By Zak Berkman, Producing Director
Anne Frank’s diary has been translated into over 67 languages and the publication has sold over 30 million copies. The play adaptation has been staged by professionals, amateurs, and schools all over the world. Our production adds one more call to remembrance and resistance as part of Anne’s remarkable legacy.
Each production of The Diary of Anne Frank offers the opportunity to experience Anne’s story in different ways. While the setting, characters, and lines don’t change, the distinctive nature of theatre-making permits us to reflect and highlight values, questions, and concerns that we believe resonate most with the current moment we share. For this production, we were especially struck by Anne’s boundless curiosity and radical inclusivity.
Anne is a young woman, branded, hiding indefinitely in the cramped confines of the annex, forced to be silent hours upon hours, and yet she ebulliently welcomes others. Told by her father that the Franks and van Daans would now be “one family,” Anne delights in the notion. Despite her nightmares of the dehumanizing violence of the Nazis, Anne rejects fatalism. She prizes human connection. She is fascinated by difference. When Anne learns the Allies need diaries to help expose the Nazi atrocities, she is elated by the possibility that her words might stretch through time to speak to people she would never know.
These aspects of Anne’s character are one source of inspiration for our approach to this production. We asked ourselves, how might we carry Anne’s torch and be as open, romantic, hopeful, and rebellious as she was? How may we break through barriers of nationality, language, and time like her diary? How might our work refute and transcend the powers of division that murdered Anne? How might we invite more people to find a safe home under our roof?
There is a rich tradition within Jewish culture to welcome as many to the table as possible. Another inspiration for this production is the 1969 Freedom Seder, which intentionally linked the Passover story to the Civil Rights Movement to mark the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.. Each time we stage The Diary of Anne Frank there is a seder quality to it. We gather for a story many know well, which we may introduce to others. It is a ritual of memory, reflection, and a promise to keep the light. Given the nationalistic and racist violence that has ensued this past year in our country and throughout the world, we wondered how our production might be its own kind of Freedom Seder. How might we mark this occasion through a sharing of Anne’s story that includes a greater diversity of perspectives and experiences?
Reverend Channing E. Philips, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and Topper Carew at the first Freedom Seder in 1969.
This spurred us to meet with numerous Jewish and Interfaith leaders, educators, and activists. We spoke with playwright/adapter Wendy Kesselman, a wide variety of artists and artistic leaders, as well as various experts in the field of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. These were family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers from our five-county region to New York, DC, New England, California, Oregon, Canada, England, Germany, and Israel. They were of many races, ages, and cultural identities. We discussed DACA, Charlottesville, Syria, swastikas on elementary school playgrounds, slurs at bus stops, so many lives made invisible under constant threat of deportation and violence. We spoke of how the arts help us imagine, empathize, step into the lives of others we find familiar and far different from ourselves. These conversations helped shape many components to this production, from what is on stage to what surrounds it.
We listened. We learned. We debated. We brainstormed. We discussed how voices and ideas often marginalized might be centered in this production, which led us to prioritize greater access to our casting process (we held auditions in four different locations and accepted video submissions from across the country) and diversity within our acting ensemble, as well as our creative and design teams. Families in our community shared their hunger to experience theatre together, so we scheduled performance times when people of all generations can attend. Patrons who benefit from open captioning expressed how much they value attending our productions, which led us to expand the number of Open Caption performances for this run. Similarly, patron feedback stirred us to add more opportunities for sensory tours and audio-description, as well as highlight how we welcome service dogs to all our performances. Many asked that we provide ways for people of all ages and abilities to learn about the history of Anne’s life, and how her specific experiences and circumstances speak directly to our own. This informed our interactive lobby installation, opportunities for private reflection, the many conversations, panel discussions, and other events that surround this production (see our main production page for a full list), and what will populate our website.
Please continue to check on this page and our blog to be in conversation with us about our production and surround events. We wish to hear from you about what it means to stage this play today in Malvern, PA, and what topics are front of mind for you. We’re curious about your relationship with Jewish history and the diversity of thought and identity within Jewish communities. As a multi-racial ensemble portrays these characters, we wonder what questions it raises for you, what feelings it sparks. We’re eager to ask the artists about this as well, and to share their experiences. Much has been written recently about the historic conflation of Jewishness and Whiteness, and we are fascinated to explore how our production intersects with that broader investigation. Further, we hope to discuss how our approach to this production may inform and inspire future efforts of equity, diversity, and inclusion with our productions, programs, and organization as a whole.
If you have questions or topics of conversation you hope we will include here or as part of our surround activities, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For over 70 years, the words, memories, and experiences of this teenage girl have uplifted and challenged generation after generation of people to make a better world. May our production of The Diary of Anne Frank do its part.