I had just returned from a tour of central Europe when I was invited to a dress rehearsal of Gig Harbor High School’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
I confess: My first reaction was that the soul-wrenching story is too heavy for a high school production.
What a short memory I have. Our kids are up to anything, and their performance last week proved it.
In mid-flow of the rehearsal, they kindly held off long enough to welcome me and share a few words about our recent visit to Aufwistch, one of Nazi Germany’s horrific death camps. They needed no encouragement from me to sense the full horror of the story.
Thereafter, as the rehearsal — still in it early stages — rolled on, with scenes of performers sharing modest but very-much-appreciated holiday gifts, I sensed amid the contrived gaiety impending doom.
It was palpable.
Gig Harbor High School junior Tristan Smit, who plays Putti Van Daan, said he’s in theater to help tell a story.
“In a show like ‘Anne Frank,’ we truly have to be one with our characters. That’s why I keep coming back,” Smit said. “The thrill of being a new person and making the audience connect is huge.
“My favorite part is seeing and hearing a crowd’s reaction during the show,” he said. “When you’re up on stage, you act off of the crowd, you thrive off the energy the audience brings. You never perform in front of the same audience twice, so you never know what to expect. Performing and making people connect with the show is my favorite experience.”
Senior Coleman Anderton, as Otto Frank, loves acting.
“Being able to become someone else for a few hours a day is an experience that is enjoyable for one reason or another,” Anderton said. “This cast is so enjoyable to work with. Being able to collaborate with such great teens, artists, thespians, is priceless.
Anderton said Kristin Zetterstrom’s plays and musicals have become a legend of sorts at the high school.
“Finally participating in one is a dream come true,” Anderton said. “This show is such rich history and subject matter. This story needs to be told, again and again. Participating has given me the chance to learn so much of this history, and it has also helped me to think about those experiences and reflect on them, giving me unique insights and important opinions on this sensitive subject. My love for this show grows daily.”
Natasha Dietzler, a senior who plays Margot Frank, enjoys lending people new perspectives to both themselves and others.
“Theater is one of the few things that actively explores what it means to be human,” Dietzler said. “My favorite part is not actually performing, even though they are some of my most cherished memories of high school. My favorite part of theater is the bonds that form amongst cast and crew members. After spending dozens of hours with these people, one can pick up on others’ quirks and communicate merely with a facial expression. This sort of intimacy is not achieved by married couples for years, and somehow show people truly connect in a matter of weeks.”
Freshman Hailey Hodgson plays Meip Gres. She said she loves to put her regular life aside and transform into a completely different person — “ ... when I step on stage for the exhilaration, the bursts of excitement, nervousness and chills that run through me before the curtain opens.
“My favorite part is bonding with cast members,” she said. “At the beginning, we are a bunch of individuals. By the end, we’re family. I’m thankful to be a part of such an awesome group of peers. We’ve all developed a respect and connection to our real-life characters, and we feel the need to give this story justice. The Diary of Anne Frank is more than just a play or a book, and that’s something we want the audience to truly take away.”
Junior Mariah Squires, who plays Anne Frank, loves giving audience members an opportunity to experience emotion through live theater.
“My favorite part of the show experience is the connection I get to make with the cast members on stage and the audience,” Squires said. “With this show in particular, I love that we get to tell such an important story and have a new appreciation for and understanding of this stirring, historical event.”
Performances, which will be held at the Gig Harbor High School auditorium, will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 15-16 and Nov. 21-23. A special matinee at 3 p.m. Nov. 17 will feature guest speaker Frieda Soury, a Holocaust survivor who was deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in her native country, Czechoslovakia, when she was 14 in 1943. Soury was designated a “mischling,” meaning half-Jewish.
Tickets are $8 for students and senior citizens, $10 for adult. They will be sold at the door. For information, call 253-530-1590.
The kids have put their hearts into “Anne Frank.” Show them that you, too, haven’t forgotten.Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at hmcmnp1000@ centurytel.net.