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!