Daniel Boone High School students recently took part in a heavy-hearted performance of “The Spirit Of Life.”
The story, adapted from Yaffa Eliach’s “Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust,” dramatizes true accounts of survivors and highlights their perseverance.
As a part of the production’s encore performance on Friday, Nov. 4, special guests were invited including the president the Jewish Federation of Reading, Bill Franklin, his wife Andi, and the program director Amanda Hornberger.
Ryan Hoffmann, Musical director and English teacher at Daniel Boone High School, says he chose the story as this year’s fall play for a few reasons.
“It was my hope that, in bringing in story like this where the characters are real, nonfictional, we could really dig into the acting and help the kids to better their acting skills.” He said the common mistake students often make is to overact. “They did not go there; they couldn’t go there with portraying this. They really understood the sanctity of what they were doing.”
He also noted the play’s role in helping the audience to reflect on the past.
“In these times, these political times, it’s very important for us to take a look at history again and to learn from it.” He mentioned the current refugee crisis. “There are just so many connections with what they’re learning.”
To prepare, students took a visit to the nation’s Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. They also worked with Dr. Doug Powers from Susquehanna University’s theatre department.
In addition — the Jewish Federation of Reading provided a number of educational resources and Andi Franklin spoke to the entire Daniel Boone High School student body about Jewish culture.
High school student Patrick Brandolini played the part of the rabbi and had to speak a fair amount of Hebrew as a part of his lines. He said the accuracy was one of the things he was most concerned about so he practiced a great deal.
Justin Persicketti, a senior, said the prep for the show was “insane” and referenced hours of reading stories of people online to be able to relate and accurately portray the individuals. “I think we can do a good job, but it’s a tough thing to do.”
“I thought it was amazing,” said Amanda Hornberger, program director of the Jewish Federation of Reading, about the production. “It’s a really heavy topic. For teenagers to delve into that emotion and that time period, and to do it respectfully, is really difficult. I thought they did an amazing job.”
She emphasized how the students seem to really want to get something out of the information.
“Daniel Boone has been amazing to work with,” said Hornberger. “The kids are really interested in learning and gaining new experiences. That’s a great sign — the fact that they want to learn and educate themselves, it’s a good sign.”
The runtime of the play was about 45 minutes. More than 50 students took part — 16 on stage and 37 in stage crew. The first performance was held on Oct. 22.
A candle was left on stage and burned throughout the production. Students explained this candle was meant to signify the unwavering faith of the Jewish people during those times.