‘Frei’ Our Year 13 Performing Arts student leave a lasting legacy.
Over the past 9 months, a group of Y13 Performing Arts students have been working on a performance linked to The Holocaust and to Auschwitz in particular. The process has incorporated research into the history ofAuschwitz and related stories, survivor accounts, historical facts and figures and more recent Holocaust denial and far right propaganda. 13 students took part in a visit to Poland in September 2011, meeting and speaking to a Holocaust survivor, Josef Youssef, and spending time in and around the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow before a final day visit to Auschwitz / Birkenau.
From this research they created an ambitious piece of Verbatim Theatre - from survivor accounts and first hand experience / refection – mixed with elements of Physical Theatre and Brechtian ideology. Our devising process drew on survivor testimonies, poetry, historical and our own images / photographs and our own responses to the range of experiences we had in our time there. From our initial excitement and trepidation, through tearful moments of connection and realisation, from the inspirational words of Mr. Youssef, to the provocative speech of the BNP. We found links via our experiences as children, brothers, sisters and parents, through our history and ancestry, and through those common traits that define us in so many similar ways to those who were persecuted. We tried to draw parallels between our own journey and that of the many who travelled through the camp as prisoners and victims.
The resulting piece utilised a Promenade approach to enable the actors to physically manipulate the audience, putting them at the heart of the story and changing them from passive observers to unprepared participants.
It has been performed in a range of environments over the past six months, from the Drama Studio at LSATPAC – where over a day it was experienced by four different sets of student and public audiences – to Lancaster Town Hall as part of the Holocaust Memorial Day event, and finally at The Dukes Theatre as part of their professional programme of work.
Feedback has been universally impressive, from staff and students, to the Mayor of Lancaster and a letter from the House of Commons. MP Mr. Eric Ollershaw commented on an ‘electric, powerful and emotional performance’. Most notably another Holocaust survivor, Mr Stephen Breuer, took time to praise the students’ talent and approach to the subject.
Mal Smith said, ‘It has been a long and valuable process not just in developing a piece of theatre, but in challenging perceptions and widening awareness at a time when far right organisations are again on the rise across Europe. This outstanding cohort of students have shown a level of maturity and professionalism that far exceeds the requirements of their exam boards. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this process is that they will take their passion for the subject matter forward and continue the intentions of the piece they created.’