Playing Dorothy was kid stuff. This week, 14-year-old Carolyn Shields moves up in class.
A freshman at Saratoga Springs High School, Shields will be playing the title character in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” opening Friday at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham. Shields, who has performed for the Saratoga Children’s Theater as well as several school productions, was selected to play Anne by Curtain Call artistic director Carol Max in August, earning the role over a field of more than 60 young actresses.
“I was surprised when I got the role, and I was excited and honored,” said Shields, who along with playing Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” for the Saratoga Children’s Theatre also recently played Belle in a school production of “Beauty and the Beast.” “I was very nervous about the whole process, especially when I couldn’t make the first callback. I didn’t know what was going to happen, so when I got it I was shocked. But it was a nice shock.”
Frank, a Jew, was born on June 12, 1929, in Germany and moved to Amsterdam in the Netherlands in 1933. She began writing her diary on her 13th birthday in 1942, a month before her family went into hiding from the Nazis during World War II and continued writing until August of 1944 when they were discovered and taken to the Bergen-Belgen concentration camp. She died of typhus in March of 1945.
‘The Diary of Anne Frank’
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: Opens Friday. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Nov. 19
HOW MUCH: $22
MORE INFO: 877-7529 or www.curtaincalltheatre.com
Learning as much as she can
Along with reading the script for the play, Shields has seen the 1959 black-and-white movie version with Millie Perkins playing Anne, and she has also seen YouTube clips of Natalie Portman’s performance as Anne in the Broadway revival of 1997.
“I studied it in school, and I thought it would be interesting to find a little more insight into the story,” said Shields. “It’s such a wonderful story and an honor for me to play her. Her life was surrounded by war, but she tried to stay happy and keep her ideals.”
Shields’ quest to learn more about Anne included a virtual tour on the Internet of the Franks’ hiding place in Amsterdam.
“We could look at the rooms and learn what they did in there,” said Shields. “It’s amazing everything that was going on around her.”
Howie Schaffer is playing Otto Frank, Anne’s father. Katherine Ambrosio is her mother, Edith, and Dana Goodknight her older sister, Margot. Christian Meola, a Guilderland High School student who played Jem in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” last year, is Peter Van Daan.
Also in the cast are Chris Foster and Robin Leary as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, Jack Fallon as Mr. Dussell, Patrick Leatham as Mr. Kraler and Jennifer Bullington as Miep Gies.
It was Gies who found Anne’s diary after she was taken away by the Germans in August of 1944. Frank’s words were later adapted for the stage by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and the play opened on Broadway in October of 1955. It won the 1956 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play and ran for nearly three years.
It was revived in 1997 with Wendy Kesselman providing a new adaptation. It received two Tony nominations and ran for just less than seven months.
Seeking poignant moments
When Max asked Steve Fletcher to direct the Curtain Call production, Fletcher jumped at the opportunity.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to participate in, and it’s been a great experience,” said Fletcher. “It’s such a great story, all I have to do is make sure all the technical elements are in place and that the actors are lending themselves to the moment. I have to find the most poignant moments in the play and make sure that they resonate with the audience.”
As for Shields, she may not be a Curtain Call veteran like much of the cast, but she’s behaving that way.
“I didn’t see the audition process, but Carol told me she had our Anne and she was right,” said Fletcher. “At our first rehearsal I noticed that she has this wonderful natural ability to act. I went to school for years to learn how to do that, and she’s doing it right out of the gate. She’s hitting all the marks. I’m just sitting back and marveling at her, and trying to stay out of the way.”
Shields, who began acting when she was living in California, kept right at it when she moved to Saratoga Springs five years ago.
“I think acting became my favorite thing to do during my middle school years,” said Shields. “I love it and I love the whole process. I love going to rehearsal every night, and working with Curtain Call has been great. He [Fletcher] is very insightful, and he gets the actors to get the most out of their characters. He makes sure we do our best.”
Fletcher is also getting the best out of his stage designer for “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Carolyn Mraz.
“It’s a challenge to stage this effectively in a small performing space like we have here at Curtain Call,” said Fletcher. “We have to tweak a few things, and we’re bringing Anne’s room out into the audience a little bit. It brings her in close proximity to the audience, but intimacy is an important part of Curtain Call.”
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Categories: Life and Arts