Twenty women are sharing a barracks in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. As they go through horrifying circumstances, they have their sights set on one goal: keep the strongest of them alive in order to share their experiences with the public.
Theater audiences will see if these women reach their goals on Thursday, Feb. 21 with the Theatre & Dance Department’s production of Charlotte Delbo’s true story, “Who Will Carry the Word?” The department will perform 14 shows at the Westby Black Box Theatre.
To prepare for the show, the cast went through various steps to portray their characters. This included watching films such as “Schindler’s List,” conducting independent research on diseases their characters suffer from and meeting Holocaust survivors.
One survivor the cast visited was Manya Frydman Perel at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center at the Klein Jewish Community Center in Philadelphia. Perel lived in several concentration and death camps where she performed hard labor and nearly starved to death.
Kelsey Rivera, a junior theatre arts major in the role of concentration camp detainee Helene’s mom, is excited for Perel to attend opening night.
“She is the sweetest [woman] who does nothing but smile and look at the beautiful things in life,” Rivera said. “She is a true hero in all of our eyes.”
The cast also went through other rigorous exercises in order to delve into the mindset of being a Holocaust victim. This included being yelled at by Melanie Stewart, the artistic director, to line up in front of Bunce Hall and get undressed in rainy weather. According to Dr. Anthony Hostetter, the director of “Word,” the exercise was meant to give the cast members a sense of the cold and humiliation these women faced.
“While we were standing there, we came to realize that this was a test of what the women went through during the Holocaust,” said Frankie Contino, a senior theatre arts major in the role of Madeline, another inmate trapped in the concentration camp.
With all of the preparation involved in putting “Word” together, the cast and crew are looking forward to see audience reactions.
“I hope people will take away from this that tragedies like the Holocaust can be avoided by treating your fellow man with respect and kindness,” said Christina Higgins, a sophomore theatre arts major in the role of prisoner Denise.
Hostetter hopes to give the audience a hopeful message about life despite all of the negative connotations associated with the Holocaust.
“While the Holocaust is so much about death, I think what we’re trying to do with this play is talk about life and how to live life,” Hostetter said.
Audiences can see this story come to life on Feb. 21 at 8 p.m.; Feb. 22, 23, 28 and March 1 and 2 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.; February 24 at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.; and March 3 at 3 p.m. Tickets are priced at $15 for general admission and $10 for seniors, non-Rowan students, alumni and staff. Rowan students with a student ID get free admission. Advanced ticket purchases and reservations are recommended as there will be limited seating at each performance.
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