. Your review should reflect
your personal take and evaluation of the performance.
5. Reflective Writing on the Theatre Experience
Consider the reasons why so many people prefer attending a live sporting event such as a
football or a hockey game to watching the same event on TV.
Now consider the ways in which attending a live theatre experience could be preferable to
watching a feature film on the big screen or a DVD or video at home.
What did you enjoy most about being part of the audience attending Theatre Calgary and
seeing The Wars?
Based on this experience, are you looking forward to attending another play in the near
6. Representing character, conflict and theme
Find (or create) a series of graphics, photos or illustrations that you think serve to illustrate
or bring to life in a significant way, the characters, the conflicts, or the themes of the story.
Write a few sentences explaining your choices and what the visuals represent.
7. Create a Scrapbook/Journal
As a permanent keepsake and record of your experiences with the Theatre Calgary
performance of The Wars, create a scrapbook or journal which includes artifacts,
assignments, and reflections.
Artifacts could include items such as theatre reviews from local newspapers, your ticket
stub and program.
You should also include all the assignments and activities that you completed in
preparation for your visit to Theatre Calgary as well as the “After the Curtain Falls”
Here are some other ideas that you may wish to consider for inclusion:
• journal entry commenting on your opinion of the actors playing the various roles
• a review of the play
• photographs taken before and after the performance (Remember that you are not
allowed to take pictures during the performance.)
• drawings or sketches of the various sets
• questions you would like to ask the actors or director
• journal entry dealing with your thoughts and impressions of being a part of a live
• graphics found on the internet relating to The Wars and Timothy Findley. Be sure to
• A discussion of how the play differs from the original novel. What has been left out
and how do you feel about the deletions.
• colourful cover and a detailed table of contents
• anything else that you think will make your scrapbook/journal worth going back to
several years from now
Once your scrapbook or journal is complete, you may choose to share it with the staff at
To do so, you should contact Amy Hershcovis and she will ensure that it gets shown to the
Amy Hershcovis can be reached at 294-7440 ext.1391 or by email at:
Answers to Vocabulary Development Exercise – page 18
Column A Column B
1. coulee j. shallow ravine
2. rendezvous f. date or meeting time
3. varsity s. a college or university team
4. lieutenant o. military officer
5. barbarous m. uncivilized; extremely cruel
6. barracks a. housing for soldiers
7. brawling n. noisy or violent
8. sea legs b. ability to walk steadily on board a ship
9. bronchitis c. illness affecting the bronchial tubes
10. Flemish d. Dutch speaking people who live in north western Belgium
11. dike q. a constructed barrier that holds back rising water
12. artillery e. troops who use large but portable firearms and launchers
13. topographical g. relating to the physical appearance of land masses
14. impediment t. something that interferes with or delays progress
15. minuet h. stately ballroom dance
16. cyclone i. violent windstorm, similar to a tornado
17. dugout k. a below ground fortification
18. cognac l. expensive brandy
19. despicable p. worthy of being despised and criticized
20. barrages r. heavy artillery fire