An after-school arts program in Sooke is leaping into more dramatic performances by telling a Holocaust survivor’s story.
This year, the Amber Academy has taken on a new challenge to teach young performers how to challenge their performance skills with a play based on a concentration camp’s actual events during the Second World War.
Kids between nine and 15 have been working since September to present, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, written by American playwright Celeste Raspanti.
The story focuses on Terezin, a town occupied by Nazi Germany and used as a concentration camp. The plot follows a young woman, Raja, as she navigates the difficulties living under Nazi control.
“This story needs to be told because we still have anti-Semitic hate during this time,” said director Drew Kemp. “It’s not something that goes away, and we need to be reminded that this sort of hatred is not OK. It still exists out there.”
During the Second World War, the International Red Cross would drop by to inspect the towns. The soldiers were able to trick inspectors into believing the Jewish people were being treated properly, as inmates were told to take up creative activities, such as art shows and musical performances.
After the Red Cross left, most inmates were sent to Auschwitz and killed.
When Allied troops liberated the camp, a box of drawings was found. The box revealed hand-drawn butterflies, alongside first-hand accounts of what happened at Terezin.
Due to the pandemic, the Amber Academy students worked with a film crew to capture their performance.
Kemp said it wasn’t easy teaching the gravity of the story to the students. Two kids who signed up ended up opting out as they felt it was too sad. In both the play and reality, many kids ended up being sent to Auschwitz. Raja is the only main character that survives at the end.
“If you asked a kid if they want to do something like Rebel Without A Cause as opposed to the Wizard of Oz, you know what they’d end up saying. This is the chance for youth to big into more dramatic roles,” Kemp said.
The project was made possible through funding from the Capital Regional District’s IDEA Grant, which supports arts and culture projects and events.
Donations to watch the film will support the Sooke Food Bank, which sponsors Amber Academy’s healthy snack program.
The recorded production will be released online on the Amber Academy website to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was observed on Jan. 27.
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