In March of 2015, Little Lake was making plans for a production of The Diary of Anne Frank for our fall educational show. We had done the show once before with great success and wanted to bring a performance about the Holocaust to our audiences. Then the Pittsburgh Public Theatre announced a production of Diary of Anne Frank for that exact time. This threw a major wrinkle into the plan. Committed to the subject of the Holocaust, we began the search for a new play.
Sunny Disney Fitchett, our artistic director at the time, stumbled across a copy of Letters to Sala by Arlene Hutton. Loving another play by this playwright, Last Train to Nibroc, we began to read. Little did we know that this small, red covered script would launch us on a nearly two year journey to tell your amazing story.
We began rehearsals for Little Lake’s initial performance in late September ’15. The cast of 17 actors was assembled and we began to read- the play, the book “Sala’s Gift,” research about you and your family, research about the labor camps, information about Sosnowiec… We read as much as we could in preparation for this play. And the more we read, the more we became connected to the people of this story, your friends and family. It became clear that we had a mission to be the voice of these people who could no longer speak on their own, people who’s voices live through the letters.
The show opened at the end of October. Night after night, audiences left our theatre having been deeply impacted by the story, by your bravery and the lives of those who wrote to you. And we grew more and more excited for the groups of school children to see this show. Our first student performance was on October 28th, exactly 75 years to the day of your leaving for the camps. The anniversary did not pass by the cast without notice. If possible, we became more protective of your story and our responsibility to tell it.
Three hundred students attended our two student matinees, sponsored by Classrooms Without Borders. They listened and felt and thought and responded. They asked smart questions during our talk backs and continued the discussion about your letters in their classrooms long after the play was over.
We completed our three week run of the show and no one was quite the same after. Our lives had been changed from this experience. We knew there was more to be done, more story to be told. None of us seemed ready to let this story go. I know I certainly wasn’t.
Then Classrooms Without Borders proposed we partner to take the production on tour to area schools so that more students could learn about you and your letters. Questions began to flood my thoughts- was this possible? Are we crazy? How do we take this production on the road? How do we travel with a 17 person cast? When? What really would be involved?
And now, a year later, the tour is a reality. Nine actors have returned to join the cast and we have welcomed seven new actors to the team. We have worked with the playwright to shorten the performance to the length required by the schools for in-school performances. We have rehearsed for four weeks, brushed off the costumes, unpacked the props and incorporated projections to add visual impact. We are ready! We are about to tell your amazing story again. What an honor and awesome responsibility.
Tomorrow, Friday October 14th, we start on our journey. The questions are still there- what should we expect? How do we adapt to doing performances in ten very different theatre spaces? Have we done the story justice? What will be the impact?
One thing remains constant- we love you and can not wait to share your story with thousands of students over the next month! You inspire us! And so we dedicate this journey to you!
Jena Oberg, director of Letters to Sala