by Elisabeth Clark
Terezín’s The Fireflies
Hadbjerg School is seeking funds to create a theatrical performance of high artistic quality.
Terezín’s The Fireflies is a play which carries a unique piece of world history. In 1943 and 45 the story of the little fireflies was turned into a children’s play with music in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp. It was created by inmates, many of them artists and teachers, and performed by children in the camp. The play was based upon a much loved Czech children’s’ book, The Fireflies (Broucci in Czech), by Jan Karafiát, in which a magic tale of the short but beautiful and meaningful lives of the little fireflies is told.
The Production in Hadbjerg
In 2015, it will be 70 years since The Fireflies (Brouccî) played in the Terezin Ghetto. It is also the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp and the conclusion of World War II. Hadbjerg School is gathering all its resources in a collaborative effort to focus on this dark chapter in European history. Through the work with Terezin’s The Fireflies, the school wants to honor the children who performed the piece during the war, to help younger generations learn more about the war and the liberation, and through this experience to
come to a deeper awareness of human rights and mutual respect.
At the same time, teachers at Hadbjerg School will give students the opportunity to engage in a theatrical production of high artistic quality. This is why we are seeking funds to hire a professional director and an accomplished pianist to lead rehearsals, together with the teachers of the school. We also need a professional sound technician and competent guidance with the lighting.
The Performance in Hadbjerg
We want to make a great English-language production and give students the opportunity to experience what it takes to create a piece of professional, high quality theatre , In collaboration with Tomas Ambt Kofod, one of our most talented and busy musical leads in Denmark, we want to create a performance that will reach further than a traditional school play. Our musical director and accompanist, the young, talented pianist Anna Nadiryan Nørgaard, will play during rehearsals and performances. 130 intermediate students
(4-6. classes) and their 15 teachers plus three coordinators of music, props and stage management will help stage the show. We will work with our students in our English, Music, Crafts & Design and History classes, and will use the time from the new Danish School Reform’s Support Teachings Activity schedule to make the vision a reality. Also, the support of volunteers from outside the school will be an important part of Terezin’s The Fireflies life in Hadbjerg School.
While the school is committing a considerable amount of funds, it still isn’t enough. Hadbjerg School hasn’t got the resources to finance a production such as this. Therefore we are seeking financial support from sources outside the school. Our budget is 200.000 d. kr. to cover the cost of professional artists and professional sound and lighting. (See budget further down)
Premiere April 23 2015 at 19:30
Our opening night is the first performance of Terezín’s The Fireflies in Europe since the performance in the ghetto of Terezín in 1945. We have invited the Czech Ambassador Jiří Brodský, U.S. Embassy representative Emily Ronek, Director of the Danish Jewish Museum Janne Laursen, Danish Minister of Defence Nicolai Wanman, and Mayor of Favrskov Commune Nils Borring, who have already said yes. We are awaiting response from our invitations to the Minister of Culture Marianne Jelved, American Ambassador Rufus Gifford and Rabbi Jair Melchior.
- 23 Apr. 2015 – Hadbjerg, Denmark. Host Hall. 7:30 PM
- 27 – 28 Apr. 2015 at National Museum of Copenhagen (2 performances for invited classes from KBH municipality). Time TBA
- 4 May 2015 – Public Premiere – Hadbjerg, Denmark. Celebration in Host Hall with liftoff of 125 Chinese lanterns after the show. 7:30 PM.
- 5 May 2015 – Public Performance – Hadbjerg, Denmark. Host Hall. 3:00 PM.
The Journey from Terezín to Michigan to Hadbjerg
Elisabeth Irene Clark, a Danish teacher of English and music at Hadbjerg School, near Aarhus, discovered that the Czech play received considerable attention in Michigan, USA, where it was performed. Professor Lauren B. McConnell created a reconstruction of Terezin’s The Fireflies based on interviews with survivors who
remembered or performed in the play. One of the survivors is Vera Meisels. Vera, then a child of eight, participated in the 1945 production. She played a ladybug, and could tell a vivid and detailed account of her experiences in the play in Terezín. The reconstructed piece had its first performances in 2013 with university students in Michigan and Mrs. Meisels as the narrator.
In Hadbjerg we wanted to make a large music-theater-performance in English in the spring of 2015, and Elisabeth Clark, having been in charge of past school productions was asked to take charge of the planning of this production.
The History of the Play
Terezin’s The Fireflies was initiated by adult inmates, to give children in the camp renewed hope and to help them believe that they were not just a number, but that they had a name and in spite of evil circumstances they were loved and protected.
Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, an Austrian-Jewish woman and art teacher, filled her suitcase with paper and drawing utensils when she was transported to Terezín. She hoped it could be used to benefit the children in the ghetto. Many other professionals within arts, theatre and music were also sent to Terezin.
The Czech children knew and loved the story about the little firefly. The story and its theme of hope and light in the darkness came to life as a play through the collaboration between actress Vlasta Schoenova and dancer and choreographer Kamila Rosenbaumova and Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Cabaret musician Karel Svenk helped with music. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis worked with children creating the costumes for the show.
The 1943 production was a huge success and had an astonishing 32 performances. The 1945 production was created on behalf of a decree from the Nazis for propaganda purposes. As in 1944, the Red Cross was to visit the camp. One of the 1945 stage workers was the 14-year-old Danish Salle Fischermann who was brought back home to Denmark by the white buses in April 1945.
Terezin’s The Fireflies -a reconstruction
Lauren B. McConnell is a professor of theatre at Central Michigan University. She did an enormous amount of research to restore this theatrical piece from Terezín. The reconstruction is based on survivors’ memories, old documents, and the book by Jan Karafíat. The piece has the same scenes, many of the same songs and
the same roles as in the original performance.
In McConnell’s reconstruction there is a brief but important addition to the original piece: a narrator who tells about the historical and fatal circumstances in which this piece was originally performed in a prologue and epilogue.
Lauren McConnell states: In doing this reconstruction, I did think about the fact that it was taking place in a concentration camp. Features of the play –being worried about having enough wood and food; being sick and feverish; the snuggly feeling of being tucked into bed; the thrill of drinking grape juice or eating honey; the comforting lullaby and the reassurance from the parents that everything will be all right and God is watching over them – all of these things take on a special poignancy when thinking of the show being performed for hungry children who were often sick, scared and in need of comfort and love. It becomes a troubling and ironic piece when one realizes the outcome; many of the children and adults who participated in the show, as well as many in the audience, were sent to Auschwitz and other extermination camps and
killed. This tension, however, is also what makes Terezín’s The Fireflies a great educational vehicle and a moving piece of theatre.
Why this is important
More than 100 students will experience and learn how to help bring peace and spread light, like the adults and children in Terezín. Through facts, knowledge, storytelling, creativity, music and drama, we want to give students a life-changing experience by being a part of this unique opportunity.
Since Terezín’s The Fireflies will be shown to many students from other schools, we hope that this will also be a life-changing experience for them. It is important for us that Terezin’s The
Fireflies becomes so much more than a school play! Our vision for this outstanding piece of theatre is that other schools will take it to heart and make their own productions in the future.
Theatre professor Lauren B. McConnell will be in Denmark to follow the performance in its final stages, and she is on a brief visit in January to get acquainted with Hadbjerg School. We hope that the cooperation between us in Hadbjerg and Lauren McConnell will strengthen the Danish-American-cultural cooperation in
general. It’s the intention that the performance will be videotaped.
The Team around Terezín’s The Fireflies in Hadbjerg
- Director: Tomas Ambt Kofod, a musical actor and teacher at Fredericia Musical Academy, leading roles in Phanton of the Opera and Les Miserables in Copenhagen.
- Musical direction: Anna Nadiryan Nørgaard, concert pianist and teacher for nine years at the Music Academy in Athens, Greece.
- Narrator: Simon Rosenbaum, Prominent Danish Jewish actor and cabaret artist. Simon will also tell about his aunt, uncle and cousin who were deported to Terezín, while he and his parents escaped to Sweden.
- Guest Speaker: We have invited Jana Urbanova was in Terezin and performed in The Fireflies. If she is able to come, she will visit Hadbjerg School and tell about her experiences in the show and in Terezin.
- Coordinator: Elisabeth Irene Clark, Music teacher and English teacher in 4th -6th grade classes.Originally trained as a set designer at the Danish Design School and worked professionally from1981 -1991 on four productions with Svalegangen, Aarhus and several Danish Group Theatres’ specializing in performances for children.
- Choreography and voice coaches: Lucy Ulrichsen and Anna Evancova are Czech sisters with experience as performers doing their own shows in the Czech Republic and Denmark.
- Consultant: Dr. Lauren B. McConnell, Central Michigan University. Lauren will advise in January and will return for three weeks in April 2015.
Based on 6 weeks rehearsal, 7 performances (5 school performances and 2 with ticket sales)
BUDGET, HEAD FIGURES in d.kr.
- Salaries 110,000
- Production 15,600
- Sales 40,000
- Administration 25,000
- Other expenses 25,000
In Total – 215,600
Total income 40,000
- Pianist and Musical Direction 35,000
- Director 60,000
- Sound Technician 7,500
- Light Technician 7,500
- Stage design 10,600
- Light and sound (rent) 5,000
Total Production expenses – 156,000
- Sales and PR 15,000