Here is the story of the most important play I’ve directed in 38 years.
Twenty-nine years ago, I received the rare privilege to perform Mrs. Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. I will never forget the experience. This is one of those shows that seldom comes along but when it does, people flock to participate in it.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to serve as director to the production twenty-two years later. The Diary of Anne Frank is the most important production I’ve directed in my 38 years of my career.
The most important reason to produce The Diary of Anne Frank is because Anne Frank was a real person who lived and died during a terrible time in our history. Her diary is real and validates the facts of this injustice. You’ll want to read to the end of this post. I’ll explain my affinity for it, too.
We can’t tell this story enough times.
Let’s first talk about the standard requirements one considers when producing this amazing play.
The cast totals ten five women and five men, three of which are teen actors.
In my opinion, there is nothing better than a cast varying in age and gender. Of course a young female is needed to portray Anne and another for her sister, Margot. There is a young man, Peter Van Daam, too. The women’s roles are excellent, especially Mrs. Frank and Mrs. VanDaam. Because they are everything motherly, it is fairly easy to cast them with amateurs. Mr. VanDaam is a nice role with much complexity of which to play. Other than Anne, the most important character is Mr. Frank– a fatherly, husbandly, respectful man who serves as the leader of the families.
The play appeals to all ages. Young teens relate to Anne’s need for privacy, her crush on Peter and continuous disagreements with her mother. I think it is important for our youth to see that even though over seventy years have passed since Anne’s demise in 1945, her wants and needs were much the same as any young girl of today. Even the dialogue sounds like something you might hear emanating from a present day home.
The set consists of one place—the attic, although within it one needs a kitchen area (for preparing real food), an eating area, an attic room and several small bedrooms. The costumes are simple 1940’s style. The props are easy to collect. You do need a lot of beds (6) but that can be readily found. We used cots for my production.
I believe the play is best served in an intimate setting then audience members have the best view to observe the story as it unfolds. The closer the audience is to the actors the better. The first time I was involved in the play a small community theatre produced it. The audience was no more than six feet from us.
Yet, even as I state this I’m reminded I directed it on a high school stage in a four hundred seats auditorium. It didn’t matter. Every moment is riveting.
Surprisingly, there are humorous moments in the play. I don’t think people expect them. Most center on Anne and Peter— flirting with each other while trying to grow up as everyone is watching and their first kiss. It is sublime young love, I must say.
The families’ dynamics while sharing the tiny apartment space are exactly those of some unfortunate people living in present day circumstances–sharing one bathroom, multiple people sharing a bedroom, never having enough food to eat and always in despair. These challenges resonate with audiences.
I’d suggest a director invite someone of the Jewish faith to speak with the cast. This person can answer questions, give insight into the plight of the Jews, explain the Jewish faith and serve as advisor when needed.
There is a sound effects CD you can purchase to use for the show. It is conveniently listed with the play on the Dramatists Plays website. This takes care of the sounds that can be difficult to find on your own—the Gestapo marching in the streets, the cathedral bells, etc. It even includes the sound of the Gestapo banging on the annex’s door. I didn’t utilize it because I thought it was more effective to have a live sound effect at that point in the performance. It gives the audience an opportunity to feel the jolt of surprise and fear the moment the families were taken. Nothing is more frightening and shocking.
Let’s be honest and discuss the most important reason for producing this powerful play.
The Diary of Anne Frank play demonstrates the social injustice and religious persecution of Jewish people during Hitler’s reign.
It’s one thing to study the history of WWII. One can view a video or read a book about it, but nothing compares to observing real people telling the story right in front of you.
An important note: Several years ago Mr. Frank’s monologue near the end of the play was edited and updated. It contains gut wrenching, eye witness accounts of Anne’s last days while living alone in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belzen.
As our World War II veterans pass away and we have fewer and fewer left to share their experiences during the war, eye witness accounts are tremendously important.
I’d like to state that I’m certain there is no family in world today who is living in similar circumstances to Anne Frank. I’m sad to say I’m certain someone is living this life all over again. Merely look at Syria.
My father was a battalion aid surgeon during WWII. Like many veterans, he never spoke of the war. I do know that he snuck behind enemy lines to deliver a French woman’s baby while under the watchful eye of a sniper. I know he was a prisoner for a few days. I know he contracted pneumonia from hiking through wet terrain and damaged his ear drum enough to lose the hearing in his ear. I know he was present when they freed Dachau. He felt the warm walls of the crematorium. He saw Jewish prisoners, nearly naked, emaciated, dazed and confused wander out of the camp. These were eye witness accounts, true facts.
That’s all I know.
Maybe in some small way, I am not only remembering the Jewish people but honoring my father’s life by directing this play.
I can help us all to remember and not allow us to repeat ourselves.
Do you want to make a mark on the world? Do you think all people matter? Do you have the opportunity to select a play for a theater’s season? Please consider The Diary of Anne Frank.
If you have the rare opportunity to be involved on this play, shoot me an email, too. If I can, I would be honored to attend.