Melissa Kahan’s Anne Frank plays keep-away with Peter Van Daan, played by Darrian Gaetz, in the Nanaimo Theatre Group production of The Diary of Anne Frank. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Diary of Anne Frank turned into emotional stage production

Nanaimo Theatre Group director, actors say message relevant today

The Nanaimo Theatre Group is staging The Diary of Anne Frank, a story that director Wendy Wearne said speaks to modern times and needs to be told again.

“One of my favourite Holocaust quotes is: ‘Remember, it didn’t start with the gas chambers. It started with politicians dividing the people with us-versus-them. It started with intolerance and hate speech, when people stopped caring, became desensitized and turned a blind eye,'” Wearne said. “And I think in our current history and what we’re watching politically all around us, in the news, there still is too much us-versus-them and this is one story that we can put on for everybody to show that it’s not the first time.”

The play is a dramatization of the diary that Jewish teenager Anne Frank kept for two years while living in hiding with her family and four others the concealed attic of her father Otto’s business in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. NTG is presenting The Diary of Anne Frank at Bailey Studio from April 24 to May 11.

Melissa Kahan plays Anne. As self-described “feel-good, sing-song kind of performer” who specializes in musical theatre, she said she was intimidated and excited to take on a more serious role. It’s also the first time she’s portraying an historical figure.

“The more we do this show and the more I read about this entire story, I just have so much admiration for [Anne] and I guess that’s what helps me deal with the pressure,” she said. “Because it’s an honour that I have this role.”

Otto was the only member of the family to survive the Holocaust, and went on to disseminate his daughter’s account of life during the occupation. Dean Chadwick said he prepared for the role by referring to videos and Otto’s own writings to help deepen his understanding of the Frank patriarch.

“[The play] has become really topical in the day and age we live in,” Chadwick said. “I think I wanted to help pass around the story, share it and hopefully get people to start thinking about peace and unity, which is really what Otto was thinking when he started to publish the diaries.”

Wearne said many of the scenes are “devastating” for the cast and they’ve taken time during the rehearsal process to prepare for how physically and mentally taxing it will be to re-enact moments of adrenaline and grief night after night. But she said she’s determined to do the play justice.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” she said. “These were real people and we owe it to them and their experience to get the story right.”

WHAT’S ON … Nanaimo Theatre Group presents The Diary of Anne Frank at Bailey Studio from April 24 to May 11, Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees on April 28 and May 5. Tickets $20, available at http://nanaimotheatregroup.ca or 250-758-7224.


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