This is a longer version reflecting upon a play I saw back in October. Here is the link to a more concise review I did of the play.
Does anyone else really enjoy going to the theater to see a play? I personally enjoy it immensely, but I haven’t had the opportunity to experience much theater so far in my life.
I find acting in general a respectable profession provided the person is good at it. I respect art that can get me to feel something; ergo, I respect an actor/actress that can get me to feel something through their powerful or understated performance. And there is something about sitting there in the crowd and watching actors twenty feet away from you do their thing. That up close and personable experience makes it worthwhile. I’m not sure if it’s fair to compare theater actors to movie actors or television actors, but I respect the challenges unique to performing on a stage considerably.
When I was in middle school we went to an all-day theater showing of different Edgar Allen Poe stories. The only one I remember distinctively was The Tell-Tale Heart. It was fantastic and I still remember that damn pounding on the hardwood floor.
Then where I went to high school we had a pretty impressive Performing Arts Center and group of students, if I say so myself. Whether it was theater showings or musicals, those were a blast to watch.
Last night, I went to my local Community Arts Center and saw Through the Eyes of a Friend: The World of Anne Frank. Admittedly, I only went because I had to cover an event for my journalism class. I arrived and not too many people were there and I then realized too that only one actress was involved in the entire play. I was smugly thinking that this was going to be pedestrian and basic. Not to mention, I was further jaded that it was a production company that in a sense catered to a younger audience.
Hell was I wrong. Elgin Kelley was the actress. She opened up with an informal introduction to the story of Anne Frank, the Holocaust, WWII and so forth to give context to the play she was about to perform. She actually does this for schools normally (again geared towards younger people), so she was even asking audience members to fill in the blanks of history, if they could.
Afterwards, the play started and it was unlike anything I’ve seen. She sat in a chair, with a small table next to her that had The Diary of Anne Frank on it, if necessary to read from. Behind her was a screen that either showed real stock footage or pictures of Anne Frank or WWII and the Holocaust with built-in sound effects during appropriate times. Elgin would play the part of narrator and/or Sarah (the fictionalized friend of Anne Frank through which the story was told) depending on what the moment called for. This is where I became really impressed because to get the timing right was incredible. And she was fantastic. I had chills the entire time. It’s obviously already powerful material on it’s own, but it still takes someone fully invested into the subject and projecting as such to carry the weight of it. She did that beautifully.
After about forty-five minutes, the play was over and she stayed on stage to do a Question and Answer session with the audience. I asked her specifically how she prepares for such a role given the weighty material. She told me, to prepare, she had spent a week, eight hours a day, reading the various versions of The Diary of Anne Frank, watching many Holocaust/WWII documentaries and even engaging with survivors of the Holocaust and hearing their stories. She became so immersed within the subject that she would routinely have nightmares about being in the concentration camps and so forth.
That’s the thing too. She’s not merely an actress. She’s a full-on history buff of this subject matter. She even said, “Theater made me more interested in history than any history class ever could.”
At one point during the Q&A it got pretty intense quickly. One man in the audience questioned how the German people could have went along with Adolph Hitler and the Nazis and what they were doing with the Jews and the Holocaust. An old German woman, obviously with a thick German accent, spoke up and in a sense, defended the German people, and even Hitler to an extent. She mentioned that sometimes she feels ashamed to be a German and that she too struggles with that question. It was partly fascinating and partly uncomfortable.
Then Kelley was gracious enough to sign autographs and while doing so, have one-on-one time with people and further answer questions and so forth. So I actually had the opportunity to sit down with her and chat for thirty minutes. I got a wealth of fascinating information and she was so amicable, open and engaging. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed her performance and her as a person. If I can, I would definitely want to see more of her work.
For that matter, I look forward to my next theater experience. I love it. I had no idea there was a Q&A afterwards or actual one-on-one time with the actress involved. That was a pleasant and rewarding surprise, especially for someone that needed to cover the event as a journalist for my journalism class.
I definitely want to travel around the country and see some of the more grandiose, professional theater companies and what they can offer with bigger names, bigger effects, and so forth. Obviously, not to take anything away from Living Voices (the production company for this one) or Kelley, as that more minimalistic approach had a huge impact on me too.