Guest post from The Diary of Anne Frank actor Grace Melon
April 9, 2013 § 6 Comments
I was a thirteen-year-old cancer patient when I knew I wanted to play Anne Frank someday. I’d gathered enough courage to go to an open-call audition for a different play at Oakton Community College. I’d prepared a monologue from The Diary of Anne Frank. Stepping up onto the stage, my bald head was throbbing with anticipation, my knees were quivering and I could barely catch my breath. Facing death, however, taught me that giving into fear was never an option. I performed Anne’s monologue and I felt an insanely strong connection to her feelings as I stood in front of the director. I ended up getting the part because of this profound connection that arose in me. For one, we were both thirteen-year-old girls facing something that few people our age could ever imagine. We both lived in simultaneous anxiety and hope. We both often questioned our life span and if we would ever live to get married or have children. True, we spoke different languages, we were born in different countries almost seventy years apart, went through entirely different things (hers, of course, being far more brutal and ending in tragedy) and yet, I understood her. That audition was also the day I truly fell in love with acting – I was enticed by the extreme tie that can occur between the actor and her character.
My first thought when getting the role of Anne Frank was how wonderful it would be for my acting career. I’ve never been the title character in a show before, and I’ve certainly never gotten to play such a dynamic and life affirming character as Anne. And of course, being almost three years in remission, it was almost symbolic to be cast in the role I always longed for when I was sick. Preparing for the role, I watched endless videos of interviews with survivors of the Holocaust on YouTube, some of which were Anne’s childhood friends, looked up images of concentration camps, and of course read Anne’s diary. Some of the photos I saw looked like they came straight out of a horror movie. Skulls were literally scattered all around the dusty ground of the camps. It was very easy to pretend it was all pretend and not a major part of the world’s history.
One night, in bed, I was reading a chapter in Anne’s diary, with a highlighter and pen in hand. I thought about all my friends and family, flying in from across the country to see me perform. My mind was elsewhere – I treated the research like a homework assignment. The chapter, however, was far more personal and less of a recitation of facts than some of her previous ones. She confessed her secret hopes to what she wanted to be when she grew up. There were a myriad of things she listed, like she couldn’t really make up her mind as a young teen… and she would never get to. I pictured her in her tiny cot in the Secret Annex, blocking out the snoring of Mr. Dussel and trying so hard to escape her circumstances. That was when the truth seeped into my skull – Anne’s story had really happened. This wasn’t like any other character I had played before. I was playing a real girl who had thoughts that weren’t written by a playwright.
Out of nowhere, I started crying, like I was mourning the loss of a close friend who had died. Anne was fifteen when she died of Typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp – only a year younger than me. The despair soon turned to rage and disgust that such tragic, unspeakable things can happen to innocent people based solely on their ethnicity and religion. The next day, I told one of my theatre friends that I didn’t think I could do the role – I was sure my skill wasn’t enough to do Anne the justice she deserved. And even if I did do well, it couldn’t change her suffering and senseless death.
“You are the one bringing her back to life. Anne will live again through you,” she told me, “You don’t have a choice; you’ve got to do this for her.”
This role is not about my skill as an actor. This role is not about me whatsoever. The role is another way for Anne to tell her world famous story to all who come see the show – a lot of whom are around Anne’s age. It is one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do, to completely let go and let the instincts of my character guide me through the show, but it is also the most wonderful opportunity I’ve ever had in my whole life.
My favorite scene in the show is the one where Margot is helping Anne get ready to go into Peter’s room. Her mother comes in, they argue, Anne fishes for compliments from her sister, wonders if Peter actually likes her and tries her best to look pretty, despite doubting her appearance compared to Margot’s. In short, it is an experience every teenage girl, including myself, has had. The exchanges with Margot and her mother are universal, and it is almost forgotten that they are hiding in the attic of an office building during World War II. Anne’s deepest insecurities surface for just a brief moment, and in that moment we all can recognize her as our friend, our sister, our daughter or even ourselves.
It’s really easy to see Anne Frank as a hero because of all she went through and her belief in humanity despite all of it. But, I think when we call someone a hero it almost disassociates us from who they were. We can only see them as saints on Earth, and that was my problem at first. I’ve learned that Anne was not a priest or rabbi, she was a feisty, bright, funny, rebellious and intuitive girl who had endless potential. That the world lost a human like her is far more tragic than the world loosing an iconic hero.
I am so thrilled to be working with Metropolis on this project. Anne wrote in her diary that she wanted to go on living long after her death. Thanks to fabulous theatres like Metropolis and brave directors and actors like Brian Rabinowitz and my cast, Anne’s dream comes true every day, sixty-eight years after her death. Anne will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m so excited to bring her back to life!