“I was Anne Frank,” Sophomore Alison Stevens recalled.
“The lines blurred to who I was as the son of Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan and the son of Kim and Terry,” said sophomore Noah Richmond.
“It was true fear,” Freshman Merideth Kirry explained. “The mindset that you were going to be killed took over everything.”
From 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. on March 1-2, Jenkins High School theatre director Janet McLaughlin sequestered her lead cast from the Diary of Anne Frank, isolating them in a small space downtown Chewelah to experience a little of what Anne Frank described in her diaries when her family went into hiding during the Holocaust.
Quoted from synopsis from Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl (from which the play was adapted): “In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.”
The eight people sequestered were Anne Frank (Alison Stevens), Margot Frank (Merideth Kirry), Mr. and Mrs. Frank (Todd Burks and Megan Rowe), Peter Van Daan (Noah Richmond), Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (Will Londagin and Lindsie Schlafman), and Mr. Duessel (Justin Lester). Miep (Naomi Miller) also played integral part to the experience bringing food as well as a connection from the outside world.
Although the apartment, located above Sago Naturals and More, was nicer than the “Secret Annexe,” it was similar in that it was small place with a bathroom and kitchen above a business where traffic could be seen and heard. They also turned down the heat to about 55 degrees and only ate food when Miep (Miller) came by once at night and once in the morning with basics such as potatoes and bread.
McLaughlin stayed in the apartment the entire time but they never saw her.
The cast all agreed that their experience changed them and their understanding of the characters they play even though it was only 16 hours.
Although they were in and out of character during that time, they discovered the characters within themselves even if their personality was different than how they normally act. They gained a better understanding for the emotions of the real people they portray, which Justin Lester said is the most difficult part of being an actor.
Stevens said this play is not like putting on a hat and becoming a character, but discovering that the person is already part of you.
“I will go in the future not saying I played Anne Frank at JHS but that I was Anne Frank,” Stevens said.
Burks said he is not a natural leader, but by the end of the experience as all his “family” kept anticipating the worst and asked him what to do, he was more confident with his answers knowing how Mr. Frank would react. Stevens said that they were more decisive with their decisions because their characters guided them in a certain direction.
The students were told to stay quiet during business hours like in the real story, which happened to be 8-10 a.m. on that Saturday, and they also found it very trying.
They truly believed they needed to be quiet so they would not get caught and the anxiety was at its highest near the end when they did not know what to expect. Stevens said she knew on one side of her brain that they were not going to be captured, however the other side of the brain took over every time they would hear any sort of noise, which forced everyone back into their character.
To set the tone from the beginning, while Mr. Frank (Burks) was leading them to the apartment, a van with sirens blaring drove by to frighten them.
“We wondered if we should hide, but thought that might make us more suspicious,” Rowe said as one example of some of the thoughts going through each of their heads during the entire experience.
The experience also helped them understand the relationships of the people that evolved in real life during their time in hiding.
Everyone agreed they started getting on each other’s nerves as the hours drug on and wished for a little time to themselves once in while. “But wherever you went there was always someone else there,” Stevens said.
However, she could understand why Peter and Anne became close in real life because talking to him was enough of an escape for her away from everyone else living in the secret annexe.
Miller said she got more out of the experience than she expected as someone who was not stuck inside the entire time.
“I now understand how Miep became part of the family even though she could leave,” Miller said. “She was just as excited to see them as they were to see her.”
She gave them something to look forward to. The students also found reasons to keep her visits longer because that connection to the outside brought them hope and gave them a break from the isolation.
Anne Frank was known for her optimism and positive spirit, and her longing for the outside world. And, with this experience, the cast said they now understand why Anne, who was taking medication for depression during her last year in the annexe, said she could finally be happy in the concentration camps because she could be outside around new people once again.
JHS Theatre will present The Diary of Anne Frank on Wednesday through Saturday, March 13-16 at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on March 16. Advance tickets cost $5 and are sold at Valley Drug, Akers United Drug, and The Independent. Tickets cost $7 at the door.
The Diary of Anne Frank was dramatized by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett in 1956. The JHS production is directed by Janet McLaughlin with Vanessa Calhoon and Mullein Farneman as stage managers. Additional cast members include three soldiers played by Kale Koler, James Gilreath, and Kyle Huguenin, and Russell Smith portrays Mr. Kraler.
In This Photo: JHS Theatre students (L-R) Todd Burks, Megan Rowe, Alison Stevens, Will Londagin, Lindsie Shlafman, Noah Richmond, Merideth Kirry, and Justin Lester portray the individuals in The Diary of Anne Frank that went into hiding for two years during the Holocaust.