By MIKE CHAIKEN
“The Survivor,” which will be performed by Bristol Central High School Footlights this weekend, is about a group of teenagers in the Warsaw ghetto defying the Nazis during World War II.
The teens are in a life and death struggle. And they make a promise: whoever survives will have to tell their stories.
For the teenage cast of “The Survivor,” the experiences of their characters are miles away from anything they have experienced in their own lives in Connecticut, 2013.
Sarah Bugryn, a cast member explained, “The hardest part about putting myself in the mindset of my character is having to try and comprehend all of the emotions she felt, trying to portray the strength she had to have along with the terror and the love that she felt all at the same time is what makes it most difficult to ‘connect’ with her because I have never experienced anything close to what she went through. Being 15 years old (like her character) today consists of going out with friends, playing video games, texting, and maybe some dating; whereas in the show, being 15 to them was smuggling food and trying to survive and making every moment count. They faced things that no one should ever have to endure and they talk of love as though they’re 30 years old. So while they’re teenagers just like us, it’s still like trying to get into the mindset of an adult.”
“I’m never going to exactly know what it was like to completely have nothing and to fight for my life because of a religious belief,” said Grace Gagnon, a cast member. “As a teenager from 2013, I live in a country where I can do anything I want and be anything I want without having to risk my life for it. The hardest part about playing a teenager in the Holocaust is grasping the fact that she had to fight and risk everything because of what she believed in.”
“The hardest part of being a teen in 2013 and putting myself in the mindset of my character Lutek would have to be that I haven’t experienced close to what he has,” said cast member Ben Marcil. “My character went through a terrible tragedy, far beyond the likes of which I can truly understand. I’ve never been challenged as much as he (was), and it’s a challenge trying to portray his feelings when I haven’t experienced them myself.”
Although the cast members have to work to put themselves in the frame of mind of their characters, they like the script that helps put them there.
“‘The Survivor’ concentrates on a tight knit group of friends and the script does a great job of exemplifying how close these kids are,” said Grace. “When I read the script out loud I feel deeply connected to my fellow cast mates because of our friendship in the show. These kids are willing to do anything for each other and I love that. My character especially has a great bond with the lead character because I play his little sister. When I’m on stage and I’m playing Jacek’s (‘The Survivor’) little sister I connect very deeply to her because the way she looks up to her older brother the same exact way I look up to my older brother in real life. She wants to be ‘part of his gang,’ she wants in on all the action yet she still has this innocence and Jacek does a great job of protecting her and preserving her innocence.
“As soon as I read the script and started rehearsing,” said Sarah, “I began to love the serious aspect of it being a true story. While it makes it much more intense and emotional, I think it also gives us as actors an opportunity to commemorate these teenagers and hopefully have an impact on people while still doing what we love to do.”
Ben said, “I like many things about ‘The Survivor,’ but one thing I like the most is the characters. They were all real people who lived during the Holocaust. Throughout the show, you see them develop, and as things happen to them, it invokes such intense feelings in the audience.”
As for why Bristol residents, young and old, should see “The Survivor,” Grace said, “This isn’t just a made-up story, and as tragic as it might be, it happened. I think it’s important for people of all ages to recognize that this story is true and there are thousands of other stories equally as tragic. Victims and survivors of the Holocaust deserve to be recognized because they went through the unimaginable. This story hits hard because it’s about a group of young kids losing their innocence and fighting like adults, which is an eye-opener for anyone. For adults, this play is a great way to remember what happened. For the younger crowd, this play is a great way to learn, get a more personal understanding of what happened and to see what it’s like to live with nothing.”
Sarah added, “It makes you step back and appreciate the life you have today. It commemorates the innocent lives that were lost through some laughs and a lot of tears, and makes sure that no one ever forgets the horror that these children and their families faced. I think everyone will have at least one character that they can relate with in some way and I think it will have some sort of an impact on every person that attends.”
“This show is the tale of what actually happened to a boy during the Holocaust,” said Ben. “All the suffering and such that we portray on stage happened. There’s no ignoring that the Holocaust— a terrible tragedy— happened, but you can pay tribute in a way by seeing the show. Also, it’s a great show. It’s full of intense moments, a driving plot, and amazing characters.”
“The Survivor,” written by Susan Nanus, based on the memoirs of Jack Eisner, will be performed by Bristol Central High School Footlights on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. at Bristol Central High School, Wolcott Road, Bristol. Students under 19 are admitted for $5. General admission is $10.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com.