Then and now.
The upcoming production of The Diary of Anne Frank will actually be my second time performing in this show. When I attended York College, we performed a different adaptation of this script in the spring of 2003. Going through preparation for this show a second time, I have been struck by what a difference 16 years of life makes.
Then...I was a 21 year old with little experience of the world outside of my rosy bubble. I was self-absorbed in the way that young people tend to be. Anne Frank’s story touched me...but not deeply.
Now...I’m 37 and a news junkie. I’ve lived a lot more life and heard a great many more stories. I can feel the pain of others so much more acutely now that I’m not living only inside my own headspace. The story of Anne Frank and those she shared the Annex with has broken me open.
Then...I was dating a cast member (a major no-no, especially when you are playing a married couple and you have a messy breakup days before the show opens), but I had little experience or understanding of real love.
Now...My husband and I just celebrated our 15th anniversary. We’ve got three amazing kids. The depth love that I have for them informs my performance in this production in a way that was impossible for me to comprehend when I was heartsore and single.
Then...I was so self-conscious that my performance was really all about me. How did I look? Was this costume flattering? What did people think of ME on stage? There was little room for the nature of the real character to shine through.
Now...I was thinner and had less wrinkles at 21, but I’ve got loads more confidence at 37. So much so that when I’m on stage in this production, my performance can actually be about the character and the story. I can interact with others on stage with a global understanding of the needs of the story, rather than be confined to my performance.
Then...I played Mrs. Frank, who is self-contained and reserved, with deep emotion bubbling under the surface for most of the show. This was an ideal role for someone who had not yet fully come out of her shell.
Now...I play Mrs. Van Daan, who screams and curses and flirts and cries and generally behaves badly for most of the show. This is not a role I could have played convincingly in my youth. It would have been far too embarrassing!
Then...I had read The Diary of Anne Frank in high school, but I didn’t do any additional research or character development for the production. It seemed to me then that these were just characters, as in any other play. I learned my lines, was at every rehearsal, and felt like that was enough.
Now...I’ve become a little obsessed with learning about the REAL Mrs. Van Daan (her name was actually Auguste Van Pels). I feel an urgent burden to represent her well and accurately. I want to resurrect her in this story. I feel an obligation to her...and to the millions of others whose lives were stolen and whose stories have been forgotten.
Stories are living things. As we change, they change, and our experience and understanding of them changes too. These are just a few of the ways the experience of The Diary of Anne Frank has been different for me this time around. If you’ve seen this show or a version of it before, I’d love for you to come see the current production and tell me what has changed for you in the experience from one viewing to the next.
Guest blogger Chrystal Houston will portray Mrs. Van Daan in the upcoming production of The Diary of Anne Frank at the Yorkshire Playhouse, February 7-10 and 15-17. She has performed in many other shows at the Yorkshire, including Moon Over Buffalo, Nunsense, The Taffetas, and A Christmas Story.