Diary of Anne Frank Opens at the Empty Space Theatre
By Thomas G. Robinson
No person has made a bigger difference in the documentation of life under the Nazi regime as Anne Frank. Her diary gave us insight that has become a part of school curriculum as required reading.
Her diary was released to the world through her father and was turned into a play that has been performed all over the world. This Friday, it comes to The Empty Space Theatre in Bakersfield. I asked Bob Kempf, the director of this production, a series of questions:
Why did you decide to direct this play? What does it mean to you?
“The Diary of Anne Frank is a play that needs to be seen by every generation. It is unequaled as an inspirational true story of hope and light in a time of great darkness and evil. I often describe The Diary of Anne Frank as 'just one story out of six million' and that perspective, while sometimes overwhelming, is very important to the way we have approached this project -- with respect, sincerity, and enthusiasm.
“We are performing the recent Broadway version, which is a new adaptation by acclaimed writer Wendy Kesselman of the 1959 original by Goodrich and Hackett. Kesselman includes new material from the unedited version of the diary. This fresh take on the play will give the audience a deeper story and fuller, more complex characters.
“The Diary of Anne Frank, even after all these years, is full of drama, humor, suspense, and even romance. To me, the play helps us to remember the horrors of our past but also speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit even in the worst of circumstances.”
The diary has become such an important part of today's school curriculum. Why do you think that is?
“The book stands out because is a significant historical document and is also an incredibly entertaining read. Anne was a talented writer and she knew how to tell a story well. Her diary has appeal to all ages.”
Did you do anything special to help the actors prepare for this play?
“As much as I would’ve loved to fly the entire cast to Amsterdam to visit the Anne Frank House, we were more than content to watch a remarkable documentary, Anne Frank Remembered, which won the Academy Award several years ago. It is an incredibly moving film, full of reminiscences from Anne’s childhood friends, and from Miep Gies, one of the family’s helpers while they were in hiding. I would strongly recommend it to anyone wanting the full story of Anne Frank.”
The Empty Space is a 3/4 black box arena (the only one of its kind in Bakersfield), is there a reason you wanted to bring it to this venue?
“Putting the audience on three sides of the Frank’s attic hiding place will put them right on top of the action, and get them more involved in the story. It can only help add to the feeling of living in cramped quarters!”
The actors in this production are not new to Bakersfield theatre, though some have never performed at The Empty Space before. Still, the draw to delve into the character of Anne Frank and others involved were too much to resist. I asked a couple of the actors some questions, too.
I asked both actors what this part meant to them, how did they prepare for the role and what, if anything, did they get out of portraying their characters?
“I feel a tad intimidated to be portraying such a famous person, not just because she was such a strong character, but because she is so well-loved around the world. But it’s still an inspiration that makes me want to do my absolute best in this role.
“Playing this part is a great and honorable opportunity. It means a lot to help keep her memory alive. Audiences should see this play because it gives an amazing glimpse of what it was like for so many people during World War II. The Diary of Anne Frank would be a great learning and entertaining experience for audiences. I prepared for this role by reading up on her and seeing how other people described her.
“From being part of this production I have learned about commitment and understanding.”
Randy Messick (Otto, Anne’s father)
“It feels good to be playing such an amazing man and doing a small part in keeping his memory alive. Theatre is a great way of telling the human story, so I want to do my best to do right by the play and the story it tells. Audiences should see this production because it’s a great play about amazing people.
“Anne’s diary and the story it tells speaks for all people past, present, and in the future who suffer from the inhumanity of hate, prejudice, and evil. Being part of this production reinforces my love of the theatre, and my love and respect for the play’s characters who suffered such unimaginable pain with such dignity and humanity.”
I asked Bob for some final comments/thoughts:
“Just this past January, the last surviving person involved in this story, Miep Geis, passed away at age 100. Our production is dedicated to her memory. Our final performance on Sunday April 11 at 2pm is a fund-raiser for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.”
The Diary of Anne Frank runs from March 26th through Aprill 11th. Admission is free with a donation request of $15 for adults and $10 for students and senior citizens. The Empty Space Theatre is donation based and relies on your donations to continue to offer these productions. Please call 327-PLAY for more information or to make reservations.