By the time students get to high school, many likely have some acquaintance with “The Diary of Anne Frank” or know the story of the Jewish girl and her family who spent two years hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
Released in 1947, just after the end of World War II, the book has been a perennial favorite, a memoir of a horrific time as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl.
Leah Turley, who directs the Alban Arts Center’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which opens via streaming Friday night, said Anne’s world isn’t so far removed from the present.
“I was watching the riot on the sixth of January and I remembered seeing the 6MWE T-shirts,” she said.
6MWE stands for Six Million Wasn’t Enough, an antisemitic, white supremacist slogan referencing the 6 million Jews sent to their deaths in concentration camps during World War II.
It wasn’t an isolated image.
Inside the breached Senate building, another man was photographed wearing a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt. Mixed among the Trump 2020 flags, Confederate battle flags and “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flags were other flags associated with Nazi groups.
It was disturbing, but Turley said when she pitched the idea of the Alban Arts Center producing “The Diary of Anne Frank,” she wasn’t really thinking about Nazis or resurgent anti-Semitism.
A year ago, when the board of directors was discussing the upcoming 2020-2021 season, Turley said she just wanted to give young drama students something they could really sink their teeth into.
“I was playing with this idea of doing a student-run production,” she said. “Student actors, student crew, student technicians with me, off to the side, helping to direct.”
Turley, who is Managing Artistic Director and Coordinator for Theatre ETC (Educational Touring Company) at Marshall University and an acting instructor at the Alban Arts Center, explained that teenage actors complain about not getting to do serious, dramatic work.
“A lot of the contemporary work isn’t appropriate for younger age groups,” she said.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” looked like a good fit. It was serious and something the students could relate to. The backdrop was the Nazi occupation, but Anne Frank was still an ordinary 13-year-old girl.
“Then COVID happened and I didn’t feel we had the time or the resources to do a production that was a ‘for young audiences’ version,” she said.
Instead, the Alban retooled the entire production, auditioned adults and made plans to present the play online. Over the past nine months, the Alban has been at the local forefront of adapting stage shows to an online audience.
They opened the first, “The O’Neill Project,” last summer during the digital version of FestivALL.
Turley directed that show.
“It was very haphazard,” she said. “But I was really proud of how the actors handled it. It is very different to go from having an audience who responds to you and having nothing, zero reaction.”
The cast adapted, and so did Turley.
“I have a masters in theatre performance. I don’t know anything about audio/visual elements,” she said.
She learned. They all have.
Over the past few months, the Alban has updated its equipment and built a platform to accommodate a camera operator.
“That way we don’t have to die tripping over seats,” she said.
Cameras or not, Turley said they’re not shooting a movie.
“My argument has always been that we are not creating film, we are filming theater,” she said.
The cast will run the play three times over the next two weekends. If they miss a line, they miss a line.
“They don’t get a second chance to get it right until the next day,” she said.
The cast will perform maskless. Turley said theyhave followed COVID-19 safety protocols, including presenting a negative COVID test at the start of this week, but wearing a mask during the performance just didn’t work to tell the story.
And there’s a lot to the story of Anne Frank, Turley said. She wasn’t perfect. Her writings revealed a typical teenager who was critical of her parents, was curious about sex and liked crude jokes.
Anne Frank was very human and a hero.
Turley said heroes aren’t heroes because they’re superhuman, angelic beings.
“Being human and making remarkable choices, that’s what makes a hero,” she said.