Article: Faculty hopes to shine a light on Fireflies production

Faculty hopes to shine a light on Fireflies production

Photo Courtesy of CMU Theatre Department A drawing by an unknown child in the Terezin ghetto during World War 2. The drawing is being published with the permission of the Jewish Museum in Prague. The vast majority of children who went to Terezin did not survive the war, so it is probable that the child who did the drawing was sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz.

A children’s play with significant historic meaning will be performed this weekend on campus.

“The Fireflies” is a 1943 play based off a book written in the 19th Century by a pastor named Jan Karafiát. The show was performed in Germany during the worst of World War II to give children in the brutal Terezin ghetto in Germany hope; however, after the war, the text of the play was lost.

After becoming fascinated with the play, Assistant Professor of Communication and Dramatic Arts Lauren McConnell decided to conduct research and reconstruct it. Before teaching at Central Michigan University, she knew she wanted to focus on this project.

“When I first started off, I just put in a proposal to do the research and the recreation,” McConnell said. “I didn’t know whether we’d be able to put it on here.”

Several of McConnell’s colleagues joined her in preparing to put on the historical production. Associate Professor of Music Jose Luis Maurtua took part in the project after being asked by McConnell to “compose the original incidental music and to arrange and adapt existing Czech folk and children songs.”

“The guide was basically the melodic lines from the Czech songs that Lauren provided,” Maurtua said via email. “I transformed them for certain effects, created a harmonic structure for them and elaborated them in a way that would be appropriate for a show of this nature.”

McConnell took a leave of absence and conducted three years of research for the play.

“I’ve been concentrating specifically to put this show back together,” McConnell said. “And the thing that’s been great is there’s actually been more information and survivors who remember the show than what I had originally hoped for.”

McConnell calls the production a “recreation” based on the book, archival evidence she came across and interviews. She traveled outside the United States to speak with several people about the historical play, from those who have seen the show to some who have performed in the show.

“People are spread far and wide,” McConnell said. “After the war, people moved to different areas, and part of the challenge is trying to connect with all these people. Even after the show is over with, I’m still hoping to interview a couple of people I didn’t get the first time around.”

Assistant Professor of Communication and Dramatic Arts Annette Thornton worked aside the show’s director, Nancy Eddy, and several others to choreograph the theater production.

Thornton said she was inspired by the music when choosing choreography. She also said she tried to picture how the kids would dance.

“I really thought in my mind way back when I had my dance studio what kinds of movement could six-year-olds, seven-year-olds, 10-years olds do,” Thornton said. “Every time I worked to choreograph, I imagined I was seven years old doing this.”

Thornton said McConnell also sent her some YouTube links for her to gain inspiration. Thornton incorporated folk dance and circular patterns and said the whole experience was a good creative process.

“I really like theater like this,” Thornton said. “It has a larger life, and a larger importance to one than just this performance, than just this play. It’s larger … It’s powerful to be a part of something like that.”

Likewise, Maruta said working on the production is rewarding.

“It’s been very touching, too,” Maruta said. “I see this as an homage to the kids who performed the original show in (the) Terezín (ghetto in Germany) and the adults who loved them and protected them and tried to make things good for them in the middle of such a terrible situation.”

McConnell said she tried to imagine herself in the situations her interviewees were put in.

“As a creative person, it was kind of fun just to try to create a good story,” McConnell said. “That’s where I just used my own artistic sensibilities, trying to keep it true to what was done at the camp, but making a good story and something that seemed like it was appropriate.”

When conducting research, McConnell was told less than 100 people survived from the Terezín ghetto; however, after gathering all of her research, McConnell realized there are hundreds of survivors alive to this day.

“There still are survivors out there,” McConnell said. “So, I wrote it in a way that I basically adapt to each narrator, and they kind of tell their own story and their history. So, each time somebody sees the show, they’re going to be hearing somebody who has a very personal connection to this history, and that’s part of what I think is nice about it; it gives people an entire look into the history and honors the people who did the show in the first place.”

“The Fireflies” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at Bush Theatre in Moore Hall. Tickets are $6 for students and seniors and $8 for the general public.

  • I wanted to point out that Terezin camp was not in Germany, but in Czechoslovakia, now the Czerch Republic.

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    A very inspiring story! I’ve posted it on my twitter account, LighttheLights@MeekNesta

A reconstruction of the children's musical The Fireflies from the Terezín concentration camp