Everyday Arts Heroes: Ryan London Levin and Sarah Broude

As people across the world are going into shelter to help others and stay safe themselves, a small group of actors and theatre artists in the Twin Cities are finding a new way of connecting with each other and with the past.

Posterized photo of Anne Frank's character, wearing a green, 1930s style dress and holding a journal

 

Park Square Theatre has been producing the theatrical adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, for 20 years, and this spring would have been the 21st. The production was about to open to over 12,000 middle and high school students when Minnesota’s shelter in place orders took effect. While not being able put on a live show, there was a compulsion on the part of the cast and company to produce the play and even find ways to lean in to the resonance between their current experiences of isolation, and that of the characters they play.

When it became clear that there was little chance of being able to assemble to record the staged version, the cast began rehearsing and recording a Zoom interpretation of the play, which, if everything goes according to plan, will be released free of charge for streaming on April 21st, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  With it’s connection to school history and literature curriculums, and a unique timeliness as families experience isolation, the play will benefit students and support educators and parents developing distance learning programs.

For a downloadable e-book of The Diary of Anne Frank, intended for nonprofit educational use, click HERE.
For Park Square Theatre’s study guide, click HERE.
For a the playbill supporting the planned stage production of the play, click HERE.
When the streaming version of the play is available, it will be posted HERE.

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Park Square talked to Ryan London Levin, who plays Peter Van Daan, and Sarah Broude, who plays Miep Gies, about some of their experiences working on this unique production.

Park Square Theatre: Is this your first experience with PST? If not, tell us about your past work with us?  

Sarah Broude: I have participated in many Park Square auditions, and I was in the very first show on the Andy Boss stage, The House on Mango Street, but it is my first season working on The Diary of Anne Frank.

Ryan London Levin: This is my 3rd time being in the Attic but my second Park Square production, the other show was the critically acclaimed original musical comedy Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant where I played the lovable slacker, Liam Ackerman.

PST: What is the best thing about working on The Diary of Anne Frank?  

SB: This is my first year working on this show, and all the other actors have been there for a really long time. I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do, and these talented people made me feel comfortable and accepted from the get-go. Their kindness really shows through on, and off stage. Anne says she still
believes that people are really good at heart, and this cast lives those words.

RLL: I truly love performing for students. It’s very different from a typical evening audience where the energy of the room is felt very strongly- more thoughts and feelings are blurted out and as an actor it’s very satisfying to receive that immediate visceral reaction. Of course, everything will be different this time. It is challenging for an actor to perform without feedback from a live audience.

Headshot of Actress Sarah Broude. She is white with light brown hair and green eyes. She wears a green shirt.

Sarah Broude

Black and white photograph of Miep Gies.

Miep Gies

PST: Tell us about your character and how rehearsals have further developed your idea of the character you are playing?  How is sheltering in place changing how you understand your character?

SB: Miep was one of the lifelines for the families living in the annex. She risked her own life to bring life to others. It’s not a large role for the actor, but Miep played a huge role to the people she was helping. She is talked about a lot in the show, and how others perceived her gives great insight into deciding how to play her.

As we are hunkered down in our homes due to Covid-19, it’s hard not to see the similarities in our situations. Like the families in the attic, I feel like leaving my home could lead to unknown horrors for me and for the essential workers that don’t have a choice but to leave their homes. But how else do we survive, get food, get fresh air, sunshine, live whole lives? And what does a “whole life” mean in our new situation?

The Franks keep a schedule, and I think this is a big lesson I have learned from this play in our Corona Virus reality. Having a purpose, something to do in a scheduled time frame that is consistent and healthy has been a great help for my anxieties and boredom.

Much like the people living in the attic, I am dependent on outside forces to survive this virus because of my asthma. I have equated my mail person to Miep in many ways. He brings me things I need and things that distract me from what is happening outside, around the world. The deliveries vary from groceries, to a ukulele, to masks sent from friends. Not only does this help me feel safer, it helps me keep a schedule to feel “normal” and productive. I hope I can find a way to repay my Mieps. Maybe the cost is just being kinder to people, they might be someone else’s Miep.

Photo of Anne Frank and Peter Van Daan embracing and looking out at the audience.

Ryan London Levin as Peter Van Daan and Sulia Altenberg as Anne Frank. Photo by Petronella J Ytsma, 2019.

Peter van Pels

RLL: Peter is the only child of the Van Daans (in real life known as the Van Pels). He is very socially awkward (like myself) and would rather spend most of his time in his room playing with his cat, Mouschi (relatable). Since this is my third time rehearsing the show I’ve relaxed into the role in a way that makes the character feel more grounded with the space and the people around him. Every time I do this show I make new discoveries with Peter and always look for new interactions with other actors on stage- when we all work together and find moments that really land- that’s what makes the show fun to perform! It should also be noted that man playing Mr. Otto Frank is my father in real life and its fun to perform in this show with him.

PST: How does this show connect to the world today? Or Why is it important to keep telling this story?

SB: I think Diary is such an important story to tell, and seems to get more and more important as the years go by. I think humans need helpful reminders from time to time, if we forget the mistakes we have made in the past, we are doomed to repeat them.

RLL: I hope that students can make the connection that Anne’s story is one that is also happening today. The people in that attic are illegal immigrants escaping the persecution of their government. Students should know that what the German government did to Jewish people was completely legal, the man in power created those laws and court systems that made being Jewish a crime. On top of that he would refer to them as scum and animals. We’ve see this with our Latinx, Muslim, Somali, Black and African-American, and LGBTQ+ communities. It is not just in other countries but here in America. That’s just some of the example and I hope kids can make those connections, even during the pandemic that currently eclipses other issues.

PST: Tell us what rehearsing and filming through Zoom has been like for you as a performer?

SB: Rehearsing and recording this play from home has been as surreal as it has been comforting. Working as much as I can from home is very important for my mental and physical health. I had already set up an area in my home to rehearse and record, The Diary of Anne Frank is the second play I have done from home since we went into quarantine. But this show is a little different than Silent Sky because we are recording the show scene by scene, rather than a live Zoom performance. I think this was a wonderful decision, as it makes it easy for the educational audiences to pull up specific parts as needed through their curriculum. But I am also thrilled that regular audiences will be able to see it as well!

We are very lucky to be living in an age where we are able to use technology like this, and have options on how to present performance art on a number of different platforms. I can’t wait to get on stage again, but I am grateful for these opportunities to continue to be creative, and to be a part of this very important story.

Instagram post by Ryan London Levin. "My make shift costume for the "Diary of Anne Frank" over zoom. The show is still incredibly powerful (and then some) with all of us isolated. Cutting out my own yellow star with old material from my house was a strange experience."

Instagram post by Ryan London Levin. April 13, 2020.

PST: Tell us about some of the design elements in the show, and how they inform your work? 

RLL: A good portion of our cast has actually been to the real Anne Frank house. The real attic space is actually bigger then the space we use onstage – the designer wanted the stage to feel cramped to capture the feeling of how limited the living space was. When staging the show it becomes a very complicated dance between the actors and ALL of the props.

Now we’re all working from home and finding things we can use in our houses to create costumes and props as well as backgrounds that don’t hide the fact that we’re in isolation, but don’t take a way from the play itself. It was a very strange experience to cut out my own yellow star.

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