Walking into the theater for the latest production at Prospect Playhouse, you might think you’d made a mistake – that perhaps you appeared on the wrong day or at the wrong place.
Scattered boxes fill the auditorium, replacing the seats that normally greet audience members – creating the perception that there’s nothing to see here in this seemingly empty auditorium.
This setup is intentional.
Passing the disarray of boxes and slipping behind a bookshelf that obscures the stairs, audience members find themselves on the stage and transported into wartime Amsterdam.
You are now in hiding in one of the concealed rooms where the Jewish Frank and Van Daan families hid from Nazi forces from 1942-1944.
For this production of The Diary of Anne Frank, director Kirsty Halliday invites the audience to actually sit inside the infamous secret annex, once the workplace of Anne’s father, Otto Frank.
The intimacy may create a sense of unease or claustrophobia, and that is the point.
“This is something I call immersive theater where the aim is for the audience not to hang up their brain when they hang up their coat,” Halliday says.
“I want you to be a fly on the wall and the fourth wall of the annex. I wanted people to feel they were in there with them and part of that was taking away all the stagecraft of facing the audience perfectly at all times.”
With every laugh, outburst or scare, the audience is pulled in, unable to tune out or look away.
For 15-year-old actress Jasmine Line (Anne Frank), the immersive experience serves as a reminder that this terrifying tale really happened.
“I think the most important thing is for the audience to realize that these were actual real people and we’re playing them and they’re on a stage, but they actually lived through all of this,” Jasmine says.
“Coming to realize that is one of the most difficult things about the play. To realize that Anne was so young – I’m almost 16 and I outlived her – to see what she went through, is really horrific.”
The inability to look away is perhaps the most significant aspect of the play and provides one of the greatest lessons from the production.
As major refugee and humanitarian crises continue to grab headlines across the world, Halliday compels viewers to remember that history repeats itself.
“When you hear about this or read the story, I don’t think you fathom it properly. It’s quite overwhelming when you hear 6 million Jews were killed. Six million is not a number any of us can imagine,” Halliday says.
“When you start to hear individual stories and are able to relate them, it becomes a very different thing.”
For Adam Roberts (Otto Frank), the Cayman Drama Society production is a call to address hatred and prejudice.
“What I hope we show is that these are just ordinary people and they’re placed into this position through no fault of their own and yet they end up the way they do. We have to keep the message going, that this is wrong and that prejudice exists, and that we must fight against it always,” he says.
For an unforgettable and educational theater experience, join the Anne Frank cast at Prospect Playhouse Sept. 6-9 and Sept. 13-16. More information can be found online at www.cds.ky.