It was a crime that sent shock waves across the nation and left a southern Alberta community in unbearable grief.
In April 2006, a 12-year-old girl and her 23-year-old boyfriend, Jeremy Steinke fatally stabbed her mother, father and six-year-old brother in their Medicine Hat home after the girl’s parents forbid her from seeing him. The youth was handed a 10-year sentence for first-degree murder while Steinke was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 25 years.
Francesca Albright was living in Calgary at the time of the murders and felt shocked and intrigued by the headlines splashed across the news.
She was studying playwriting with the Alberta Playwright’s Network and decided to go to Medicine Hat with her brother, Jude Allen, along with a couple research assistants to speak with members of the community a year after the murders. During an eight-month period, the crew travelled to the city five times, collecting more than 100 interviews.
“People were still in shock and were very affected by it. It was hard to get people to open up, but if we got one person that came forward, they would usually speak to their friends on our behalf,” said Albright, who had never done anything like this before and was inspired by The Lamarie Project.
“The first interview we did my hands were shaking on the recorder. We cared about the people we spoke to and definitely felt terrible, especially for some of the younger people. There were parents that had quit their careers to stay home with their children.”
The crew talked to teenagers that were close to the killers, along with parents, police, teachers, politicians, crime reporters and psychologists, resulting in a treasure trove of details and perspectives that never reached the courthouse or the news.
They returned to Calgary to transcribe the interviews, find new leads, then went back to Medicine Hat to chase more rumours and connect the dots.
One interview that sticks out for Albright involves a 14-year-old girl who was romantically involved with Steinke and living with his mother. She looked younger than 14, Albright recalled, and absolutely adored the killer.
“It just freaked me out that even after everything that happened, he still had this power over people, that there was a group of young girls that had attached themselves to him,” said Albright. “A lot of people knew things that could have maybe prevented this and that I think more than anything is the hardest thing to sort out in my head.”
The interviews were eventually condensed into a 70-minute play called Castle in the Sky, which premiered as part of Sage Theatre’s IGNITE! Festival in Calgary in June 2011. It then toured Fort McMurray and had a one-night performance in Medicine Hat. Now, it will premier at the Belfry Theatre from April 23 to 29 by the Victoria-based documentary theatre company, Castlereigh Theatre Project, which was started in 2007 by Albright and Allen after moving to Victoria.
Densely woven and deeply personal, the play is an intriguing study of violence, heartbreak and healing as seen through the eyes of a community dealing with the unimaginable. All the dialogue is told verbatim from the interviews collected by the crew.
“You have to keep in mind that these people are playing real people. We punctuated it the way they speak,” she said, noting the play is not gruesome or sensational, but focuses on the community.
“Everybody shared the same pain. The way they were processing it, even though their circumstances might be different, everyone was in the same boat.”
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the Medicine Hat murders. For more information visit castlereigh.com of tickets.belfry.bc.ca for tickets.