Coon Rapids teen cast in play about Holocaust

By Elyse Kaner
Staff Writer

A teen from Coon Rapids has been cast in a play about the Holocaust.

Areanna Ash, 17, of Coon Rapids portrays a teen, Gabriela, in a play about the Holocaust titled “And a Child Shall Lead.” Photo submitted

Areanna Ash, 17, a junior at Blaine High School, has been cast as Gabriela in Youth Performance Company’s production of “And a Child Shall Lead.”

Jacie Knight, artistic director of the company, directs the production.

The show, penned by playwright Michael Slade, opens at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis Feb. 9 and runs for 12 performances through Feb. 26.

This fast-paced drama is a story about children coming of age in Terezin, Prague, a Jewish city established by the Nazis. The city was a way station before sending people on to death camps.

The story centers on how the children in the face of unspeakable horror use their creativity to generate hope and beauty. They play, study and make art together. At the risk of being killed, they write an underground newspaper.

“And a Child Shall Lead”
Directed by Jacie Knight
Feb. 9-26
Adults $12, seniors and children (under 18) $10
Recommended for grades 4 & up
Howard Conn Fine Arts Center
1900 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
For more information
or call the box office at 612-623-9080

Gabriela is separated from her parents and arrives at the city with only her violin and memories of her parents and former life.

To play the part convincingly, Areanna said she must conjure up a “roller coaster of emotions,” ranging from joy to shock, when she first falls in love with her boyfriend, Pavel, to a breakdown when she is separated from him.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s very rewarding,” Areanna said.

Areanna started acting in church plays at the age of nine. In eighth grade she was cast as Jamie, a lead in “Juliet’s Ghost.” She appears in a public service announcement for the University of Minnesota’s Arora Center. The PSA is an anti-domestic abuse piece.

Inhabiting the character of Gabriela reminds Areanna how good she has it in Minnesota, she said.

For Areanna, the challenge is trying to portray the character undergoing heinous circumstances “because there is no possible way to conceive what these people were feeling,” she said.

Among the many things she has learned from acting in the play is never to complain when hungry. She appreciates being able to walk freely down the street without a gun being pointed at her and knowing that she lives in a safe place, she said.

Areanna, who takes post secondary enrollment option (PSEO) classes at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, is the daughter of Susan Hunter and Anthony Ash. She has an 18-year-old sister, Alyssa.

The play’s performance space at Howard Conn theater will be a central collection point for an effort by area synagogues and school groups to collect paper butterflies for the Houston Holocaust Museum, which will be presenting a Butterfly Project exhibit.

The project calls for 1.5 million butterflies decorated by kids. The idea is to memorialize the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the Holocaust.

Butterflies created by local groups will adorn the Minneapolis theater space and then be shipped to the museum for an exhibit.

Youth Performance Company is an organization based in Minneapolis that fosters the creative spirit of youth by developing, empowering and advancing young artists. For more information, visit

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]

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