Lars Thorson decided to think outside the box and go in a different direction for an upcoming school play, The Diary of Anne Frank, performed by the Yosemite High School Theater Arts Department.
The play will be presented in a Living Museum theatrical format which includes live music, video projections, and a degenerate art show. The production will also feature video clips to add background about the war for the audience. At the side of the stage, a concentration camp will be highlighted throughout the play.
“I picked this play because I love it,” theater teacher Thorson said. “It’s such an important part of history, and is still taught as core literature in most 8th grade classes. I also chose it because it’s kind of a scary time in our history right now, and I want these students to understand the seriousness of war. They may learn about WWII, but I want them to have a more visceral experience, to really see and understand what the Jews and other groups endured.”
The Diary of Anne Frank was adapted in 1955 from the journaling of a young girl who went into hiding with her Jewish family in Amsterdam during the war. The family lived in Germany, but once Hitler came to power, her father moved his import spice business to Amsterdam.
Then the Nazis took over the Netherlands, and the Franks, along with another family and a Jewish dentist, lived in secret in the annex of the business loft for more than two years. The play follows their journey as told from Anne’s point of view.
“Most of the parts in the play will be performed by multiple actors. I did this intentionally so that the audience can see different people playing Anne or her parents,” Thorson continued. “To me, it helps re-enforce the idea that many, many people suffered in the Holocaust. Instead of it being a story of these eight people hiding in an annex in Amsterdam, it becomes more universal.”
“I play the youngest Anne at 13, and it’s not really depressing for her,” Emilie Neff said. “She’s just an immature teen. She’s bored and wants to play with her friends. She’s like a little girl. You can see the change in her maturity as the story progresses. She goes from a totally loud, goofball kid - kind of a rug rat - and by the end, she’s become more like a woman.”
“For me, it’s a more serious tone,” said Elissa Suderman, who plays Anne at 15. “The family gets caught and the Nazis invade their household. By that time, Anne has become philosophical, and asks what’s going to happen to us?”
“I think Anne was very brave,” Lauren Wharton, who plays Anne at 14, added. “She kept such a positive attitude. Everyone was trying to be realistic, but she kept saying everything was going to be okay.” Wharton shares the role of Anne at 14 with Alli Ruiz.
Thorson first directed this play in 2005, but this time took a unique approach.
“Because I wanted to create a larger theatrical experience, I have included other elements from the time period to enrich the production, which features students singing songs made famous by Edith Piaf, a French singer from the period,” Thorson said.
“There will also be an art show,” he added. “Our YHS art teacher Evan Higgins told me that during Hitler’s reign, he only allowed classical art to be displayed publicly, so artists who worked in different styles would create underground ‘degenerate’ art shows. We decided to use YHS student work to create such a show for this production.”
“It’s sad seeing how fast she had to grow up because of her circumstances,” Suderman reflected. “Anne was really just a little girl ... We’re not that much older than she was.”
The four Annes echoed that they couldn’t imagine living through what Anne Frank did at such a young age.
Performances of Diary of Anne Frank are 7 p.m., Nov. 16-18 in the YHS Theater. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for students without ASB cards and $5 for students with ASB cards or children under 14.
Details: (559) 683-4667 ext. 256.