Friday, February 4, 2011

Connecting the dots with 'Terezin'

There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you (re)turn to Old Faithful and, after you dust it off, put a shine on it and kick its metaphorical tires, and (re)discover that it still rocks and gets the job done even after all these years — or, as Anna Smulowitz, the Queen of the Scene, puts it, “that we’ve still got it.” And that is what’s happening with “Terezin: Children of the Holocaust,” her award-winning — and, especially given the current international situation and ... well, life as we know it —  much-too-infrequently produced play about life before death in Terezin, or what the Germans called Theresienstadt: a “showcase” concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, designed to con the world into believing the Nazis were treating Jews decently. The six kids in the play represent the 15,000 children who died at there, a fraction of the 97,000 Jews who died in this one camp, which, in turn, represents a fraction of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. Only 132 survived. But a new production, which pulls into the Actors Studio this week after a tour of local schools, is resonating in new ways, going beyond ”just” never again and  tapping into new hot-button issues like homophobia and good old-fashioned bullying,  “There’s been a vivid response,” says Smulowitz. “You can really feel the energy. They’re connecting the dots.” 

Smulowitz wrote “Terezin” more than four decades ago, when she was a student at the University of Cincinnati. The first local production came in 1984, back when Smulowitz's fledgling Children's Theater, now Theater in the Open, bounced from location to location. That show was filmed by Tom Bergeron, now the host of "Dancing with the Stars," but back then a reporter with WBZ-TV. The show won the American Children's Television Award. Now a lay minister, Smulowitz, the daughter of Buchenwald and Auschwitz survivors who was born in a displaced persons camp in the aftermath of World War II, describes "Terezin" as a prayer and a testament for the million-plus children who were victims of Nazi war crimes. The play, has been performed at Terezin for the child survivors and their families, and at Auschwitz, Poland, as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the liberation.
For the past two weeks, the new production of “Terezin,” directed by Andy Blaustein, who first performed in the show 13 years ago, has been touring the schools. The responses have been “a little different” in each, but “the kids get it,” says Smulowitz. “The actors are kids, they can see themselves in those kids. The issues are very real for them.”  During a questions period during one of the shows, one of the students took the floor and spoke about how he had been getting ridiculed and pushed around because the class bullies decided that he was “stupid.”

 When Smulowitz asked who had seen it, lots of hands — most, she says — went up. And what should they do when they see something like this going on? Speak up, get help. And what did they do? Sadly, and for whatever reason, nothing. You have to make a commitment to do something. Who has the courage to do that? Most of the hands go up.

“It’s sad,” says Smulowitz. “The themes raised in the play are still with us. We know what it takes to make it stop ...  We’re got to stop bystanding. We’ve got to speak up whenever we see something like this happening. People  wouldn’t be a target if other people spoke up.”
The Actors Studio production is a fundraiser to raise the cash neeeded to bring two casts to the Fringe Festival in Scotland.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Anna Smulowitz’s “Terezin Children of the Holocaust” will be staged at 2 and 6 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Actors Studio, The Tannery, 50 Water St., Mill #1, Suite #5. Reservations are strongly recommended. Tickets are $18, or, $15 for students and seniors. Proceeds will help bring the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August. For reservations, 978-465-1229 or log onto

JUST THE FOLK: Here are the casts for the touring production of “Terezin: Children of the Holocaust”: Kayt Tommasino, Eric Serakian, Katherine Hall, Joseph Hall, Kristine Beck, Fedja Celebic, Aisha Chodat, Andy Blaustein, Allegra Larson, Olivia Duggin, Nathan Ladd, Katherine Hall, Caroline Hall, Grace Montgomery and Sami Cavanaugh.

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