Tag Archives: history

Dear Annie

11 Mar

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Well, my friend, as I’ve stacked two shows simultaneously after this one…I wanted to take a moment of reflection before an insanely busy weekend launches, inhibiting me completely.

…As it stands, we are three performances from where our road together ends.

…The time when both our bruised bodies and wrecked knees, ribcages stuffed in steel-lined corsets…the gallons of sweat and frustrated shared history with “that kid”…will have come to completion. I know how exhausted my body and brain is…I cannot even fathom how much yours was at final rest…but with Helen there beside you, I know it’s a peaceful, and well-loved place I leave you…until someone else picks up this script and begins the journey all over again.

I have truly treasured being a part of your world and history…learning the tiny details and intimacies of your life…the hard times and the sweet, and I’ve done my absolute best to provide the most truthful access to you that I could conceive of from months of study and communal brain space.

…I have to admit, it has been a more difficult task than I thought, to keep perspective in. Because honestly, you crack me the hell up with all your self-affacing humor in letters, your ferocious arguments in a heated moment, your stubborn refusals to back down, your imperfect people skills. But god, you were beautiful too…with your very honest, human struggles against doubt, and self confidence, and pain, and the loss that fueled the nightmares which haunted you all of your life.

I am astounded by so many things about you, but most of all, at the way you still managed to open (even if only to one person, truly) and trust enough…to “love” again. Despite all of it.

…I have loved being some far-reaching part of your existence. I did my best to do you proud, and though I could frequently hear you cussing at me and sighing from above, during manic rehearsals …I know you’ve nodded in my direction at least once or twice. Because I’ve felt it.

…A lot of actors I know, find performing actual people from history a daunting task. It’s a slippery slope that many feel caught and restricted in, which I never have. The homework only feeds me…the mindful conversations I have in my head which I have always invited the spirit or essence of such person to openly become a part of, makes me feel I’m participating in a secret interview with the past that not many people get the chance to undertake. I feel connected and energized and try to erase as much of my own judgment as I can, to keep an honest and open gateway to whatever enlightenment may come of it all. In essence, it may sound freaky-deeky, but in those moments, if I’m good and fair and trust…I am never alone…and I try to bring that with me as a host for the story being told. Frankly, I love the companionship of history and the people who make it worth remembering and talking about.

…Like you.

If you could look down right now and see what has come from the work you had started, all those years ago…I think I know you well enough to say that while not totally satisfied, you would still be proud. So many things changed for the better because of the work that you and Helen did.

So many lives.

…If you taught us nothing else, it is that every person has a worth of destiny and meaning…be they deaf, dumb, and blind, or an orphan girl with only six years of education under their belt.

…Whether you were of the inclination to believe it or not… I bet you all I’ve got, that a little boy named Jimmy…perfect in body and mind…is standing beside you right now, proud as hell, and grinning with all of his might, in agreement.

…And Helen too.

Three more shows, and I have to let you go. But before I do…wanna know my deep down secret?

In over 50 roles, you have been my most especial and absolute favorite.

Thanks for the hard, and wonderful work, Lady. In life, and on stage.

Your Big Fan,

~D

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Making Choices

7 Jan

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It’s endless. 

…The supply of facts, figures, and analysis on Sullivan and Keller seems to stretch on infinitely.  Which is wonderful, don’t get me wrong…but it is also frequently debatable from one source to the next…with something as universally “go-to” as Wikipedia being the least academically sound posting of all.  The fact that anyone can contribute to it, is obviously the problem, but that it is likely the first place people will go for info on the topic, pisses me off.  It’s all over the place with inaccuracy…

…As are (from time to time) various books.  I’ve a small shelf of them in my brain now…not counting other articles, reports, essays and such.  Each time I open a new one, it sends me diving back into my now almost 400 pages of notes and clippings, to fact-check something I distinctly remember being reported as another date, time, location, argument, or note of reference.  At this point, I’m forced to use averaging to choose accuracy…in that if I’ve read it twice as this date, and once as that one, I’ll consider the original two reports as correct, unless the scales start to counter with a third option, or added numbers to one or the other of the first two. 

…How the hell can you get facts this way?

 You would think that with two such widely noted historical people, and archives scattered all over the country in their own handwriting, we could get together on some specifics …but it’s surprising to me how much is left out, misstated, inferred, or simply made up, to fill the gaps between days and years and functions…not only when the written and archived materials were lost or (in some cases) purposely destroyed…but even when a picture of a dated letter in Sullivan’s own handwriting states a fact, readily available to view from the Perkin’s archives online, without even leaving your chair.

It’s irritating.  And frustrating.

…First of all: Helen was 6, not 7…Annie 20 not 21 when they met in 1887.  It’s as easy as knowing their birth-months to calculate. AND IT MATTERS.  It matters because they were REAL people, because the difference between 6 and 7 is the difference between what should have been a first grade education and a second grade one…which matters to a child with zero education up to that point, in as much as Helen had to learn not only how to function day-to-day in a seeing and hearing world, and be taught what we spend our infancy learning about basic human interactions, etiquette, feeling, reactions, desires, disappointments, and frustrations…but also how to spell every word that made up every sentence she spoke, as well as grammar and formal sentence structure, mathematics up to and including multiplication tables, to read raised letters and braille, and print square letters in full composition format…as well as learn basics in earth sciences, history, astronomy, and geography, at an age when the average school child is just beginning basic reading, and simple addition and subtraction.

She was 6!

YOU couldn’t do that at 6!  You couldn’t do it at 7 either. Hell, the average adult can’t manage it NOW …but that isn’t the point. The point is: FACTS. 

…And Annie, at 20?  With only six years education…not “formal” mind you, just plain “education” of any kind…under her belt.? Yet, she took up the only post offered to her after graduation, sending her 1200 miles away, where she would be paid the equivalent of $625 (today’s calculation), plus room and board, per month, as a governess to a wild-child neither she nor anyone she knew had ever set eyes on.

…Adding to that her OWN handicapped circumstance (which seems to be frequently forgotten in all this), as well as the difference between “success” (whatever THAT meant) and “failure,” separating the the facts of either earning a living the only way she could fathom how, or going back to the State Alms or Work House.

…No pressure THERE.

It ALL MATTERS.

…So it bothers me when I have holes in the info that I can’t dig up.  The traces are gone (in some cases)…in others, we have only word-of-mouth to go on…and I trust even the written ones little enough as it is. The main point of contention I now face, being: Annie’s voice.

Her disposition is well noted, her temper, her inclination for finery and beauty and nature, her love of poetry and Shakespeare and virtually every other form of the written word…she was a talented sculptor, a fine horsewoman, occasionally composed verse, had an almost photographic memory of stories, anecdotes, and amusing tales, had a very wry and bitingly quick wit, was terrible at spelling and mathematics, hated anything to do with “sewing notions,” fought depression and anxiety, could at times be emotionally crippled with PTSDs from her childhood…in her top-most form, only attained 50% of her sight, eventually going fully blind, loved to cook, and had a monstrous affection for animals .  Add to that about a billion other fact and figures I have ferreted away…and I’ve come up with a pretty solid idea of the woman as she would stand, day-to-day…but it is (with all of that) in mute form.

…There is only ONE surviving sample of her voice, at age 62…and is a mix between the heavily elocution-trained musicality of Hollywood grande-dames from the early talkies, and an east-coaster wideness, in evidence of her Boston school years.  We know, that though born in the U.S., her constant surroundings through childhood amidst the Irish Immigrant population (including her parents, uncles, aunts, and the Almshouse after), left her with the mimicry of an Irish brogue…strong enough to be self-conscious of it (along with everything else about herself) when she entered Perkin’s School for the Blind, at age 14. 

…We know that in her valedictorian speech, six years later, she was reported by several newspapers attending the exercises as having, “a grace of expression,” “…with genuine refinement.”  Assuming then, that she’d worked her ass off to oust that accent, along with her other less savory childhood habits.

…Yet, Historical biographer Kim Nielsen suggests she still had some semblance of a lilt, even if only faintly, as late as Helen’s beginning of college at Radcliffe in 1900…which puts Annie at age 34. In other instances, Helen had been noted to ask if Teacher had an accent and was told “no,”…though had it been by Annie, herself, she could have preferred this as the answer to the reality. Meanwhile, on the flip side, Helen was able to note the differences in accents from Northerners and Southerners based on vocal vibrations felt by hand, at least by Annie’s second year with her. Whether the question was asked prior or after that, and if it was queried based on an oddness that Helen found in Annie’s speech, which fit neither in straight “North” or “South” categories, is unknown.

…Time, tons of speaking engagements, a stint in vaudeville, travels abroad, and further self-education very easily explains how we get from whatever-her-voice-sounded-like-then, to the 62-year-old version from the short video.  But the amount of previous affectation and when it was changed is still up for debate.

…The ever-copied full-on brogue that Anne Bancroft won her Tony and Oscar with, however, is not.

That was a simple solution created to help break a heavy Bronx-Jewish accent from her 750 performances of the previous Gibson play, “Two for the Seesaw,” she’d just completed before “Miracle” rehearsals began.  It was a quick fix that director Arthur Penn had come up with to help her speech patterns refocus, and is frequently copied in most productions which have followed…one assumes as either lack of research, or reverence to  “the one who came before” (and won all the awards, while she was at it.)

…Either way…thankfully Mdm. Director was in the “without” camp, letting the Irish feistiness show through in her many other aspects of expression.  I have enough to do without having the ghost of Bancroft’s ridiculously amazing performance haunting my every move. This leaves me a mode to create distance from her.  We’re both playing her in our 30’s, both keeping in mind the premature sobering a childhood like hers can have on “youth,” both ball-buster broads, and since she’s been a teacher of mine all my life…I’m even at war to break her specific cadence with these lines running in my head.

…What I get now, is the gift to create a sound, specific to where Annie is in her own history and education at that point in time.  With so many historical facts to get down, this freedom to invent her sound freely, has been (and still is) a major working point, and the essence of my own thumbprint on her.

…Mdm. Director has chosen to bring out the hint of brogue as-was in childhood, for the flash-back nightmare sequences… so I’ve countered, adding a taste in other key moments such as an added sense of play when making fun of herself…and, following a pattern which happens to most people with a previous affectation, to bring it out a bit whenever she gets angry or overwrought. 

…Basically…the flavor is still there…but not necessarily to where you pick up on the specifics of it…only: she has a different way of talking.  She is still at times fighting against it, like a war with her wanting-to-be-more-cultured self… sometimes embracing it, as solace when alone and frustrated or emotional…sometimes getting caught up in it, despite herself.

Figuring out how to do all that and make it unconscious, a matter of mental state, a peculiarity of just how “unfinished” this girl is herself, never mind with the weight of the extraordinary challenge facing her…I think it will help to convey the constant struggle, the lack in her own education, and the reminder that these two people are just beginning.  They have a long, long way to go…in life journey, in education, in everything they will achieve that hasn’t even been thought of yet.

 …Every day, it’s a total joy to remember all that, lace up my boots, and begin.

~D

Vikings & Sword Brandishings

27 Aug

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amtiredandcranky.

dontwannablog…

orusepunctuationspacesoranything.

iwouldratherreadthisBBCHistorymagazinearticleaboutthevikings…

andhowtheywieldswordsandtookoverstuff.

…soiamgonna.

~D

Insanity, Death & Other Trails

2 Jun

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The Pacific NW is packed full with ridiculous amounts of rambling trails cutting in and out of it’s natural habitats. 

…The feel is very rainforest meets old south, on account of the humidity factor, being always right on the ocean or near to a lake, and the obvious rainfall factor. 

Unlike the California trails we wandered when I was a kid, one can’t just pick a spot in the forest and “go,” unless one had a machete, knee-high boots, and a pair of welder gloves on, to help battle the sick mess of berry bushes, wild thorns, giant ferns, and vine-eaten, moss-dripping, decaying old trees, so cramming the forest under-canopy that you can’t get a foot hold in edgewise.

…And the people here like it that way. 

At some point, some brave bastard will pick a spot, forge a trail, and get the word out enough times that the footpath will be partially upkept by other hikers. And so our forests on any mountain drive, can be seen to have trail heads poking out in any number of random locations, which you take in good faith, and often interlink at some point with other forged paths, like a network of snail trails in a garden.

The Pac NW-ers are very big on these.

It’s pretty here, always green, and the canopies help umbrella the rain…because of course we don’t stop for that, otherwise we’d never see daylight, again.

We also have cultivated gardens as well. Quite a lot of them.  Because (again), it’s pretty here and always green.  So why not?

…Funny thing is that even the cultivated gardens seem like something out of a gothic novel, as even the old large estates keep to the el naturale effect.

Wild natural gardens with indigenous ground covers, mosses and vines are meticulously manicured so that even the larger pay-to-play mansion and state-park run formal gardens, look like they grew the houses out of their root structures as part of the budding of their plants. Which is eerie and awesome and reminds me of so many of the Irish ruin walks and Manor estate gardens we wandered through back in 2007. 

…Which is all to say: “I like it here.”

There is a history sense of reclaiming of nature pretty much everywhere you go. We haven’t become so built up that you can’t get away from it all within a ten minute drive in any direction, and there are places you can go and feel off the grid, and your phone doesn’t bing with text and phone alerts, and the music doesn’t thump from out of car windows, and the smell of “green” (you’d know it if you smelled it) is so strong, you just wanna wrap up and take a nap in it.

…So, naturally, I take a lot of walks.

…And yesterday was National Trail Day.

…So Ma and I took several.

The first: one of those Mansions that seems to be grown out of the ground along with everything else sprouting up. Lakewold Gardens, sporting both the boxed-hedge chic of patio gardens, as well as the wild trail-networking rock garden further toward the lake.  They were setting up for a wedding while we were there…and I’d have to say, it’s a hell of a backdrop for one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…And from there, we motored to Fort Steilacoom where the old Asylum and Cemetery are surrounded by giant dog and people parks, and trails cutting back into the hill.  Phone juice had died, so no pics, which is a shame because the trails remind you of corn mazes, so buried you become by solid walls of knotted berry bushes and undergrowth, that you can often only see the next turn.  The entire hill is networked with trails branching off of and into others, so that by the time you make the top-most clearing you can see dozens of them directing in every which way, leading downward to the lake.

The lake, now named for Dr. Waughop, had the most amazing mass-cluster of water lilies I’ve ever seen (live or otherwise) and it’s walk eventually leads back to the old barns and cemetery.  The graves, mostly dating from the mid 1800’s to 1950’s, are each number-plated on a mass-grave map posted by the parks department, and only when walking on the land itself, can you see the sunken headstones of new marble, which are part of the restoration and archiving of the people who once resided just up the hill, in the now ruins of the old Insane Asylum. 

Like all old cemeteries, it was totally fascinating to walk…not only for the history and sheer mass number of those buried there, but the fact that it is the only plot of land, in all of that acreage, almost entirely grown over with a blanket of old moss in lieu of actual grass, and even where the stone markers have not yet been replaced, you can tell where each body is interred because of the distinct sink of ground, and the shoots of wildflowers and grass blades rising from them, fed, like living memorials, from those buried just beneath.

…Was a good day, friends.

And now I’m off to see what I can make of this one 🙂

~D

The Star

25 Mar

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Having done a touring show of a Holocaust piece before, I’d already been through the creepy-real feel of being surrounded by Nazi uniforms, in a barbed-wire concentration camp.  But I had played a Christian “protector” (therefore, a political enemy), not a person of Jewish descent.

…Those uniforms. Very, very pristine copies, rented from a company who let them out to film costume departments, so that the authenticity of the weight of the material, and all the patches and insignia were exact…was a hell of a thing to be on stage with.  I can’t even imagine having to be one of the actors having to put them on.

…Put it this way: there was very little “acting” involved while being screamed at in German, surrounded by these uniforms and barking dogs and people weeping to the right and left of me.  The awesome realization that this was 6 million people’s reality, 70 years ago, hits an entirely new level when your senses are slammed into it, knowing that this terror you actually, ACTUALLY feel is NOTHING compared to what they lived with every single day.

…And the HATE for those pieces of cloth.  That one patch I would stare at through that one scene, on the arm just resting on a desk…a pen in the hand, writing out my fate in ink for all of time.  The actual metal skull pin of the S.S.  The meaning behind it, and the audacity and total disgust of seeing a human wearing it with pride and purpose as an achievement in rank and standing. 

…And the Swastika.  Black spider on white, backed in blood red. 

…Close up.

…Close enough to see the stitches, hand-sewn to the arm bands and tacked to place.  Hand-sewn like they would have been hand-sewn.  Only then it was by a prideful wife, or mother, or sweetheart.  Now it was by a team of seamstresses in a costume department. 

And what must it have felt like to them, to do it? 

It is impossible to be even in the presence of the thing and not feel the distinct darkness of evil come off it.

…And what if one of those seamstresses was Jewish?

…Or one of the actors who had to wear it?

These are things you don’t really think about with intense detail, until you’re playing a scene with a person you’ve rehearsed with for a month, whom you trust and respect as a friend, and who you now can very easily look at with such loathing hatred…draped in this disgust…for all that what they are wearing means, and how well they do their jobs in being totally sick bastards toward you.

Props and costumes have POWER. Especially when they’ve history behind them.

…And this is the truth.

Tonight, for photos, I stood as the costumer affixed a beat up, well-used, yellow Star of David onto my sweater…just here…over my heart.

Not to assume that in any way I am sharing equal pains with the spirits who came before me, who have worn it, but tonight…I think it was the first time that the power of it hit me. The power of that star. The word “Jude” inked upon it.

Because I was wearing it now.

Above my left breast.

As she would have.

As millions of them did.

…A marking of a people. A religion. A death sentence. Something people looked at and knew as a branding, every day, on the streets, in the shops. Something that was so much a part of day-to-day life, that people became accustomed to it. As if it was nothing. As if it was no more than the patch of a favorite sports team, walking down the street. Which is outrageous to me. But what other possible explanation could there be? And then the mixed emotion of pride as well as shame of being of the blood and religion to be told to wear it. It is your faith…so how can one shun it and be true to oneself? Yet it is a mark of distrust and segregation and politics and abuse. How does one live with the balance of both loving and hating it?

…On every piece of clothing.

…Staring at you from every mirror.

…Every reflection of yourself in a window.

…Marked to indicate where you can and cannot go…

…Whom you may and may not marry…

…Be friends with…

…Do business with…

…Speak with…

…Every single day.

After getting the Director’s approval, I slipped off stage, and beat it to the front lobby, to get a breather for a bit. Because putting on that yellow piece of cloth had such an immediate tie with me.

A bond.

I could feel it.

A costume piece, is all it is meant for. But it isn’t. And it won’t ever be.

…Sometimes you undertake a thing that means more than you can quite grasp or put into words. It’s haunting. It’s vital. It’s physical. It is tangible. Even if it is only an ” emotional feeling.”

I took a breather in the ladies suite, and just stared at the mirror. For quite a while. I don’t know how long.

…And all I could really come up with, that sorted out into anything at all, was what a horrible honor it was to wear it. This star. And tell this story.

…For Anne and all the others.

…Surrounding an audience with a feeling they will never get from just reading about it in a book.

They may think they know these people already. Their names, their reputations…they even know how the story ends. But what they won’t be prepared for is that now, they will have heard their voices…know what their laugh sounds like. They’ll watch the jealousies build, and the fights erupt in full force, and witness total seized terror as boots march by, a bomber drops it’s payload overhead…a machine gun sounds…or children can be heard in the distance, playing in the street, while a little girl, wearing no shoes, speaking no words, sits in total silence. Listening. Because her life and everyone elses depends on it.

…The audience will live through all of this. In the same room as us. Live. Now. With no escaping it.

…And without even realizing it, that same audience will become our friends and allies, and will get angered and hurt for us, and pick sides, and find favorites,and will soon find themselves rooting for an ending alteration that can’t be fixed or changed, any more than the history that it came from.

…And when that realization actually hits…it will destroy their emotions, from seemingly out of nowhere.

Not because of “slight of hand,” or any kind of “manipulation.”

Because of Truth.

History.

Horror.

Theatre is an awesome thing.

A constant teacher. And a humanitarian.

…I just (for the 1,000th time) was reminded of it.

Thought I’d pass it on.

~D

The Hardest Part Is Done

13 Feb

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Just wrapped up research in Phase 1 for the show…the most difficult part. 

…Wanted to get it completed and out of the way as quickly as possible so as not to have to live in that mindspace for any longer than necessary.  Had decided to start at the end and work backwards, for this very purpose, which means I’ve just finished the timeline for Auguste van Pels’ last 8 months of her life.

…Not an easy job.  Precious little info on her specifically, then needing to delve into each place she was sent at the time of her sentence there, before moving onto the next.  It’s been four days of Concentration Camp horrors in my brain, which has led me to yelling at books (and the TV screen), and one phenomenal hangover…because one just can’t undertake the study of this kind of thing sober.  Or if they do, I don’t know how they expect to sleep that night.

So, for any who care to know: here is the timeline from the Attic to the end of Auguste van Pels (née Mrs. van Daan’s) life, gutted down from pages and pages of notes, to her main specifics. And I have to say that the first VERY OBVIOUS information it feeds to one, is that this woman was one hell of a fighter…epic in both physical and mental strength, with a constitution to endure.  There is absolutely no way a human being could survive half of her plight, as long as she did, without having had all that.

***

PART ONE (From Attic, forward)

I. July 13th, 1942 (Age 42)
Goes into hiding with Husband Hermann and Son, Peter (15 years old)

(A) July 14th, 1942
Thousands of Jews in Amsterdam are rounded up and deported to Westerbork Concentration Camp, then onto Auschwitz, based on command of results of the Wannsee Conference. Having gone into hiding 1 day before their originally planned date, saved Auguste for roughly 2 years, 8 months and 22 days.

2. August 4th, 1944 (Age 43)
Arrested with all in the Attic, and locked in holding cell for 4 days at Euterpestraat Gestapo Headquarters at Amsteweensweg, until transportation.

3. August 8th, 1944 (Age 43)
Transported to Westerbork Concentration & Holding Camp (Netherlands) (Total stay here: 26 days)

(A) Westerbork main transport hub for Dutch Jews. Established by the Dutch in 1939 as Political Detention Center. Nazi’s claim it in May, 1943. October 2-3 1943, Jewish male labor used to revamp it for Concentration Camp use. Transports leave every Tuesday morning, with usually 2,000 – 3,000 people per train, for the death camps, primarily Auschwitz.

4. September 3rd, 1944 (Age 43)
Transported with all from the Attic, to Auschwitz (Poland) on a 3 day train ride containing 1,019 Jews, in the last transport made from Westerbork to Auschwitz.

5. September 6th, 1944 (Age 43)
Arrive at Auschwitz. (Total stay here: 2 months, 20 days). Of the 1,019 in her transport, 549 were immediately selected for and sent to the gas chambers. All from the Attic, survived the selection, at which time, Auguste was separated from Hermann and Peter, never setting eyes on them again. She, along with all of the Frank women, then walked from the station to Auschwitz-Birkenau women’s camp, where they became 4 of the 39,000 held there. Auguste was then assigned to a work labor group where she remained for her time there. She would not know it, but Hermann would be killed in a gas chamber at the men’s camp a few weeks after their arrival. Otto Frank and Peter both witnessing his selection for the group.

(A) Auschwitz was ultimately made up of three camps, camp II (also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau) had the highest death-rated of all the camps in the Holocaust. Established June 14th, 1940, from converted Military barracks, taken over by the Nazis, April 27th, 1940, by Himmler, hiring Hoss as the Commandant. By Summer of 1943, 4 gas chamber/crematoriums are at full function. The crematorium’s are only able to keep up with 50% of the daily gassings, disposing of 4,415 bodies per day. Between 1.1 -1.5 million died here by War’s end, 90% of them: Jewish.

6. November 26th, 1944 (Age 44)
Transported to Bergen-Belsen (Germany) as 1 of 8 women. (Total stay here: 2 months 11 days). Anne and Margot are already here, and it is the last time they will see one another, by chance one day, and speak.

(A) Bergen-Belsen was established in April, 1943, with particularly poor living conditions. It had 1 latrine for 30,000 women, the barracks built to house 100, instead were forced to hold 1,000, making rampant disease the camp’s #1 killer. By Summer of 1944, death via lethal injections were being applied to attempt keeping the numbers and disease down. By the camp’s liberation 13,000 corpses, and 58,000 prisoners were found. Rampant Typhus would end up killing 14,000 of the survivors between April 15th, and June 20th of 1945.

7. December 20th, 1944
The second of the Attic member’s dies: Fritz Pfeffer, (née Mr. Dussel) in Neuenggamme (Germany.)

8. January 6th, 1945
Edith Frank dies in Auschwitz.

9. January 16th, 1945
Auguste would never know it, but this is the date Peter was selected from the men’s camp at Auschwitz and sent on a death march, to the mining pits of the Mauthausen labor camp in Austria. It is 11 days before the date of Auschwitz’s liberation by the Russian Army.

10. January 27th, 1945
Otto Frank is among the 7,000 liberated from Auschwitz. The Netherlands are still at War, and he waits until March to begin his travels back to Amsterdam.

11. February 6th, 1945 (Age 44)
Transported to Buchenwald (Germany) (Total stay here: 2 months, 3 days). Auguste is immediately selected as part of a slave labor group called the Raguhn Labor Unit, with whom she works until it is later disbanded on April 8th, 1945.

(A) Buchenwald was established in the Summer of 1937, and in full operation on July 15th, 1937, primarily as a work camp for the Armament. This was also the site for the Euthanasia program, and medical experiments. It was liberated on April 11th, 1945…2 days after Auguste was sent to her final destination: Theresienstadt.

12. Sometime in early March, 1945
Margot first, then Anne Frank, dies of Typhus, in Bergen-Belsen. Several weeks later, the camp would be liberated.

13. March 5th, 1945
Otto Frank begins his trek homeward to the Secret Annex in Amsterdam. He has already heard of his wife’s death but has hopes of Margot and Anne’s survival. it will take him nearly 3 months to complete his journey.

14. April 9th, 1945 (Age 44)
Sent to Theresienstadt (Czechoslovakia) (Total stay here: unknown). After the Buchenwald Raguhn Labor Unit was disbanded on April 8th, 1945, all survivors were forced into what would be known as the Buchenwald-Theresienstadt Death March. Auguste was among those sent, (a 380.75 mile journey) on foot with little clothing, and no provisions. Due to the War’s ending and lax recording on behalf of the officers in charge, it is not known for certain if Auguste ever reached her destination.

(A) Theresienstadt was established on November 24th, 1941 as a “model ghetto” and Concentration Camp. Of the over 140,000 Jews sent there, 33,000 died, 88,000 were deported and killed, 19,000 survived.

15. Sometime between April 11th and May 7th, 1945 (Age 44)
Auguste van Pels dies. It is estimated: sometime after the 2nd day of the Buchenwald-Theresienstadt Death March, and before the date of the actual camp’s liberation on May 7th, 1945.

16. May 5th, 1945
Peter dies in Mauthausen, 3 days before liberation.

17. June 3rd, 1945
Otto Frank arrives in Amsterdam, immediately seeking out and finding Miep Gies, one of their protectors while in hiding.

***

…Auguste van Pels was 1 of 6 million Jewish deaths (Nearly 2/3 Jewish population of Europe, and 1/2 of the world-wide Jews.)

…She was 1 of 14,000 German Jews who relocated to Holland, fleeing the Nazi regime.

…She was 1 of 140,000 Holland’s Jews killed (75% of its Jewish population. Only 5,200 of the deported 100,000 survived.)

…She hid in the Secret Annex for 2 years and 22 days.

…She spent an estimated 8 months under forced labor and incarceration in 5 Concentration camps, in 4 countries, after 4 train transports and a death march.

This is the last of the worst of my prep for this role. Wrapping my head around facts and figures I’ve heard about a million times, but then sizing it all down to one single human life and the journey that it took under such atrocious horrors, is devastating.

What this shows me, in no uncertain terms…and with no arguments to the contrary, is that this woman was ANYTHING but the weak, whining, flighty, little socialite she was so often projected to be, in Anne’s diary. This woman fought longer and harder than I can even concept…beyond any hope…beyond separation of her family…and through intense labor, physical struggles, and all the mind-fucks that this situation could possibly put you in.

…And all I can think of right now, after four days spent researching the last 8 months of her life, is how 1 day separated her from the first major transport out of Amsterdam toward Auschwitz at the beginning of her hiding, and 2 days longer at Buchenwald, would have seen her survive the War.

…Sometimes there are no words to express what you feel.

This is one of them.

~D

Lessons From Behind The Bookcase

10 Feb

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Nose in the books, while streaming Netflix and every bio anything I can find for research on the show.  Playing real people, (and well known historical figures at that), makes the homework so much more specific. There’s a lot you have to get right, preconceived notions of who they are, what their contribution was in the whole of the story.

…This ain’t m’first rodeo in these matters.

I’ve played historical figures before on a number of occasions and I think what most people don’t realize is that these actual people (or what we have come to know of them as “characters”), are usually known for their one or two-dimensional most popular traits and factoid bases. This makes it a danger to research, flesh out, and mount as a total well-rounded “human being” because people are going to want the thing they THINK of as “that person” not necessarily the TRUTH of that person. And at some point, you have to decided just where that line resides and IF you are willing to cross over it or stay in the comfortable little valley, that the popular opinion is going to insist is gospel truth.

Am I confusing the hell out of you yet? Here, I’ll give you an easy example:

Lets take Marilyn Monroe.

…Now say, you were planning to portray her in a production. What does that mean? Where do you prep for that? What information are you going for? This is a totally iconic person, whose physical image is emblazoned on our culture in a very specific way, who has a cannon of work under her in a very specific style, who was notorious for very specific lifestyle choices, and died in suspicious circumstances which have never been explained. We know all that. And I mean “we” as a collective of pop-culture-aware consumers of the product that was (and still is) “Marilyn Monroe.”

…This means that any S.O.B who chooses to undertake her as a “character” has a gigantic, impossible-to-live-up-to laundry list of “dos” and “don’ts” that MUST, MUST, MUST be included and achieved in the portrayal of her in said production, and against which, everything that is spoken, and every move that is made, will be judged upon.

An “ideal” of what it is to be: “Marilyn.”

…Only, any idiot, (or self-respecting acting artist) would know…it takes a hell of a lot more than that to flesh out a whole realistic “human” into a production. Sure, you can take the lazy way, the easy way…the two-dimensional route…and nail it, and please plenty of people who don’t know any better and don’t want to. But that’s not your “job” as a performer. Unless your gig is literally: Impersonation.

…But “impersonation” is not what I’m talking about. That’s not what an actor is doing in the case of taking on the portrayal of an actual historic person. Your job, is to open that person up, beyond what is conventionally known of them…to dig in, get dirty, and find something there that makes them go from “historical iconery” to “relatable humanity.”

Least, that’s the way I see it.

If you want “Marilyn Monroe” as the product that is: “Marilyn Monroe”…watch her films, buy her posters..by all means, enjoy the hell out of it! She worked really hard , to package that deal and make it for you. She did her homework too and knew what it was that her fans wanted and gave it to them. But for a performer to portray her, is NOT the same job that Marilyn did. Hers was to give you the product you wanted. The performers is to show you the process of what it was to make and “be” that.

…Do you get what I’m saying here?

…So when you undertake…say, one of the eight people who hid together for over two years, in a tiny attic in Amsterdam, in order to save their lives…you have a choice to make. Do you give the audience “The Character” that is that person…that we have come to know of them…or…do you give them: the person?

Now, I haven’t even had so much as a first table read on the show yet, so I can’t answer what the Director is gonna go for, in this. But what I know from the performer’s standpoint…from the person who loves history and respects this subject of it beyond words…I know what I expect from myself, and it’s more than just the text in play format is giving to me.

Because it has to be.

…And it’s more than just Anne Frank’s diary is giving me. Because it has to be.

…Which is strange, because most would think of it as the ultimate in source material for these matters. But here is the craziest thing I’ve realized while reading it for the millionth time, these past few days:

One reads “The Diary of Anne Frank,” from Anne Frank’s perspective. No big surprise maybe…it’s meant for you too. That’s the point. But have you ever once attempted to view it from another perspective? Not your own, but from one of the other people?

No.

None of us have.

No matter how many times we read it.

…But when THAT is your homework, something glaringly obvious pops out at you: It isn’t “fair.”

Every fight is one-sided.

Every bickering is someone elses fault.

Every hurt is purposeful.

Every irritation: expanded on.

Every argument: honed and crafted from one point of view, onto paper.

…And this beautiful historical document that we have always taken as 100% pure documentation of absolute truth, and heartbreaking frustration…is that in many ways…but NOT in ALL of them.

…Because, she was a 13 year old girl, who wrote in her diary, all of her frustrations and foibles, without edit or consideration of the fact that most of the time it was written in heated circumstances in order to air her frustrations and yell out loud the things she couldn’t in actual physical life.

THAT WAS HER JOB.

She was 13!

…That we have taken it all as Gospel truth makes sense, she was there, she recorded it, raw and unvarnished and with incredible detail. But it was also one-sided. It was also in angst, and despair, and fury, and frustrations, and desires, and hopes, and irritations.

Unlike the work and realm of “Marilyn Monroe,” she wasn’t making a “product,” she was airing her personal feelings, never in a million years suspecting that her words would become a representative voice of millions of people, to billions of others, for all of time. Had she been given opportunity of completing the edit of her diary and submitting it to a publisher herself after the War, who knows what might have been ultimately altered and seen from other perspectives with less fury and more even balance to it all?

Perhaps the unvarnished parts of it, are what makes it so exemplary to begin with.

…But the long way to the point I’m trying to make here is: I am undertaking to portray “Mrs. Van Daan”…a very human and real person who once lived an entire life before her time in the Secret Annex in the Attic, and one who died very shortly after being torn out of it. And all we know of this woman, as culture, as students of history, as activists of humanity, as people who love literature…is what was recorded about her by a 13 year old girl, forced to live in ungodly circumstances with her, across two years of time.

We don’t even know when she died, where she’s buried, who spoke with her last, if she knew the fate of her family.

…We know only second-hand stories of her marriage and youth from those told in the Annex. But I am about to spend from now until the end of April, undertaking the life of this woman. She may not have been the most famous inmate in that Annex in Amsterdam, but she matters. She matters more than just details from a disgruntled diarist. And yet its my job to live up to the reputation she’s been given, while also trying to reason why all her vanity, and stubbornness, and flirtations, and complaints were justified…from where they came, and why.

It isn’t easy to try and work against “iconery.” And that’s what I have ahead. Maybe not on so specific a level as a “Marilyn Monroe”…but it is there, nevertheless. I need to figure out how to ride the line that Anne set, seventy years ago…yet Auguste van Pels deserves…as a person who lived through this hell…to be represented in as fair and rounded a light as I can manage.

Such an honor to be trusted with something like this, shouldn’t be taken lazily or lightly.

…I love, love, love my job 🙂

~D

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