BHS presents: ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’

By Aaron Reynolds
The Surveyor

Tickets: $7 students; $10 adults
Venue: The former Grace Place Auditorium located on Mountain Avenue
Dates: Nov. 5-7
Showtime: 7 p.m.

Approximately 75 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during World War II, including an estimated 11 million persecuted during the Holocaust. Among the countless accounts of what occurred during those tragic six years, including detailed images and stories regarding the unfathomable amount of causalities perhaps the most enduring of them all is “The Diary of Anne Frank”.

Originally published in 1947, “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a collection of writings by a 13 year-old Jewish girl who hid in a secret room with seven others during Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. It was eventually adapted into a film and stage play, the latter of which will be performed by the Berthoud High School drama team Nov. 5-7 at the former Grace Place auditorium located on Mountain Avenue. The play is co-directed by Chris and Cheryl Kouns, hosting their third play since taking over the high school drama team in 2014.

Chris said that the move to take the play from the traditional location at Berthoud High School was both an aesthetic and practical decision. The move will avoid parking hassles for the Friday night program with the final BHS football game as well as present a smaller, more intimate setting for the unique way the play will be staged. Most notably the action will not be strictly reserved to the main stage with scenes taking place across various parts of the auditorium.

“(Cheryl and I) are a different style of director than the educators Berthoud had before,” he explained. “We wanted to share with the kids how to think outside the box.”

Cheryl added that this type of staging is what they refer to as “environmental.” Chris expanded further, “It is not an ‘us’ and ‘them’ kind of staging. Environmental means you’re somehow making it so the audience has to respond to what is going on. In our case what that meant is we’re actually putting the audience in the same space the actors are in. They are entering through the same door as the actors are entering so that it feels like the audience is joining the families in the attic and spending those two hours with them in that environment.”

Along with the weekly time allocated to rehearsals the directors have also spent a great deal of energy going over the history of World War II, in particular the Holocaust. In fact, Cheryl asked the impressive turnout of 21 students vying for ten roles at auditions who had heard about Anne Frank or the diary and “it was a very small percentage.”

“It isn’t something that appears to be required reading anymore. So then you start telling them what the play is about and they’re like ‘Oh, wow’,” Cheryl said. “I will say that I’m extremely impressed because all of these kids have a healthy respect for the subject matter, for the time period. They love hearing stories about their characters.”

“What would it be like to be stuck in a room with someone for that long – two years?” Chris asked. “It would be a love/hate where you really care for the character and other times get really annoyed. As a result, our students are on the entire time of the play which means even if the action is not about them they’re stuck in this space. How would you be? How would you kill the time?”

Cheryl – who previously directed a version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” two decades ago in Loveland – was genuinely impressed by the turnout for auditions and stated that she must have been up until 2 a.m. before a final decision was made on the cast. Several of the members who auditioned also contribute on the tech crew, a valuable role as the play will feature lots of sound cues and lighting to set various moods.

Despite few of the participants on the drama team having any familiarity with Anne Frank prior to rehearsals, and given the heaviness of the material, Cheryl noted the students have “dug-in and have been excited” asking lots of questions and seeking to learn more about the real life of the character they are portraying.

“When you walk into the show and know that seven of the eight of the people in the attic don’t survive the camps–that’s a really big weight. There is a lot of depth and drama that comes just in that knowledge,” Chris sympathized. “But what we believe the playwrights did really well, and we’re trying to work with the kids to also understand, is it’s a slice of life… humor is a coping mechanism. These are real people who experienced life the last two years like anyone else yet in an extreme, secluded environment.”

According to Cheryl, one of the cast members asked when rehearsals started if they’d be allowed to have fun during the rehearsals? And if they would have to always be serious.

“They have managed to find a balance,” Cheryl said. “We’re not taking the subject matter lightly but we are taking the process lightly.”

As with the original publication, the play is able to express how, despite overwhelmingly bleak and desperate circumstances, Anne Frank managed to stay generally positive in her diary entries – one moment finding humor in the predicament while the next harping on the frustrations that come with being a teenage girl.

“Let’s be honest, 13-year-old girls and their relationships with their mothers are rife with all kinds of layers and (Anne and her mother) was no different,” Chris concluded. “She was just as frustrated with her mother as any teenage girls are and willing to verbalize it. That is something really unique that comes out in the writing, and anybody who knew her will say she lived very openly.”

“She was in some ways in every girl and, even in the chaos of being 13 and not knowing who she was in the world, greatly aware she was going to die yet very hopeful. She still did see more positive in mankind than negative. I’m not sure most of us could do that.”

“The Diary of Anne Frank” will be performed once a night at 7 p.m. Admission is $7 per student and $10 per adult. Tickets are available at the Berthoud High School office and it’s highly recommended in to purchase tickets in advance due to the unusual seating arraignment. Any available tickets will be sold the night of the show at Grace Place.

List of Cast:

Anne Frank – Dominique Rowell
Margot Frank – Eliose Richard
Miep Gies – Morgan Schachterle
Mr. Dussel – Cooper Selland
Mr. Kraler – Nathaniel Chavez
Mr. Frank – Brandon Sutorius
Mrs. Frank – Kate Ellis
Mr. van Daan – Gabriel Vigil
Mrs. van Daan – Emma Maggi-Byers
Peter van Daan – Brennan Miller