Stavish directs Holocaust presentation involving two generations
Monday, March 25th, 2013
(Editor’s Note: The following report is based on an article written by Vivian Henoch in My Jewish Detroit.)
An eight-month project that has brought together six senior citizens who survived the Holocaust with six high school students will culminate with the program, “We Are Here: The Journey from Harmony to Horror to Hope,” to be performed April 4 and April 8.
Lawrence Technological University College Professor Corinne Stavish, a professional storyteller, is the director and writer of the production. “We are here” is a kind of code that survivors often use among themselves when telling their stories; it’s both a refrain of regret and triumph, according to Stavish.
The six Holocaust survivors who live in the Detroit area were young when they were driven out of their homes and brutally separated from their families. They endured hunger, bitter cold, and constant fear. They hid. They fled. They fought and survived.
Their stories will not be forgotten, thanks to the Detroit Witness Theater production. They have been joined by the six high school students in a series of intensive workshops to explore their collective stories and to collaborate on a stage performance.
The April 8 performance is sold out, but there is an opportunity to see the dress rehearsal on Thursday, April 4, at 4 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center’s Berman Center for the Performing Arts, 6600 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield.
Tickets for the performances are free, having been generously underwritten by the Nora and Guy Barron Jewish Life Millennium Fund. Reservations are required for the April 4 dress rehearsal. For more information, email Gina Andrisani at email@example.com, or call (248) 642-1643.
Stavish explained that the goal has not been to produce a polished play. The Witness Theater Project emphasizes therapeutic insights gained through learning, understanding and compassion, rather than the finished results of a live stage performance. The eight-month program represents a significant commitment of time, energy, intellect and emotion as the group meets every Thursday afternoon in carefully orchestrated sessions designed to create an atmosphere of trust, confidence, and collaboration.
“The tone of our meetings is one of respect. That means everyone has a voice and everyone is heard. We engage and we listen as each person in the group speaks. We make a point to turn off our phones. We try not to let the outside world enter our space. We listen and learn and retell one another’s stories,” Stavish said. “And we laugh a lot – more than we cry – which might seem strange, but survivors enjoy a unique, crusty gallows humor that we have all come to share.”
As the artistic director, writer and storyteller for the staging of the production, Stavish has a vision for what will be on stage and what might be carried forth once the Witness Theater Project has concluded. Noting an unmistakable cadence to each survivor’s tale, Stavish has written a script that she describes as a kaleidoscope of lines recalled and recorded from the students’ journals.
“I want the torch passed, but I don’t want to lose those voices that we are still blessed to have with us,” Stavish said, “because there will come a day that we won’t have those voices, and then the teens can use theirs.”
Stavish is director of technical and professional communications at Lawrence Tech, and three of the high school students are enrolled in her speech class for dual credit at Lawrence Tech.
With the generous support of the Nora and Guy Barron Jewish Life Millennium Fund, the project is brought to the community by the Jewish Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education in partnership with Jewish Senior Life.
The concept developed by the Israeli elder-services agency Eshel and is now implemented as part of the high school curriculum in Israeli schools. This is the fourth production in the United States under the auspices of the American-based Joint Distribution Committee.
Survivors of the Holocaust hold a unique position as storytellers in the Jewish community, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Charles Silow, a consultant to the Witness Theater Project and director of the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families at Jewish Senior Life.
“Survivors have inspiring messages of hope, peace, and tolerance to deliver,” said Silow, himself the son of Holocaust survivors.
There are an estimated 750 Holocaust survivors in Michigan. Their stories have been archived in www.portraitsofhonor.org, an interactive exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, and a companion database online, both of which Silow helped to develop.