Article: Professor’s “Fireflies” play travels to Denmark

Professor’s “Fireflies” play travels to Denmark

The voices of those imprisoned in a Czechoslovakian concentration camp reach a new audience 70 years later in Lauren McConnell’s version of “The Fireflies.”McConnell, an associate professor of communication and dramatic arts, has been researching “The Fireflies” since 2010. The play was originally written by Vlasta Schönová, a woman from Czechoslovakia who was imprisoned at the Terezin Concentration Camp.McConnell reconstructed the children’s play from testimonials and archives for Central Michigan University students to perform in 2013. Music Professor Jose Luis Maurtua arranged the music for the revision and wrote original incidental music.McConnell’s original script for “The Fireflies” will be performed in English by the children of the Public School in Hadbjerg, Denmark between April 23 and May 4. The purpose of the production is to commemorate the return of Danish Jews from the Terezin concentration camp and to bring a counter message to recent violence in Copenhagen, McConnell said.The producer and production manager for the play in Denmark, Elizabeth Clark, said she hopes the audience will leave with a new perspective.”I really hope when (the audience) walks away from the show (it has) this feeling of being full of joy,” the fifth and sixth-grade teacher said. “There is a sadness about it–and there is a joy. Those two things together will move you.”

“The story of the firefly focuses on one particular firefly family (and) a little boy named Brouchek who is always getting into trouble,” McConnell said. “The story follows Brouchek from when he was just a wee lad to when he learns how to fly. Then he has a flirtation with a ladybug girl, but eventually realizes the girl next door is the one for him.”

Fairytale costumes of fireflies and lady bugs have a somber past in the Holocaust children’s play. Many children from the original cast eventually died in Auschwitz. Thousands of other prisoners died from malnutrition and disease while in Terezin, a German concentration camp also known as Theresienstadt, McConnell said.

“The Fireflies’ was originally a nineteenth-century children’s book (called Brouci) that was written by (Jan Karafiat),” McConnell said. “(The children’s book) was very popular in the Czech lands leading up to World War II.”

The book was converted into a play with Czech folk songs by Schönová and other collaborators who were also imprisoned in Terezin, located in what is now the Czech Republic. Children in the camp performed the play over 32 times with the permission of the Nazi soldiers, once for Nazi propaganda to the Red Cross.

“(The Nazi’s) did not allow school,” McConnell said. “So ‘The Fireflies’ was supposed to be a fun activity for kids that would also teach them something. In this case it was the story in the book (and) Czech folk songs.”

McConnell’s research took her overseas to Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Israel and several states in the U.S. She interviewed about 14 Holocaust survivors and collected artifacts including pictures and a diary.

The narrator for CMU’s 2013 production was Vera Meisels, a Terezin survivor who played the ladybug as a child. Rebecca Hochhuth, who played the Ladybug in CMU’s production, said “The Fireflies” turned into something bigger with Meisels on the set.

“She was just so amazing at being able to go back to her dark history, share and have love and compassion,” said the Spring Lake junior. “She wanted everything to be so bright on the set–she wanted colors–because it’s a children’s production (and) it’s supposed to be a happy show.”

[Note: In paragragh eight the article incorrectly states that Theresienstadt (Terezin in Czech) was located in Germany. It was in Czechoslovakia. The spelling of The Fireflies in Czech is Broučci.]

[2013 Production photo by Peggy Brisbane. Vera Meisels left, Rebecca Hochhuth, Sarah Bomber & Matt Kurzyniec right. Set and Lighting Design by Stan Jensen; Costume, Make-up and Hair Design by Ann Dasen.]

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