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Window onto History: Perspectives on The Diary of Anne Frank

By Westport Country Playhouse


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Francine Prose
Concurrent with its autumn production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Westport Country Playhouse is partnering with 16 community organizations to present “Window onto History: Perspectives on ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’” The series, from September 15 through October 30, will include speakers, panel discussions, talkbacks, films, family events and art exhibits designed to provide a wider context in which to access the life of Anne Frank, the Holocaust, genocide and issues of social justice. This initiative will feature scholars, artists, advocates for human rights, educators, documentarians and eyewitnesses as they shed light on a broad spectrum of fascinating subjects. Many events are free and open to the public.

"’Window onto History’ is an exciting and unprecedented venture for the Playhouse," said David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director. "For months we've been consulting experts, pulling together the best ideas, contacting the most interesting speakers, all to create this constellation of events surrounding the production of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’

“The Diary of Anne Frank,” helmed by award-winning director Gerald Freedman, will be staged at Westport Country Playhouse from September 28 through October 30, as part of its 80th Anniversary Season.

This new adaptation by Wendy Kesselman, from the original stage play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, tells the story of two years in one girl’s remarkable life. During the Second World War, Anne Frank and her family go into hiding to escape the Nazis. Her account of the time spent in a small Amsterdam attic remains among the greatest personal stories from the darkest moment in history, and one of the most compelling coming of age tales ever told.

Kennedy added, “The idea is to get people talking about the play, the many questions it raises, the many parallels that it has to the contemporary world, and to hopefully stir people’s minds in much the way that we know the production will stir their hearts.”

He believes that “these will be some of the most thought-provoking and intelligent public conversations happening in Fairfield County in the month of October.”

Partner organizations for the series are Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut, Anne Frank Center USA, Barnes & Noble of Westport, Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies at Fairfield University, Connecticut Coalition to Save Darfur, Facing History and Ourselves, The Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut, Neighborhood Studios of Bridgeport, PROOF: Media for Social Justice, UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk, Voices of Rwanda, Westport Arts Center, Westport/Weston Chapter of Hadassah, Westport Public Library and Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism.

“Window onto History: Perspectives on The Diary of Anne Frank” is made possible through the generous funding of the National Endowment for the Arts, Joseph and Joan Cullman Foundation for the Arts, and Judith and Burton Resnick.

Speakers, Panel Discussions and Talkbacks:

“Author Talk with Francine Prose,” produced in collaboration with Westport Public Library, will be on Sunday, September 19, 3 p.m., in the Playhouse’s Jason Robards Theatre. Critically acclaimed novelist Francine Prose will discuss her latest non-fiction effort, “Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife,” which The New York Times described as “an impressively far-reaching critical work, an elegant study both edifying and entertaining.” Making an impassioned argument for Anne Frank’s literary genius, Prose tells the story of Frank’s refuge, the discovery of her diary after her death and the global phenomenon that it eventually became. The talk is free and open to the public.

“Symposium: Anne Frank and the Americanization of the Holocaust” will be on Sunday, October 3, after the 3 p.m. matinee performance of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Lawrence L. Langer, one of the most prominent literary and cultural scholars of the Holocaust - author of the critically acclaimed collections of essays, “Using and Abusing the Holocaust,” “Admitting the Holocaust,” “Preempting the Holocaust” and “Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory” - will discuss the evolution of Anne Frank’s story over the last half century and the history behind its cooption as a “universal” story of hope and redemption. Free and open to the public.

“A Conversation with Molly Ephraim,” who plays “Anne” in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” will be on Wednesday, October 6, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at Barnes & Noble of Westport, 1076 Post Road East. Ephraim will read selections from Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl,” after which she will be interviewed by Westport Country Playhouse Associate Artistic Director David Kennedy about her work on this famous role. Ten percent of proceeds from all purchases this day will be donated to the Playhouse. Free and open to the public.

“Resurgence: The Face of Contemporary Anti-Semitism” will be on Wednesday, October 6, after the 8 p.m. performance of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Charles Small, Director of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, a founder of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, and one of the leading experts in his field, will give a talk on the history of anti-Semitism from the early twentieth century to today, with a particular emphasis on its contemporary manifestations. This will be followed by a Q&A with the audience. Free and open to the public.

“From Outrage to Advocacy: Raising Public Awareness of Genocide” will be on Thursday, October 7, after the 8 p.m. performance of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” The history of genocide in the twentieth century has a parallel history of advocacy, of daring men and women who made it their mission to raise awareness of these extraordinary crimes. The audience will learn about the history of advocacy and what today’s advocates are doing to avert tomorrow’s next human rights catastrophe. Free and open to the public.

“A Brief Life Illuminated: The Power of Anne Frank’s Words,” will be on Sunday, October 10, after the 3 p.m. matinee performance of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Peter Nelson, Director of the New York Regional Office of Facing History and Ourselves, will lead a post-show discussion about “The Diary of Anne Frank,” addressing the question, "Why does Anne Frank continue to speak to us with such power?" Free and open to the public.

“Words of Defiance: Writing as Resistance during the Holocaust,” will be on Wednesday, October 13, after the 8 p.m. performance of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Ellen M. Umansky, Director of the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies at Fairfield University, will explore diary writing as a form of non-violent resistance during the Holocaust, contrasting Holocaust diaries, including Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl,” with memoirs and other forms of literature. Free and open to the public.

“Talkback with the Actors” will be on Thursday, October 14, after the 8 p.m. performance of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Members of the cast will discuss the creative process, the historical research required of them as actors and the responsibility inherent in bringing this story to life on the stage. Free and open to the public.

“Living to Tell: A Discussion with Child Survivors of Genocide” will be on Sunday, October 17, after the 3 p.m. matinee performance of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” The magnitude of the crime of genocide can be overwhelming with the statistics of the sheer numbers of people who are brutalized, displaced or murdered. But genocide, while being one large crime against a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, is also many single crimes committed against countless individuals, even against the youngest and most defenseless. This panel discussion will focus on the individual experience of genocide, featuring the remarkable stories of several people who survived it as children. Discounted student ticket price to the show of $15. Discussion is free and open to the public.

“So the World Will Know: Attempts to Document Genocide,” on Thursday, October 28, after the 8 p.m. performance, will feature a panel, including Taylor Krauss from Voices of Rwanda and Joanne Rudoff from The Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University. They will address the unique challenges of methodology, access and preservation in collecting and archiving the voices of survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides. Free and open to the public.

Workshops for Teachers:

There will be two Professional Development Workshops for Teachers, the first with the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut on Wednesday, September 15, 4 to 7 p.m., in the Playhouse’s Sheffer Studio. The half-day workshop for teachers is based on ADL’s Echoes and Reflections program. A multimedia Holocaust education curriculum, Echoes and Reflections was developed jointly by the ADL, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute and Yad Vashem. It provides instruction on the history of the Holocaust within the context of contemporary issues of cultural diversity, intolerance and genocide, using photographs, artwork, diary entries, letters, poems, maps and government documents, as well as visual history testimony by Holocaust survivors, rescuers and other eyewitnesses. The workshop is free and open to all educators. For further information or to register for the teacher development workshops, please contact Angela Marroy Boerger at (203)227-5137, x133, or via email at aboerger@westportplayhouse.org.

The second Professional Development Workshop for Teachers will be with Facing History and Ourselves on Thursday, September 23, 4 to 7 p.m. in the Playhouse’s Sheffer Studio. Peter Nelson, Director of the New York regional office of Facing History and Ourselves, will present a half-day workshop for teachers exploring themes of identity, isolation and memory through the lens of Anne Frank’s diary and those of other teenage victims of the Holocaust. Using entries from the text and other resources, the workshop will look into how journal keeping and diary-writing enable both self-discovery and an escape from isolation. The workshop is free and open to all educators. For further information or to register for the teacher development workshops, please contact Angela Marroy Boerger at (203)227-5137, x 133, or via email at aboerger@westportplayhouse.org.

Film Screenings:

“Parallel Paths” and “The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank,” a screening of two films, will be presented in collaboration with the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University on Monday, September 27, 7 p.m., in the Playhouse’s Sheffer Studio. “Parallel Paths” is a first-hand account of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of survivors, witnesses and rescuers who had experiences similar to that of Anne Frank. In “The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank,” Anne’s surviving friends tell the horrifying story that begins where her famous diary leaves off, and for the first time the concentration camp experiences of Anne and her family are recounted. The screening will be followed by a discussion. Free and open to the public.

Youth and Family Events:

“Together at the Table Family Dinner” will be offered on two Thursday evenings, October 7, 6:30 p.m., October 14, 6:30 p.m., in the Playhouse’s Sheffer Studio. These Family Nights allow families to enjoy a communal dinner in the Playhouse’s rehearsal barn and a casual conversation about the show before attending a mainstage performance of “The Diary of Anne Frank” at 8 p.m. This program aims to make live theater accessible to more families, and to introduce young audience members to Westport Country Playhouse in a warm and informal atmosphere. Discounted ticket price of $10 includes dinner and show; must attend as a family group with student-age children. Limited to 100 people.

“Making Diaries: A Family Workshop based on ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’” will be on Friday, October 8, 4 to 5:30 p.m., at Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Avenue. Recommended for ages 6-12, Molly Ephraim, the actress who plays Anne Frank, will recite Anne’s powerful words, followed by children creating their own story in a mixed-media diary using a range of innovative art materials. Free and open to the public. Reservations recommended.

“Special Family Performance: Together at the Table with Neighborhood Studios” will be on Saturday, October 23, 2 p.m. matinee. This special public matinee performance will provide an opportunity for student artists at the Neighborhood Studios in Bridgeport to attend “The Diary of Anne Frank,” as well as for other local students to attend with their families at a discounted ticket rate. This matinee will be followed by a talkback featuring a panel of the Neighborhood Studios student artists whose sculpture will be displayed in the Playhouse lobby. $10 ticket includes lunch and show; must attend as a family group.

“An Evening for Jewish High Schools” on Tuesday, October 19, 7 p.m., will offer a specially discounted student performance at $15 per ticket, followed by a discussion featuring Molly Ephraim, the actress playing Anne Frank, and Maureen McNeil, director of the Anne Frank Center USA.

“A Day for the Jewish Community” will be on Sunday, October 24, 3:00 p.m. matinee, sponsored by UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk. This specially discounted matinee performance will be followed by a discussion for the whole family exploring the fascinating history of how Jewish traditions, practices and artifacts were preserved during the Holocaust. Pre-show reception of light refreshments in the lobby. Discounted student ticket price of $15.

The run of “The Diary of Anne Frank” includes six student matinees, through which the Playhouse will aim to reach upwards of 3,000 local secondary students. Each matinee performance will be followed by a talkback hosted by members of the Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut, in which students will have an opportunity to hear the voices and perspectives of local Holocaust survivors. Additionally, the Playhouse will provide an in-depth study guide featuring dramaturgical and historical discussions to those schools and teachers attending performances.

Art Exhibits:

Westport Country Playhouse will display “The Attic Sculpture,” created by students at the Neighborhood Studios in Bridgeport, from September 28 through October 30 in the Playhouse lobby. The sculpture is the collective result of each student’s individual artistic response to reading the diary. The project is guided by Steffi Friedman, a sculptor and teacher who was a Jewish teenager in Nazi Germany. When her family fled Germany two weeks before Kristalnacht in 1938, they escaped to Amsterdam and settled one block away from the famous annex where Anne Frank and her family went into hiding.

“Memory,” an exhibition at the Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Avenue, curated by Helen Klisser During, will run Friday, September 24 through Sunday, November 28. This exhibition explores the importance and fragility of memory, and asserts that documenting one’s own experiences is a valuable undertaking that will have significant impact on future generations. Work on display will include drawings, paintings, lithographs, film and sculpture by Christian Boltanski, Sophie Calle, Anselm Keifer, Mayer Kirshenblatt, Leo Kok and Ursula von Rydingsvard, among others. All of these artists address collective memories surrounding events both pre-and post-World War II, but through the medium of art, embellish and abstract them, so that the resulting images exist in a space between fact and fiction. As part of the exhibition, visitors will be encouraged to document their own memories through writing, speaking, drawing or painting—proving that everyone has stories worth sharing and recording. The exhibition is intended to complement and build upon the powerful memories conveyed in the Playhouse’s staging of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Blog and Brochure:

Throughout the rehearsal and run of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Molly Ephraim who plays the title role, will blog about her experience in the production on the Playhouse’s website, www.westportplayhouse.org.

A brochure on the “Window onto History” series is available by contacting Westport Country Playhouse’s box office at 203-227-4177; or a listing of the events is available at www.westportplayhouse.org

About the Playhouse:

Westport Country Playhouse, a not-for-profit theater, serves as a treasured home for the performing arts and is a cultural landmark for Connecticut. Under the artistic direction of Mark Lamos and management direction of Michael Ross, the Playhouse creates quality productions of new and classic plays that enlighten, enrich and engage a diverse community of theater lovers, artists and students. The Playhouse’s rich history dates back to 1931, when New York theater producer Lawrence Langner created a Broadway-quality stage within an 1830s tannery. The Playhouse quickly became an established stop on the New England “straw hat circuit” of summer stock theaters. Now celebrating its 80th season, Westport Country Playhouse has produced more than 700 plays, 36 of which later transferred to Broadway, most recently the world premiere of "Thurgood" and a revival of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" with Paul Newman, and in earlier years "Come Back, Little Sheba" with Shirley Booth, "The Trip to Bountiful" with Lillian Gish, and "Butterflies Are Free" with Keir Dullea and Blythe Danner. For its artistic excellence, the Playhouse received a 2005 Governor's Arts Award and a 2000 "Connecticut Treasure" recognition. It was also designated as an Official Project of Save America's Treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is entered on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places. Following a multi-million dollar renovation completed in 2005, the Playhouse transformed into a year-round, state-of-the-art producing theater, which has preserved its original charm and character. In addition to a full season of theatrical productions, the Playhouse serves as a community resource, presenting educational programming and workshops; a children's theater series; symposiums; music; films; and readings.

Westport Country Playhouse’s five-play 2010 season: “She Loves Me,” a romantic musical comedy, with book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, directed by Mark Lamos, April 20 – May 15; “Dinner with Friends,” a comic drama by Donald Margulies, directed by David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director, June 1 through 19; “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett, a play of luminous beauty and rare power, directed by Mark Lamos, July 6 through July 24; “I Do! I Do,” an endearing musical, with book and lyrics are by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, directed by Susan H. Schulman, August 10 through September 4; and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” a timeless and powerful classic, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, adapted by Wendy Kesselman, directed by Gerald Freedman, September 28 through October 30.

For more information or ticket purchases, call the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets may be purchased online at www.westportplayhouse.org. Stay connected to the Playhouse on Facebook (Westport Country Playhouse) and/or follow on Twitter (@WCPlayhouse).




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