The room was deadly silent as the performance unfolded. The play, called Ghetto, captured the struggles of a Jewish settlement in Germany during the holocaust. The story focuses on the internal struggles of a Jewish performer as he recalls the events of his time under the thumb of Nazi oppression.
The play was performed by a group of high school students as part of a One Act Play competition series. The subject matter was a little on the heavy side for what I was expecting. Going into the play one school administrator asked if I had my box of tissues ready.
When writing for the newspaper my hands are tied as I am obligated to be objective. Not having had the experience of attending any other One Act Play performances of the other schools I cover, I was not able to gauge how the performance compares to other schools. Fortunately for this blog I can be free to write unrestricted. Therefore I can base my observations only on what I was able to experience first hand.
The performers who brought those characters to life easily reminded me of the thrill I had while studying theater in college. I talk a lot out how my original intent was to major in broadcasting and minor in theater. I saw my share of college level performances, read plays written by professionals. This play in particular took me back to my theater days, when I was hopeful I could make it as a filmmaker.
I can say without a doubt this performance itself was presented in no less professional of a manner as those college shows I so enjoyed. The goal of any performance art is to transport the audience out of their seats and into the world that is being depicted on stage. There weren’t any times where I was taken out of the play. In fact towards the end I was starting to have my own reflections of my German heritage. The play is clearly intended to open the wounds of the greatest military conflict our world has ever known. As someone whose grandfather fled the Nazi’s and defected to the United States the subject resonated with me personally. Not just as I had to deal with being raised under the notion that “we are Americans, Not German!” as my dad raised us to not only distance ourselves from our German culture, but to remind us that we ourselves assimilated into a nation whose acceptance of others is not always a shining example for the world. We champion our freedoms yet we often forget that those freedoms were bought with blood. No matter where you stand politically this play is going to affect you in one way or another. If it doesn’t then I question your own humanity.
As for the individual performances. I saw a few potential future stars of the stage. The one who stole the show was a young man who brought to life the conscious of the lead in a duality of sorts that ended with a catharsis the audience ought to find relateable, especially in the modern populist revival currently sweeping through Europe and the United States during these last few elections.
Again, depending on which side of the isle one lies politically is going to shape the appreciation of the play. That being said it brought about allusions of the struggle our nation faces as we have to reflect on our own identity. At the core the rise to power of an enigmatic populist with strong German heritage is all too familiar to those who take the time to read their history books. Art is supposed to reflect life and I have to say despite not wanting to dig into the political observations, I can say without a doubt the performance brought those thoughts to the forefront of my own mind. However, there is one thing I can say, these performers remind the audience that underneath the skin we are all the same, we all bleed the same blood.
I didn’t end up needing my tissue as I was spending most of the evening absorbing the work of art as presented. Structurally it was an odd piece. It was part musical, part drama yet the structure, being limited as a One Act, left me wanting more. The musical pieces were certainly fitting.
It was clear the show was confined by the parameters of the competition. However, that didn’t stop the players from bringing to life a stage show that was well coordinated and able to reach beyond the limits of its own structure leaping out to the audience and bringing them into the world, even for a brief period, reminding them escapism is not the only goal of an artistic performance.
I don’t often get too invested in my work. I photograph sporting events on a regular basis and have to remind myself the athletes I am photographing are children. Often times the emotions of the athletic competition will sweep over me and I will have to pull back. This was even more evident as I had to remind myself these are just children doing a project for school. While my appreciation of the theater certainly shaped my views going in, this fact was pushed out of my mind as I witnessed a group of kids transport the audience through the fabric of space-time to witness the events of the most tumultuous period in recorded history while simultaneously showing off the talents of a group of rising stars.
I don’t mean to belittle them by saying children. I know when I was in high school our teachers made it a point to refer to us as young adults. As one of the older members of the ‘millennial generation’, or the “adulthood begins at 30” generation, I can attest to the desire to hold onto our youth as much as possible. All the while I have to remember that when I am seeing teenagers pour their hearts and souls into something I have to keep in mind they have plenty of time to refine their craft.
What I saw didn’t need much in the way of refinement. I saw a performance nearly as polished and organized as the works I saw in my Intro to Theater class my first semester of college. It certainly had the heart even if it was clearly restricted by certain aspects. The play as a whole was an experience worth seeing. I would hate to be the one whose words discourage any young performer, so I will leave it with this. If art is meant to be a reflection of our lives, then I was looking into a mirror that reminded me for all the progress we have made as a species, we still have a ways to go.