On Being In The Diary Of Anne Frank


Five years ago I shared a post about the time I was living Amsterdam, Holland for a summer and visited the Anne Frank House. It was a very emotional experience that has stayed with me forever.

And what’s ironic is that over 20 years later, I was actually cast in a stage production of the play, The Diary of Anne Frank, which I briefly spoke about in that post.

Today, I would like to elaborate more about what that experience was like for me.


These are photographs of my play script. In the bottom photo you will see "stage directions and actor notes" written next to my highlighted lines. And yes, I still own this script.


Whenever you do a movie or play that is historical and based on truth, part of the process involves doing research on that particular historical event so that you can get a sense of what it was like to live during that time. As a cast, we all watched videos of WWII and what went on during the German invasions. We also watched videos of what it was like in the concentration camps. We filled our minds with many harsh and difficult visuals so that we could feel the anxiety and fear and bring that into our portrayals.

Also, when you rehearse and perform in a play as serious and somber as this one was, you must try to locate the humorous moments in the script because it gives more levels to a performance. Nothing, no matter how serious it is, is always serious. You can always find the humor. Therefore, all the actors in this production brought a touch of lightheartedness and humor to their roles.

I portrayed Fritz Pfeffer (aka Mr. Dussel) the man who shared a room with Anne in the annex for two years. And to tell you the truth, on the surface, Mr. Dussel appeared to be just a crotchety old man who constantly complained about things. Yet, it was through his crotchetiness that I found the humor.

I think the most chilling part of rehearsing for this play was in the last scene, when all the characters are finally discovered hiding in the annex and the Nazi soldiers come to take them away to the concentration camps.

We had rehearsed this scene many times before, with our director vocally making the sound effects from offstage so that we could get a sense of the pacing in the scene. When you rehearse for a stage play, you don’t have all the necessary lights, sound effects, and other technical effects until the last two days of dress rehearsal. So, what you do in the meantime is try to imagine those things without actually having them there.

And in this particular play, I don’t think any of us actors were prepared for how we would feel when the real sound effects were finally added and we heard them for the first time during a rehearsal.

When we got to that scene in the play, this is what we heard over the sound system…

We heard men’s voices coming from outside a door that was located at the bottom of the stairs in the house. The voices were in German and sounded loud and angry. And they went from loud and angry to screaming. Then we heard hammers being slammed against the door in an effort to get it open - SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! - until the door finally broke down. Then, the next thing we heard was the sound of booted footsteps running up the wooden stairs, getting closer to the door directly outside the annex. More German voices screaming. More hammers being slammed against the door - SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! - as the Nazi soldiers got closer, and closer, and closer.

It was at this point that the stage lights began slowly dimming on the annex, as we all stared at the door. Until finally the stage went completely black.

And then…dead silence.

After we finished rehearsing the scene, the lights came back up. And when we all looked at each other onstage, every single one of us was in tears.

We performed that play for four weeks; eight performances per week. And no matter how many times we got to that final scene, the fear and tears were always there.

As if it was happening for real.



Have a great weekend everyone!
X

46 comments

  1. Good morning, Ron. Your post today is extremely moving. I felt like crying as I read it. What an experience to be an actor in the play, I can well understand how you felt. A few years back Joe and I went to Amsterdam for a long weekend and whilst there we went to the house of Anne Frank but it was closed. We went back later but it was still closed, much to our disappointment. Mind you, if I had read your post before going I might have been glad not to see inside. I saw a play on television but don't know if it showed the actual building.


    Happy weekend to you x

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  2. What an interesting post, Ron. 32 performances and the cast still felt the drama of the moment? That is amazing! I recently read a fictional account of Anne's older sister, Margot. I had mixed feelings about it. Have you ever read 'Night' by Elie Weisel? OMG, I cried the whole way through it.

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  3. Oh my god, Ron, I had chills reading this and got tears in my own eyes at the end. I can't imagine what it must have been like to go through that, performance after performance and experience that final scene. I read the book The Diary of Anne Frank when I was in high school and remember how much it moved me. What an amazing little girl. And it must have been so moving for you to have visited the house in Amsterdam and see it for real.

    Thank you so much for sharing this post of your experinece doing the play. It was so well written.

    Have a wonderful weekend, Ron x

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  4. "It was at this point that the stage lights began slowly dimming on the annex, as we all stared at the door. Until finally the stage went completely black. And then…dead silence." Ron, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I read that. I also went back and read the post you wrote 5 years ago and got the same feeling. What an experience!

    It was so interesting to read the process an actor goes through in preparing for a role based on truth. And also your explanation of rehearsing for a stage play and not having lights, sound effects and other technical effects until the last two days of dress rehearsal.



    Great post, dude. I enjoy reading about your life experiences.

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  5. Good morning Valerie!

    I was going through some books on my shelf this week and found my old play script, which caused me to remember this experience so I wanted to share it.

    "A few years back Joe and I went to Amsterdam for a long weekend and whilst there we went to the house of Anne Frank but it was closed. We went back later but it was still closed, much to our disappointment. Mind you, if I had read your post before going I might have been glad not to see inside."



    I don't think I was prepared for what it would be like to walk through that house in Amsterdam back in the 1970's. I had read the book, The Diary of Anne Frank, while I was still in high school, but reading it and then seeing the house for real was incredibly moving. You could hear a pin drop because no one taking the tour even spoke, it was more about the emotions you felt while walking through the rooms in the annex and trying to imagine what it must have been like during that time in history. It was truly chilling.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, dear lady. Have a lovely weekend!
    X to you and Joe

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  6. "32 performances and the cast still felt the drama of the moment? That is amazing!"

    Yes, it was amazing because we didn't even have to try and feel it. It was just always there.

    " I recently read a fictional account of Anne's older sister, Margot. I had mixed feelings about it."

    Wow, I had no idea Anne's sister had written a book. I will have to look for that and read it.

    " Have you ever read 'Night' by Elie Weisel? OMG, I cried the whole way through it."



    No, I haven't, but before I left this comment I Googled it. Thank you so much for letting me know about that book because it looks so interesting!


    Thanks a bunch for stopping by, my friend. Have a super weekend!
    X

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  7. Hola Denise!

    " I read the book The Diary of Anne Frank when I was in high school and remember how much it moved me. What an amazing little girl. And it must have been so moving for you to have visited the house in Amsterdam and see it for real."



    I too read the book when I was in high school. It was a required reading back then. But then visiting the house in Amsterdam and seeing it for real made the book come alive. It was both moving and chilling. Also, I couldn't get over how small the annex was and how 8 people lived there together for 2 years!


    Thanks so much for stopping by, girl. Have a wonderful weekend!
    X

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  8. Hiya Matt!

    " I also went back and read the post you wrote 5 years ago and got the same feeling. What an experience!"



    Thanks for going back and reading that post. And yes, it was quite an experience. And one that I wasn't prepared for. It was both incredibly moving and chilling, especially walking through Anne's bedroom. And I know this sounds strange, but I could still feel her presence there.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, buddy. Have a great weekend!
    X

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  9. I read the book when I was young and it had a profound effect on me. It is a book I should revisit. I can only imagine this as a theater production. Thanks for sharing your experience, Ron.

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  10. Rob LenihanJanuary 16, 2015

    My God, what a magnificent post! Thank you so much with sharing this incredible experience with us. With all this hate going on in the world today, I think it's important to remind people just how bad things can get if we let that hatred go unchecked.


    It sickens me that there are people walking around today who claim the Holocaust never happened. If I had my way, these hate-mongers would be forced to watch this play so they can see what really happened.


    I'm a chronic complainer and I need constant reminders that there are people in this world who have it far worse than I could ever imagine. This post is just what I and the rest of the world needs.


    Thanks again, buddy. Have a great weekend and take care of yourself!

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  11. Powerfully written, Ron. Of course, this is a powerful story. It's not hard to believe all of you were in tears at the end -- such atrocities should never happen to any people!

    Thank you for sharing this segment of your life -- I'll bet you made a good crotchety old man, ha! (I say that with utmost admiration, my friend!) I did a bit of backstage work in high school and covered many an opening night when I was a working journalist -- the excitement of a live performance is beyond describable!

    Have a super weekend, and don't work too hard!

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  12. The book, "Margot" is just a piece of fiction, although Anne really did have an older sister named Margot who was also in the annex with her. The book is a 'what if' Margot had escaped the Nazis and made it to America. Interesting, but also kind of weird because a lot of it is about sibling rivalry.

    'Night' is a real life account of life in a concentration camp by a survivor. I found it to be a tough read, it's so harrowing.

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  13. Mark PetruskaJanuary 16, 2015

    Anne Frank's quote at the bottom is very telling. Throughout her horrible ordeal, she still believed in the innate goodness of the human race. We could all learn a lesson from her optimistic outlook on life.

    Have a great weekend, Ron.

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  14. A little late but HAPPY NEW YEAR my friend. x

    Your description of what you heard during that scene is so graphic it had me in tears too! One can only imagine just how scared the people in that attic must have been. :(

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  15. That must have been a really powerful experience, Ron. Can't imagine the abject terror f that expierence. So horrifyingly sad.

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  16. What an amazing experience Ron!! I can certainly understand why everyone was in tears...I had no idea you ever lived in Amsterdam!! Maybe I should go back and read your blog from Day One! Think about all the things I could learn!! :) Happy Friday, my friend!! xo Jeanne and the girls

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  17. Ron, as many others shared in their comments, what chilling and moving post! My husband and I traveled to Europe several years ago and Amsterdam was one of the countries we visited, however, we didn't get to see the Anne Frank House because we were so rushed for time. After reading this post, I wish we had made time. We loved Amsterdam. What a beautiful city and very friendly people.


    Thank you for sharing this post, Ron. I also enjoyed the one you wrote 5 years ago. What an incredible experience!

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  18. "I read the book when I was young and it had a profound effect on me. "


    It had the same effect on me, Suzi, especially after visiting the Anne Frank House and seeing where this had all happened. Chilling and so moving.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a fabulous weekend!
    X

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  19. Hey there Rob!

    " With all this hate going on in the world today, I think it's important to remind people just how bad things can get if we let that hatred go unchecked."

    Amen! And you know, I was thinking the same thing as I was putting this post together and realizing all the hate that's also going on all over the world today. Scary, isn't it?

    "It sickens me that there are people walking around today who claim the Holocaust never happened."



    Yes, I've seen several documentaries on people claiming that the Holocaust never happened and I truly can't believe how anyone could even think that when there is clearly documented evidence that it DID happen.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, buddy. Have a grrrrrrrrrreat weekend!


    X

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  20. Hello there Debbie!

    "It's not hard to believe all of you were in tears at the end -- such atrocities should never happen to any people!"

    And I think hearing those sound effects for the first time, made everyone realize what an atrocity this time in history really was. It made it so REAL for us.

    "I'll bet you made a good crotchety old man, ha! (I say that with utmost admiration, my friend!) I did a bit of backstage work in high school and covered many an opening night when I was a working journalist -- the excitement of a live performance is beyond describable!"

    Aw, thank you. I really enjoyed playing Mr. Dussel. I found a lot of humor in his crotchetiness. Wow, I no idea you worked as a journalist and covered opening nights. How cool! And yes, you're right, there is nothing like a LIVE performance. I did some film work as an actor, however, the theater was/is my true love.



    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a SUPER weekend!
    X

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  21. "Throughout her horrible ordeal, she still believed in the innate goodness of the human race. We could all learn a lesson from her optimistic outlook on life."


    You're absolutely right, Mark! And it brings to tears to my eyes how Anne Frank was a such wise soul for being as young as she was.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, buddy. Have an awesome weekend!


    X to you and Tara!

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  22. HAPPY NEW YEAR to you too, Pearl!!!!

    "One can only imagine just how scared the people in that attic must have been. :("



    Yes, one can only imagine, you're right.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, m'dear! Have a lovely weekend!
    X

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  23. Yes, it was a powerful experience. And I don't think I ever truly understood just how horrifyingly sad it was for them (and many people) during that time in history, until I did this play. Because it made it so REAL.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a FAB weekend!
    X

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  24. Hey there Jeanne!

    "I had no idea you ever lived in Amsterdam!!"



    Yes, I lived in Amsterdam for a summer, back in the mid-70's. I was performing in a musical review in one of the theaters in Amsterdam. And what an AWESOME city/country it is!


    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a terrific weekend!


    X to you and the girlz!

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  25. Hello there Elaine!

    You visited Amsterdam too?! How cool! I lived there for a summer while performing in one of the theaters in Amsterdam. One of the girls in the cast was dating a guy from Holland and he suggested that we go to the Anne Frank House. And I'm so glad he suggested it because it was such a moving and life-altering experience.

    "We loved Amsterdam. What a beautiful city and very friendly people."



    I agree...what a beautiful city Amsterdam is. I love the all water canals on the streets and the old architecture. And yes, I found the Dutch very warm and friendly too! What a faaaaaabulous country!


    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a fantastic weekend!
    X

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  26. Ron, I love the way you write. What a powerful post! You had me riveted to every word. I can't imagine what the experience of performing in the play night after night and reliving it was like. And I'm sure for you, it was even more emotional because of having been to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.


    I like that you shared photographs of your script in this post because it made it feel more personal, by seeing a glimpse into your life as an actor. Fascinating!

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  27. "The book is a 'what if' Margot had escaped the Nazis and made it to America. Interesting, but also kind of weird because a lot of it is about sibling rivalry."

    Thank you for sharing that because I was wondering when she ever wrote a book. And it's ironic you mentioned sibling rivalry because in the play it also makes reference to that.

    "'Night' is a real life account of life in a concentration camp by a survivor. I found it to be a tough read, it's so harrowing."



    WOW...and it sound harrowing too! I will look for it in Barnes & Noble. Thanks again for letting me know about the book.
    X

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  28. Hey ho Robert!


    Thank you :)


    And yes, it was very emotional for me because I recalled the time I had been to the house; therefore it made the experience all the more real.


    I found that script on a book shelf last week and suddenly got the idea to share about my experience in the play. It was one of those times in my life as an actor that really had an effect on me.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, buddy. Have a super weekend!
    X

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  29. Ron, there is also a wonderful sense of calm and easy there. Very special place.

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  30. Oh, you said that perfectly, Elaine! There is a wonderful sense of calm and easy there. VERY much so.

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  31. So I just left a long comment on here, clicked 'post' and it vanished! I will try again.


    That must have been a real experience for you, Ron and I expect the audiences were also in tears at the end. It just had to end that way, in order to capture the feelings of that moment, in a powerful way.


    I was looking for a book to read and kept coming across The Diary of Anne Frank. I know I would be transfixed by it, but don't want to read that in bed, just before sleeping, which is where I do my reading. I have seen so much real life footage of the holocaust, over the years and those horrific images are indelibly embedded in my mind, forever.

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  32. Babs, I am so sorry about that. I don't know why Disqus does that every so often, but it even happens to me while responding to comments here or leaving a comment on someone else's blog. And it seems to happen if I don't log into my account first. Thank you so much for taking the time to repost your comment x

    "...and I expect the audiences were also in tears at the end. It just had to end that way, in order to capture the feelings of that moment, in a powerful way."

    Yes, you're right, it affected the audiences that way as well. It was one of those plays that after it was over, you could hear a pin drop because the audience sat their in silence; deeply emotional. Even when some of the audience members came backstage to meet the cast afterwards, it was almost awkward because normally it's a very jovial moment. But in this case, many audience members didn't know what to say.

    " I have seen so much real life footage of the holocaust, over the years and those horrific images are indelibly embedded in my mind, forever."

    I know what you mean because after seeing so much footage myself, I had to take a break because it was overwhelming.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a lovely weekend.

    X to you and Mo

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  33. Geraldine H.January 17, 2015

    I agree with Val, extremely moving to read this Ron, I have tears in my eyes right now. Anne's story is one I've read many times and that has always haunted me. The beautiful quote you shared at the end sums up all the goodness that was inside this most courageous girl, who lived through more horrors than most of us can even imagine but never lost her spirit and belief in the basic goodness of the world.


    How interesting to find out about your summer in Holland and your acting too. I only have one connection to Holland and that was when I met and interviewed an executive from Amsterdam, while he was working/visiting my home city of Regina, many years ago. He was such a great guy and your post brought our time together to mind too; a much happier memory, thanks for that.


    Wonderful post, as usual, thanks Ron. Hope your weekend is going well, G

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  34. "...sums up all the goodness that was inside this most courageous girl, who lived through more horrors than most of us can even imagine but never lost her spirit and belief in the basic goodness of the world."

    Beautifully expressed, Geraldine. And I totally agree with you. She was such an amazing and wise soul for being as young as she was and what she went through. Anne Frank is an inspiration to us all.

    I was an actor for many years in NY and also Florida. It gave me some great opportunities to visit different places in the world, such as Europe and Asia.

    "I met and interviewed an executive from Amsterdam, while he was working/visiting my home city of Regina, many years ago. He was such a great guy..."

    I found the Dutch to be warm and friendly. And I loved their openness and acceptance to many things.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a terrific weekend!
    X

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  35. I got chills while reading this. It's interesting how the acting process is similar to writing fiction. I visualize a scene in my mind when writing it. At times, I've gotten down on the floor to work through how a character would get up. Having a pulse on the senses is key to writing a scene that feels real.


    It's interesting how you looked for humor to give you more levels in your performance. Humor provides relief in a tension-filled scene. Then after that sense of relief, it heightens the tension that follows.


    Really fascinating post about a truly horrific time. I could hear the boots approaching the annex.

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  36. This has had to have been one of your proudest performances, Ron. You spoke of the layers as there are so many during times such as these. My father spoke of his own tribulations while he was in a Nazi labor camp, and often times vented on the family -- it affected him so. He was only 16.
    I can only imagine the sensitivity you brought to his character, Ron. And Anne Frank's sentiment is forever poignant under such horrific circumstances.
    A wonderful and engrossing read, Ron. :))

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  37. This was very powerful Ron! Thank you for sharing this.

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  38. The Sparking SynapseJanuary 18, 2015

    I've read a bit about what it was like for civilians during the war, both here and in other European countries. And in particular, what it was like for Jewish civilians. Of course, there were other minorities equally targeted, like gypsies, but when you read the history, it's usually Jews that are mentioned because of the sheer numbers murdered or tortured or incarcerated. It never fails to move me. I could never be in a play like that (just supposing I had the talent) because I can't even read about it these days without lying awake at night reliving the horror - and I'm not even Jewish!

    Anne Frank's Diary ... I've read about it, but never read it myself. I'm not sure I could, anymore. I've read enough to know that she was extraordinarily courageous and that she died in the end, and it's all just so very sad and senseless, isn't it?

    it's right that plays like this should be performed though. I've reached the place where I'm horrified and appalled at man's inhumanity to man, but there are plenty of people who need to get there, and of course, it's important that we should know and understand, and remember. Good for you, Ron. It sounds harrowing, but very worthwhile.

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  39. "...the acting process is similar to writing fiction. I visualize a scene in my mind when writing it. At times, I've gotten down on the floor to work through how a character would get up. Having a pulse on the senses is key to writing a scene that feels real."

    Yes, Lauren, because I can SO see writing being similar to the acting process. And I LOVE how you described that!

    "It's interesting how you looked for humor to give you more levels in your performance. Humor provides relief in a tension-filled scene. Then after that sense of relief, it heightens the tension that follows."



    Yup, you nailed it exactly! And also, it makes the character seem more real because no one is ALL one thing.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Hope you had a super weekend!
    X

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  40. Hello there Petra!

    This role (because of the topic of the play) was one of my favorites. And I never got tired of playing it because I always found something new in each performance.

    "You spoke of the layers as there are so many during times such as these. My father spoke of his own tribulations while he was in a Nazi labor camp, and often times vented on the family -- it affected him so. He was only 16."

    OMG...I can only imagine what he went through psychologically and emotionally after going through that. I've only met one person in my life who actually spent time in one of the concentration camps. She was in the one in Poland.

    " And Anne Frank's sentiment is forever poignant under such horrific circumstances."



    Amen!


    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing on this post, my friend.


    (((((((( You ))))))))

    X

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  41. Wow, this is so powerful and humbling. Thank you for sharing your experience. It's like you were transported to the scene. I can only imagine your fear. Aren't we fortunate, we get to shake it off and start anew.

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  42. You are so welcome, Benze. I found my old script last week and suddenly got inspired to share this post.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend!
    X

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  43. "Of course, there were other minorities equally targeted, like gypsies, but when you read the history, it's usually Jews that are mentioned because of the sheer numbers murdered or tortured or incarcerated."

    You're absolutely right, Jay. There were many other minorities equally targeted. But as you shared, it was primarily the Jews because of the vast numbers.

    "I could never be in a play like that (just supposing I had the talent) because I can't even read about it these days without lying awake at night reliving the horror - and I'm not even Jewish!"

    This is why we had to try and keep everything backstage very lighthearted because the heavy topic of this play began to affect us as a cast. And when you perform in something over and over again like it is in theater, you can't help but have it do that.

    " I've reached the place where I'm horrified and appalled at man's inhumanity to man, but there are plenty of people who need to get there, and of course, it's important that we should know and understand, and remember."



    Amen, Jay!


    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing on this post, my friend! Have a great week!
    X

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  44. Hey there Jean!

    After finding my old script last week, I suddenly got the inspiration to share about that experience. And writing it, made me remember and feel it all over again.

    " Aren't we fortunate, we get to shake it off and start anew."



    Absolutely!


    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a great week!
    X

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  45. You always select the most interesting experiences. This one is especially moving and poignant. I can only imagine the emotion that filled the stage during that scene. And when that sort of emotion can fill performers....the result is brilliant. I'm sure it drove home the humanity and tragedy of that historic time and situation much more than reading it in a dusty history book. You get a standing O from me!

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  46. "I'm sure it drove home the humanity and tragedy of that historic time and situation much more than reading it in a dusty history book."


    Yes, it did, Lisa. Between visiting the actual Anne Frank House and then performing in the stage production, that time in history felt so real, raw, and emotional. It's a strange thing being an actor (especially in a story like this) because you know it's a performance yet, you invest a lot of your own emotions to convey the story. So you can't help but become involved.


    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend!
    X

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