From Rose Artistic Director Matthew Gutschick
The Diary of Anne Frank is a story that not only shines a light on a tragic time in our history, but also inspires as it showcases the resiliency of the human spirit. It also reminds us that there is still a great amount of work to achieve.
There is a need for dialogue about this show, which is absolutely what we believe Anne would intend. Our hope is to engage with those who seek mutual understanding. We most want the spirit of Anne Frank and her diary to begin to reverberate in our lives as contemporary members of this community in 2020. We have framed this production of The Diary of Anne Frank in a way that we feel will resonate with modern audiences, allowing everyone to see themselves represented in this important historic piece.
You will see on stage actors of different cultures, ethnicities, races and experiences. We believe that this diversity enhances and enriches the overall performance.
We are grateful to the Institute For Holocaust Education for partnering with us on this project. The IHE’s director recently shared the following resource with us, and I found it to be incredibly helpful in furthering my own understanding of our team’s approach to the material. It makes clear that the diary has been run through so many universalizing lenses over the course of its existence (including the cornerstone dramatic adaptation having been created by two non-Jewish playwrights), that the ideals to which her father, Otto Frank, wished the text to speak to were about humanism:
From The Diary of Anne Frank Director Rachel Grossman
Working on The Diary of Anne Frank is a tremendous honor, one that I do not take lightly. It terrifies me and delights me, saddens me to my core and strengthens my convictions. You’ve entrusted me a special story that’s carried deep personal meaning to so many for 65+years. You’ve entrusted me with a specific story of human devastation, destruction, cruelty, death, survival, and, thank goodness, hope. You’ve entrusted me with a uniquely Jewish story about anti-semitism and persecution of the Jewish people under Hitler and the Nazis. You’ve entrusted me to engage audiences in learning and dialogue around the rise of systems of racism and oppression in Nazi Germany (Hitler’s campaign to “purify” Germany and the whole of Europe); yes, ableism, ethnicism, heterosexism, etc. were a part of Hitler’s campaign but it was pointedly targeted at Jewish people, mostly Ashkenazi Jews living in Europe at that time. You’ve entrusted me to tell the story of Anne Frank, to predominantly youth audiences, in Omaha, NE in 2020.
And so, this is the story we will be telling.
We will be telling the story of Anne Frank, a Jewish teen, forced into hiding for near 26-months with seven other Jewish people because their identity was made illegal in their home country and then their adopted country. It is a story of anti-semitism and the Holocaust. That’s what will be on stage.
The story of Anne Frank occurred an ocean away and 74 years ago. Why do we tell this story now?
- instruct in the conditions that led to the Holocaust (which in/of itself specifically teaches anti-semitism)
- promote cross-cultural empathy and understanding between all social groups
- combat bystanderism by supporting activism
In the United States today I’m seeing a rise in overt anti-Semitism along with a rise in overt racism, sexism, genderism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. As a Jewish person, a theatre artist, an activist, a history lover, and a one-time aspiring political scientist: it would be irresponsible to direct this play without contextualizing the production in contemporary U.S. events for our specific general audience. At The Rose Theater that audience is predominantly a youth or adolescent audience, from a range of racial and ethic backgrounds.
How can we teach that audience the specific story of Anne Frank and activate them as a result to apply that knowledge in their daily actions? That’s my job with The Rose. How can we use this story of a young girl, the audience’s age, who was living in the most terrible extreme circumstances her people have experienced, and yet managed to quite literally discover the power of her voice? Studies and research show that to relate, to connect, we must see ourselves—see ourselves in stories about other people, places, and times. This is why, of course, it is of import to me to tell Anne Frank’s story with a cast of many different looking people, to have the costuming be vivid colors and not sepia toned, to have the set up close to the audience, to have entrances and exists from the audience, to have contemporary youth characters bookend the play. It’s all an invitation into the investigation and self-reflection of how a specific story about a Jewish girl experiencing anti-semitism in Holland in the 1940s can be about each of us in Omaha in 2020.