Calgary director uses his own lightning strike survival as the core of Struck
Eric Rose was just 21 when his life changed in a flash.
Years ago, Rose went camping with friends at Long Lake near Sudbury, Ont. to have a break from school and enjoy some downtime. At the time, he was a university student and a director at a small summer theatre company.
Rose and his best friend pitched a tent in a grove of pine and poplar trees just above the lake while their other two friends slept in a sauna.
After a night of fun with his friends, Rose woke the next morning and needed to get back for rehearsals. Everyone was hanging out and enjoying their last day together, despite the rain.
“The next thing I knew, I was at the back of the tent and I couldn’t move and could smell burnt flesh and hair,” Rose says.
Less than one-in-a-million odds
He had been struck by lightning—an experience that would eventually become the basis of his play Struck, which is making its world premiere in Calgary on Jan. 31, running until Feb. 11 at Ghost River Theatre.
Rose had a hard time comprehending the emotional gravity that catastrophic event would have on him for the rest of his life. While lightning strikes happen to less than one in one million people, 90 per cent of victims survive.
“When I walked into the hospital, I had a full-blown panic attack, but I didn’t know what that was. I had no language for it,” Rose says.
“It revealed to me that strange liminal space between adolescence and adulthood. In adolescence, everything is about us and we’re naively invincible.”
After the lightning strike, Rose knew this was not true for him anymore.
“It kind of took away my general sense of safety. And it really changed the way that I approach and think about my place in the world. Nature is quite apathetic to us,” Rose says.
Another catastrophic life event
Later in life, Rose began to fully unpack the traumatic experience of being struck by lightning, largely because his father had suddenly died in 2017.
“It is the sudden moments of irrevocable change in our lives that is one of the focuses of the play,” he adds.
Struck has been in the making for over 20 years as Rose, now a playwright and director, delved into his traumas and found a way to share his story in an impactful way.
“I think the thing that people will relate to in the work is that common idea of big moments of change. There’s before and there’s after, and there’s no way to go back to the before,” Rose says.
He wants viewers to embrace the conversation of mortality and help people become better at having those difficult conversations instead of avoiding them.
Act by act
The first act of Struck portrays Rose at the age of 21, played by Danie J. Perryman, discussing his experience of being struck by lightning.
“The first act uses the idea of making a film live on stage which is all about illumination,” Rose explains.
The second act depicts Rose at the age of 40, played by Nathan Schmidt, and is centred around his father’s death.
“The second act actually strips all of that production away, and in some ways it’s about absence and void,” Rose adds.
He hopes audiences will be able to achieve a sense of understanding regarding loss, especially after the pandemic that brought loss into everyone’s lives.
“It’s really a longer view of how these big life events change us and the implications of them,” Rose says.
Living in Calgary now
Rose wrote the majority of the first act at the age of 26 when he moved from Toronto to Calgary. He was living alone for the first time and did not know anyone in the city, which left him with hours of free time.
Every morning for a year, Rose would wake up and write, which he found therapeutic.
“As artists, what we can offer is the truth of our own experiences. But at times, it’s also the vulnerability of placing yourself on the line that allows people to invest deeply in that experience.”
Rose initially only wrote the first act of his play, but when his father died, he realized he needed to write more.
“When my dad died, I actually took a trip back to Sudbury and I was invited by a company to do a staged reading of that first act. Looking at it again, I realized that I had a lot more to say,” Rose says.
Reflecting while looking forward
“What I’ve realized in entering into midlife is that it is a different perspective to think, ‘Here I am standing with one foot in the wreckage of my past and one foot looking forward into the future,’” Rose says.
“The past offers a ton of information in relation to what the future might hold and I think that without some real reflection and examination, it’s quite difficult to imagine that future.”
Rose hopes his play will reach even more audiences in the future.
The world premiere of Struck runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 11 at Calgary’s West Village Theatre. Tickets are available here.