“Survivors,” an original play based on the actual testimonies of 10 local Holocaust survivors, makes its world-premiere public performance at 7 p.m. on June 12 in the JCC Hart Theater, 1200 Edgewood Ave., Brighton.
For years, Holocaust survivors visited area schools so that local youth could understand what happens when hate becomes normalized. Now, 70 years later, many of those survivors can no longer share their personal experiences, making it more challenging to keep the collective memory alive.
“Forty-one percent of Americans and 66 percent of millennials cannot say what Auschwitz was,” according to a New York Times report released by the Conference on Jewish Materials Claims Against Germany. Twenty-two percent of millennials say they haven’t heard of the Holocaust.
Ralph Meranto, JCC Arts Center director, describes how the arts department “began looking for a play that we could bring to local schools to provide age-appropriate Holocaust education. Surprisingly, we could not find quality material that covered the broad story of the Holocaust. Most existing works focused on just one person’s experience, felt distant and detached, or lacked connectivity to today’s world.”
That’s when the JCC commissioned television and film screenwriter and playwright Wendy Kout to weave a script, the core text of which is comprised of words that came from local survivors’ testimonies as gathered by the Rochester Holocaust Survivors Project, augmented with some historical facts.
The survivors depicted in this new show were carefully chosen for their unique stories; and to give the audiences the scope of the varied paths, these survivors took to end up in Rochester. “Survivors” is designed to be a touring show, traveling primarily to area middle and high schools. The show toured for the first time to Victor Schools in April.
“I just wanted to reach out to say thanks again for an amazing performance put on here at Victor Junior High,” said Victor teacher Jennifer Valentine. “Everyone was so incredibly impressed by the performance and the kids really benefited from it and the important messages within.”
“We selected individuals who were children or young adults during the Holocaust so that our middle-school-aged audience would be in a position to readily identify with them,” said Meranto.
The show is written to be developmentally appropriate for middle school-aged students and above, and meets the New York State requirement for mandated Holocaust education in the eighth grade.
The cast of six all-local adult professional actors is directed by Sandi Henschel and performed by Alexa Scott-Flaherty, Sara Bickwheat, Kate Armstrong, Ben Ranalli, D. Scott Adams and Shawn Gray. Stage manager Jack Simel created a projected visual “set” to accompany the performance, depicting photographs of actual places, people and events associated with the Holocaust.
The project was conceived in close consultation with Bonnie Abrams at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester’s Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information and directly aligns with CHAI’s mission to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust through life stories of local survivors and their families.
“One of the main goals of this ambitious project,” said Freyda Schneider, director of TYKEs — Theatre Young Kids Enjoy — at the JCC, “is to inspire and motivate local young people to make a difference in the lives of others when they see injustice in the world. The lessons of the Holocaust are very much applicable to our modern world.”
Tickets cost $18 and include a post-show talk-back with Kout and the production team. Premiere seating at $118 includes a pre-show meet-and-greet reception with Kout.
For tickets, visit jccrochester.org or call (585) 461-2000.