Mina Son stood behind the upright piano and reminded the six Central Michigan University students the magnitude of what they were preparing for in the Czech Republic.
This was one of the first music rehearsals for the small cast of students performing the play “The Fireflies” Sept. 25 in Terezín to close the “Out of the Shadows” festival, which is part of the international research project Performing the Jewish Archive.
This play originally was performed by prisoners of the Terezín concentration camp in the Czech Republic during World War II. CMU students will present the play in the Attic Theatre in Terezín on the same stage where it first was performed.
“You have to focus in on why you’re doing it, and remember that in the original cast of children, many of them did not survive,” said Son, music director for the CMU performance of “The Fireflies.”
The uniqueness of the camp and its performance influenced communication and dramatic arts faculty member Lauren McConnell to share the story. CMU University Theatre presented “The Fireflies” in April 2013. The series of performances was particularly memorable as it was narrated by Holocaust survivor Vera Meisels.
The experience was so moving it inspired 2016 graduate Rebecca Hochhuth to delay starting her professional acting career in New York so she could re-enroll at CMU and join the cast to reprise her 2013 role as the ladybug.
“I couldn’t not do this. ‘The Fireflies’ for me was life changing,” Hochhuth said. “It’s not just a role in a play but it represents a whole part of history that one time was just lost.”
Filled with 57,000 inhabitants, Terezín was a way station for prisoners on their way to Auschwitz and other death camps. It was a public relations tool for the Nazis to showcase to the world a so-called “positive” image of daily life as a prisoner.
McConnell spent two years researching the performance before bringing it back to life. She used original documents, artifacts, artwork and testimony from Meisels, who remembers playing a ladybug in what was the second and final presentation of the play” before the war ended.
Hochhuth developed a close relationship with Meisels when she visited campus in 2013.
“I was so lucky I got to know Vera and become someone she calls, as it translates, her ‘lady bird sister,’” Hochhuth said. “If Lauren called me in five years because they were doing this play again, I’d be here in a heartbeat because the stories of the children and the survivors need to be shared.”
Amy Duffy is a junior from Lansing who is a member of the cast and is serving as the stage manager. She is pursuing a degree in music theatre performance and already sees how this perfornance will shape her acting career.
“So much of theater is to explore people’s lives as you prepare for the role you’re playing and to place yourself in their experiences,” Duffy said. “I understand so much more about what they were experiencing, and I’m so honored to be part of something that’s so meaningful.”
Duffy said she is looking forward to a postshow event where she and the other students will have the opportunity to meet and interact with survivors of the Holocaust, many of whom will participate in other festival activities.