The Diary of Anne Frank is a stage adaption of a first-hand account called The Diary of a Young Girl written by Anne Frank while she was in hiding from the Nazis during WWII. The dramatization was created by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and made its debut at the Cort Theatre on Broadway on October 5, 1955.
Now, 64 years after its first debut, the Rochester Civic Theatre will be performing its own unique vision of the play. The production intends to serve as a reminder of a young girl's hope amidst tragedy. Of the power of love over hate. Of the influence of understanding in the face of intolerance.
Eliminating the "Other"
When asked what he believed the mission of this production is, RCT's Executive Director Kevin Miller answered, "to eliminate the other." That is to say, it's important to see the similarities in other lives, and recognize that we're not all that different from one another. Miller hopes for guests to identify with the everyday commonalities of the individuals in the Secret Annex.
Along with relatability, the cast and crew wanted to make certain the Jewish customs depicted in the production are accurate and authentic. Miller reported that extensive research was done to achieve this authenticity, including speaking with Rochester-based Rabbi Michelle Werner.
Additionally, it was Rabbi Werner who encouraged Miller to commit to directing The Diary of Anne Frank. It will be Kevin Miller's first time personally directing a production at the Rochester Civic Theatre since he's taken the Executive Director position.
The tragic shooting that occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 also compelled Miller to direct the production. "At first I was apprehensive about directing The Diary of Anne Frank, but after speaking with Rabbi Werner and digesting the tragedy in Pittsburgh, I knew I had to do this and do it right," Miller explains.
To get it right, Miller recruited his “A” team.
A Distinguished Cast
Playing Mrs. van Daan is accomplished actress Laurie Dawn. Dawn began her career in Chicago and since then has acted in theatre, television, commercials, and movies, including Steven Spielberg's 2015 Bridge of Spies. Her counterpart, Mr. van Daan, is played by RCT alum Jon Hegge. Hegge, you might recall, directed RCT's 2018 rendition of Ring of Fire.
Playing Mr. Frank is Barefoot in the Park guest director Michael Stebbins. Stebbins has acted on regional stages across the U.S., from New York City to California. Not to mention, he’s the Artistic Director at Door Shakespeare in Baileys Harbor, WI. Alongside him will be Catherine O'Connor, portraying Mrs. Frank. O'Connor boasts a long list of film, television, and theater roles.
Mr. Dussel will be played by Charles Fraser, a Minneapolis-based actor and recipient of an IVEY award. Jamie Case, also based in the Twin Cities, will be portraying Miep. Case has traveled the Midwest, performing in a myriad of productions.
In addition to professional actors, the RCT team was able to drum up some particularly talented community members for the cast. Playing the lead role of Anne Frank is, coincidentally, a Mayo High School freshman with the same last name: Ella Frank. Anne’s sister, Margot, is played by Emma Bransford, a Mayo High School sophomore. Portraying the van Daans’ son, Peter, is recent Winona State graduate Lance Urbick.
Mr. Kaler, one of the individuals depicted in Anne’s diary who helped hide her family, is played by RCT alum Rich Dietman. Dietman’s recent RCT credits include 1940’s Radio Hour, Suite Surrender, August: Osage County, and Annie.
Special features of The Diary of Anne Frank pre and post shows include a traveling exhibition provided by the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect titled, “Let Me Be Myself.” The exhibit discusses the life and trials of Anne, as well as of young people today. “Let Me Be Myself” will emphasize Miller’s mission to close the gap of understanding between the atrocities of the Holocaust and cruelties that are still being committed today.
Miller explains that half of “Let Me Be Myself” will be featured in the RCT lobby, and the other half at the Rochester Public Library. The Center for Mutual Respect lends out five traveling Anne Frank exhibits across North America with artifacts mostly provided by the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.
Further special features RCT guests will notice upon entering the Black Box theater are the bookcases borrowed from the Rochester Public Library. The swinging bookcases are intended to emulate the entrance to the staircase of the Secret Annex.
Due to the historic and educational nature of this production, RCT has decided to add exclusive Wednesday showtimes for students. Local home schools, St. John’s, and Rochester Public Schools are planning to take advantage of the special showtimes.
The cast and crew of The Diary of Anne Frank hope to educate guests on not only the life of Anne and her family, but tolerance, understanding, and love. Miller wants guests to understand that Anne’s story is not frozen in history. “It is our experience, it’s not just the past. It’s happening right now.”