Twelve-year-old Castle Dettinger didn’t know much about the Holocaust when he auditioned for Eau Claire Children Theatre’s “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank” in November.
Now, while simultaneously learning about the subject in his seventh-grade history class, Castle, who plays a young Adolf Hitler for the show, has a new respect for the genocide that occurred under Hitler’s rule in Germany during World War II.
“In class we watched a bunch of interviews with survivors and the story of what happened,” Castle said. “That really opened my eyes and gave me perspective on how big my role in this show is.”
ECCT’s “And Then They Came for Me” is a multimedia play that features live actors recreating scenes from their characters’ lives during World War II. Videotaped interviews of Holocaust survivors Ed Silverberg and Eva Schloss, images of concentration camps such as Auschwitz and setting information is also woven into the show.
Public performances of the show are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 7, at The Oxford, 1814 Oxford Ave.
Conor Jones, 22, who plays Heinz in the show, said this is the second time he has been part of this production at ECCT, and it has given him a new perspective on the tragic event he grew up learning about.
“Things like this can really put a human face on historical events,” Jones said. “The impact for me didn’t truly sink in until I was put into the shoes of Heinz, of someone who lived through this and died during it.”
Unlike other theater productions that are drawn up to entertain, amuse or delight audiences, “And Then They Came for Me” is, first and foremost, a tribute to those who lived or died through the Holocaust. That can be beneficial for the audience, but Jones said it also poses challenges when rehearsing.
“This isn’t just some fictional character I’m pretending to be, this is an actual person,” he said. “I want to make sure my performance respects this person’s legacy, that I don’t tarnish what these people went through.”
The other six members of the cast agreed, including Michaela Haig, who plays Anne Frank, a German-born Jew who died when her family’s hiding place was discovered and they were sent to the concentration camps in 1945.
Michaela, 15, has done several theater productions before but said perhaps none have been more meaningful than sharing Anne’s story.
“Ever since I was a young girl I have loved being on stage and I think everyone (in the cast) shares that passion, so to be on stage performing this show is a rewarding experience for us,” Michaela said. “We get to share these people’s stories and memories, and they live on through this horrible thing that happened to them.”
The cast will also perform several school matinees for area middle school classes, which Michaela said is good because it introduces a new generation to the stories of Holocaust victims and survivors.
She added having children like herself, Castle and Megan Davis (13, who plays a young Schloss) in the cast could make it seem more realistic for young audience members.
“We’re their age and they see what they would have had to go through had they been in the characters’ shoes,” Michalea said. “I think that’s super powerful because sometimes kids don’t realize, ‘I could have been them, I could have gone through this,’ had they been born in the 1930s in Germany.”
Having the video element adds to the reality of the characters’ lives, director Wayne Marek said.
He believes that element, which he calls the “eighth cast member,” makes for a unique audience experience. This is the third time ECCT has done the production over the last 15 years, and he said it is well received every time.
Ghrase, “those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat it,” Marek said he thinks the show is especially relevant given the current political climate. oing off the popular p
“I think the timing of a show like this is very important and why a show like this will continue to be important,” he said. “In times of political and social unrest, there’s even more of a call for shows like this where dialogue can start between young people and their parents or students and teachers.”
That is what he is hoping the audience gets out of this show — an opening for more conversations, especially between young people and older generations. He also hopes it helps remind older generations of what has happened and continue to keep it in their mind.
“We hope it is an impetus to have a conversation,” Marek said. “It’s not just for young people, but also for adults to revisit and remember.”
There aren’t any age restrictions for the show as there is no inappropriate language or mature themes, but the subject matter is serious.
Marek said all ages are welcome, but suggested parents think about whether it’s time for their kids to be exposed to this part of history.
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