Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 34
Reading the DiaryPioneer Valley High School prepares to present a powerful play
BY SHELLY CONE
In a world of technological advances capable of creating devastating weapons, one of the most powerful weapons remains something innate to humans: a voice. Sometimes that voice starts simply and quietly, as in a diary, before building in power. Other times it starts out as a personal, yet powerful testament that delivers a great message when it reaches the masses.
When Pioneer Valley High School teacher Shawnah Van Gronigen set out to produce The Diary of Anne Frank, she immediately sensed the power of the personal voice. She drew a parallel between the story behind the play and the recent shooting of 14-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban. Yousafzai became a national figure in 2009 when she contributed diary entries to a blog published by the BBC Urdu Services and was recently shot by the Taliban for speaking out against militants’ attempts to ban education for girls.
Both Yousafzai and Anne Frank found their voice, initially, through a diary.
“I think that it’s a story that is just as relevant today,” Van Gronigen said, adding that the version the school will perform is a more modern, edgy one. Still, she said she was surprised at the amount of interest in the play coming from the school.
“I think sometimes we underestimate our audience and think they want all fluffy stuff,” Van Gronigen said. “That’s not true. A lot of them read it in junior high, and so it’s familiar, it’s not as risky as something they haven’t seen. And especially anything that has to do with racial intolerance is of interest to our students.”
Recently, some students gathered on the stage in the drama room at Pioneer Valley, cheerily chatting and smiling as they prepared to rehearse.
Junior Gisel Cruz was overjoyed to play the part of Anne. She said she read the book in the sixth grade, and when she learned last year that the school would be putting on the play, she immediately planned to audition.
“I was just hoping for a part,” she said. “I was shocked and excited when I was told I got the part of Anne.”
There were some sacrifices the students had to make to get into their roles. Cruz had to cut her hair, and the boys had to grow out their facial hair. All of them had to practice immersing themselves in a range of deep emotion. Cruz said that because they know what’s happening in the next scene, they often need to work hard to hide that emotion from creeping into the current scene and giving away what happens next.
“There was one scene where we had to be cracking up, but we were almost crying because we knew what was coming in the next scene,” Cruz said.
With her sights set on a career in theater, Cruz said playing Anne is exciting. She said it’s an even sweeter win because opening night is her birthday. More importantly, Cruz said the role is special because it’s an intense story with themes that still come up today. She compared the play to the young girl in Pakistan and the severe oppression that still happens today in parts of the world.
“The girl in Pakistan, she had a voice and they didn’t want her to be heard,” Cruz said. “With Anne, of course, her voice wasn’t meant to be heard. Either way, how can they do that? What makes them think they have the right? I don’t think that people are meant to have the kind of power to do that.”
Arts Editor Shelly Cone encourages voices. Contact her at email@example.com.
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