SERENDIPITY struck at the Hydra Performing Arts Festival in Greece last July when California-born, Toronto-based Ryerson University School of Performance professor Peggy Shannon met WAAPA associate dean of performance Andrew Lewis.
The pair realised their training programs were similar in style and content and soon developed a plan to guest direct for each other.
Lewis will travel to Toronto in November to oversee a holiday pantomime while Shannon is now at WAAPA directing The Diary of Anne Frank with third-year acting students.
The season marks the 70th anniversary of the book’s publication.
“I’ve never directed it before but certainly know the book and I’ve been to her house, which is pretty amazing,” Shannon said.
“The book is required reading for American high school students and my daughter, who was finishing grade 12 at the time, was reading and analysing it.
“I agreed to direct the play because it’s really not a story about pain or loss, although of course there is huge loss at the end.
“It’s more about a story of survival and hope. It puts a face on this massive atrocity that becomes hard to emotionally penetrate because it’s so overwhelming. I keep saying I’m not going to cry at the end, but I do.”
There are two Jewish students in the cast of 10.
The family of one Jewish performer helped everyone prepare for the play by inviting the entire cast over for a Shabbat dinner.
“They talked about the symbolism of the different aspects of the Shabbat dinner,” Shannon said.
“The students have also been helping each other with the prayers because I asked them to be spoken in Hebrew during the play rather than English.
“It’s an honour to be gifted with telling this story of not just Anne Frank but these families who valiantly and heroically lived under really tough circumstances for a very long time.
“I feel every day is a gift to hear these words spoken aloud. We’re trying to do it without layering on any kind of additional concept and bring truth and dignity to this play; that’s what it deserves.”
What: The Diary of Anne Frank
Where: Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA
When: May 5 to 11