NEWBURYPORT — With the backdrop of headlines about the pandemic, nationwide and global protests for racial and social justice, and the rise in racist acts and hate speech, a group of local actors traveled to Lincoln, New Hampshire, to create a “social bubble” in an effort to do something about it.
For 47 years, students have been performing the play "Terezin — Children of the Holocaust" for middle and high school students locally and around the world.
The play, written by local playwright and director Anna Smulowitz, chronicles the ordeal endured by children of the Holocaust. It tells of the last two days in the lives of six children interned at the notorious Theresienstadt concentration camp. During this dark period, more than 15,000 children were held captive and endured a desperate existence; fewer than 150 of them survived.
Andrew Valianti, an 18-year-old recent graduate of Triton Regional High School, was frustrated that the play and its message have never been more relevant or necessary, yet because of the pandemic it would be impossible to bring it to schools as a “live” performance.
With only weeks to go before beginning his freshman year at Northeastern University, Valianti approached Smulowitz with the idea of assembling a cast to rehearse and film the show, and work with schools to incorporate the show and its message into their curriculum in this time of online learning, according to a press release.
“The message of the show goes beyond bringing this painful part of history to life for students across the globe,” Valianti said in the release. “It underscores a fundamental truth — how we treat each other, as human beings, matters. Every human life matters — regardless of what someone looks like, where they come from, how or what they worship or who they love."
Katie Lowell, a recent graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, was brought in to co-direct and perform in the film, and four remaining cast members were enlisted.
Costumes were gathered, scripts were distributed, groceries were purchased, negative COVID-19 test results were received and the six students headed off to New Hampshire on Aug. 16.
With safety precautions and plans in place, Smulowitz agreed to entrust Valianti with producing, co-directing, performing and committing to film her life’s work. While she didn’t join the cast in their “bubble,” she continued to be the driving force with calls and input during rehearsals.
“I am deeply grateful and so proud of these fine young actors, as well as to Andrew and Katie for their excellent direction,” Smulowitz said.
To keep the “bubble” intact, the cast traveled together back to Newburyport for two days of filming at The Actors Studio, donated by owner Marc Clopton.
Smulowitz joined the cast at The Actors Studio, masked and from a social distance, to take the cast through an emotional warmup before watching a full dress rehearsal and providing notes on the performance prior to filming. She also recorded an introduction for the film.
As with all former live productions of "Terezin," the filmed version was followed by a question-and-answer session with the cast. These discussions allow the cast members to tell in their own words why they do the show, what it means to them and what lessons they hope to impart.
The next step for the Terezin Film Project will be to edit the film and then work with schools, locally and across the country, to incorporate the film and its message into their curriculums.
Cast members include Olivia Colden, 17, of Newbury, in the role of Celia; Ava Laroche, 17, of Boxford, in the role of Corinna; Katie Lowell, 20, of Georgetown, co-director and actor in the role of Miriam; Jessie Rosenthal, 16, of Newburyport, in the role of Rachel; Andrew Valianti, 18, of Newbury, co-producer, co-director and actor in the role of Aaron; and Ava Valianti, 11, of Newbury, in the role of Leah.
For more information about "Terezin – Children of the Holocaust," go to www.terezin.org/anna/ or for more information about the Terezin Film Project, contact Andrew Valianti at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-204-5568.