A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Mar 5, 2013
CTM Shares Voices from the Holocaust
The power of Anne Frank’s words lives on nearly seventy years after she wrote about life during the Nazi occupation. And Children’s Theater of Madison honors other voices of the Holocaust in And Then They Came for Me.
CTM’s producing artistic director Roseann Sheridan took time to answer questions about the play, which combines acting with historic images and video interviews to share the journeys and recollections of two of Frank’s friends.
Why did you choose And Then They Came for Me for CTM this season?
Several reasons. I feel it is important to include one show a year that is geared toward a slightly older audience. CTM is committed to engaging young people from an early age and on into young adulthood. For me, it is the age of twelve to sixteen that really feels important; this is a time when personal ideologies are formed, when young people start to make up their own minds about what they believe in, what matters to them. The show met a lot of other interests, too: an important theme with curriculum connections (the Holocaust), featured roles for teenage actors as well as adults; a smaller set; and something unique theatrically—the use of film and projections.
What about the play most appeals to or resonates with you?
The focus on being a teenager during the Nazi regime—both a Jewish teenager and a non-Jewish teenager. The Hitler Youth, an unnamed character but one with an important role in the story, represents a part of the story not often talked about, and a huge tragedy: the loss of innocence and childhood. I also feel the fact that we are hearing—witnessing—the true stories of survivors, that we get to hear these people themselves tell their story, is a huge gift about this show. Many plays are written about the Holocaust, but few involve actual testimonials by survivors; here they are telling their story on camera. It’s real oral history.
Can you tell me about the play as well as its use of multimedia?
It’s really the story of three teenagers (Eva Schloss, Ed Silverberg and Anne Frank) and what it was like for them to go through this. It is their journey. It is not sentimental, it is not self-pitying; it is real, honest, and at times there is even humor. It’s a chronology of what happened to them—Eva was sent to Auschwitz and survived, Ed escaped to Belgium and survived.
The multimedia is used in several ways: First and foremost, Ed and Eva appear on camera (in the form of videotaped interviews) so we see and hear them fifty years after the events, recounting what happened. Onstage, actors relate to the video, sometimes asking them questions and more often re-enacting the scenes that Ed and Eva are talking about. For example, (older) Eva (on camera) may say, “One day, a telegram arrived and it said …” And then onstage the actors portraying Eva, her brother, her mother and father, pick up the story in “real time,” where the father is reading the postcard aloud, finishing the sentence, “Heinz Geiringer has three days to report to …”
The multimedia includes a lot of sound effects (boots marching, glass breaking, doors opening, that sort of thing) that help to tell the story. There is only one chair on stage, and no real “scenery.” Background images show photos or archival film of the events and places that are being portrayed onstage. The characters speak about their experience, for example: “I saw the synagogue burning” and on the projection screen we see actual footage or photos of just that.
The images are not graphic—there are no images of emaciated concentration camp prisoners, for example—but they are evocative, [such as] a photo of the huge pile of shoes that were taken from everyone upon entering Auschwitz or the gate going into Auschwitz with the sign, in German, “Work will make you free.” So the images support the story, provide authentic information and references for what and where, and create the literal background that was behind the lives of these people. It’s very important to me that the message gets across to potential audience members that the multimedia is not graphic or sensational; they are selective, considered, tasteful.
Who were Eva Schloss and Ed Silverberg?
Eva and Ed were friends with Anne Frank. Eva lived in the same apartment complex as Anne and had occasion to socialize with her. Ed actually “dated” Anne Frank when he was sixteen and Anne was thirteen. Their courtship lasted only about a year, but it was significant to Ed: “I think I was in love with her,” he says fifty years later. After the war, Eva’s mother met up with Otto Frank in England, and the two ended up getting married. Thus, Eva Geiringer actually became (post-humously) Anne Frank’s step-sister. Ed moved to the U.S. and raised a family in New Jersey. Eva was also in Auschwitz at the same time as Anne Frank. Ed escaped from Amsterdam to Brussels, went into hiding with his parents for over two years, and survived the war in this way.
How many actors are involved in this play?
There are nine actors in the show: Eva, Ed, Anne; Eva’s brother, mother and father; Ed’s mother and father; and the Hitler Youth. [There are] five youth, four adults.
How do you work with your young actors on taking on such difficult subject matter?
We spent the first week talking about what happened; we started with facts, dates, timeline, then moved to personal stories. We did some storytelling to think about what rights they have and what they don’t have in their own lives. What’s the most awful thing you can imagine happening? What’s the most wonderful thing you can imagine? There’s no way any of us can comprehend fully what these survivors went through, or what it was like to live in a town and have soldiers patrolling, to be at risk of getting shot or, worse captured, tortured or starved to death.
It’s heavy stuff, but these actors (the youngest is twelve; the oldest sixteen) are sensitive, smart, caring people. Because there is a good amount in the show that is written from the perspective of a teenager—“I’m fourteen years old. I want a normal life!”—I think they can relate to the immediate situation in some ways even if they (or any of us) can’t really comprehend the magnitude of the experience. We talked a lot about honor and respect—about how we are being given a gift to hear and tell these life stories. I think they understand what it means to have your personal experience validated, no matter what it is.
What do you hope audiences get from seeing this play?
I hope they come away and want to talk about what they saw. I hope they have a lot of questions and want to know more about people who have gone through not just the Holocaust but other experiences, too. I hope they get a glimpse into the lives of “ordinary people”—perhaps Anne Frank is so big, immortalized, sometimes idolized. Ed and Eva help us to realize there were many—millions—of people, young people, who were caught up in the spiral of these events.
We will be having post-show discussions with the audience after every show. For school shows (we have seven of them), the actors will remain in character to answer questions the audience may have. It’s another way of giving the audience permission to stay connected to the world of the play after the play itself is over.
I hope the play will also honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. It’s hard to believe but many young people don’t even know about the Holocaust; it is becoming “history” like the Civil War—distant, removed.
Finally, I hope that the play leaves us with a sense of optimism, that by remembering and sharing these stories, we have the chance to be aware of the seeds of genocide in our own time—and perhaps stop the escalation of prejudice and oppression.
And Then They Came for Me runs March 9–17 at Overture Center. For more information, visit ctmtheater.org.
Photo of Eva Schloss, Helmuth Silberberg and Anne Frank courtesy of CTM.