Holocaust unit is team effort at Anoka Middle School for the Arts

By Elyse Kaner
Staff Writer

Next weekend’s opening of Anoka Middle School for the Arts newest theater production marks a number of firsts.

Greta Edholm is Raja and Paul Pulley is Honza in Anoka Middle School for the Arts production of “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” a show about children of the Holocaust and their artwork. The show opens Feb. 24 and runs for six performances through March 4. Photo by Jefferson Fietek

This is the first time the theater, art, music and English departments have teamed to create a show and exhibit.

This is the first time the theater department has delved into such an emotionally intense subject as the Holocaust. And this is the first time, the theater piece will be multi-dimensional.

“AMSA students are studying about the hideous events of Holocaust and learning the ways world’s artists and poets have peacefully protested the crimes of humanity through arts,” Jolanda Dranchak, AMSA’s arts integration coordinator, wrote in a statement about the cross-curriculum unit.

The play

As part of the unit study, a cast of about 30 theater students will present Celeste Raspanti’s Holocaust drama “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” The show opens Feb. 24 and runs for six performances through March 4.

Based on a true story and children’s book of arts and poems also titled “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” compiled by H. Volavkova, the story follows Raja Englanderova, a young teen, and her journey from freedom to the Jewish ghetto Terezin.

“This is probably the most dramatic piece, the most intense subject we’ve done,” director Jefferson Fietek said.

Anoka Middle School for the Arts presents
“I Never Saw Another Butterfly”
directed by Jefferson Fietek
Holocaust unit gallery exhibit
Feb. 24, 25, March 2 & 3, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 26 & March 4, 2 p.m.
Adults $10, seniors/students under 18, $5
Tickets available at door
1523 Fifth Ave. S., Anoka
For more information call 763-506-3667 

The tragic story reveals what happened to thousands of children sent to Terezin during World War II and how art was an important factor in their horrendous daily existence.

In an illustrious and creative effort, the children scrounged for scraps of paper – old receipts and purchase orders – on which to draw pictures or write poetry.

Selections of the original works of the Terezin children will be projected on screens during the AMSA play.

An in-depth look

But the school goes beyond the play. It immerses the theatergoer in a sound and visual experience designed to give a more in-depth look into the past, so we will not forget those who have perished during the Holocaust.

Noah Zavadil, l. to r., Lauren McNamara, Yuliya Yukhimchuk, Judah Vivone, Marion Gary, and Kaylee Wiskus are some of the students in Anoka Middle School from the AMSA’s arts lab class who made 1,500 butterflies. Each butterfly represents 1,000 Jewish children, or 1.5 million, who died in the Holocaust. The butterflies will be on display in the school’s arts gallery during the run of the show “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Photo by Elyse Kaner

Music students have created original music for the presentation. Language arts students have penned poetry that will be projected throughout the theater.

And in a gallery near the stage about 80 art lab students from three classes will display 1,500 origami paper butterflies they have crafted in the Jewish colors blue and white. Each butterfly symbolically represents 1,000 of the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.

Additionally, students’ artwork of a large butterfly and murals of words relating to the book will be displayed.

Learning not to judge

“I learned not to judge people, to accept them,” said art lab student Tyrena Murch, an eighth-grader, who folded origami butterflies as part of the unit.

Noah Zavadil, also an eighth-grader, created a mural with his classmates. The mural’s theme, painted mostly in black, was of a camp’s edge enclosed by a barbwire fence, with dozens of hands, palms up in contrasting white paint, hovering above the wires. The open hands symbolize peace.

Noah was touched emotionally by working on the mural.

“It was sad,” he said. “I was thinking about all the kids who died and what they would have been today,” he said.

At the end of the collaborative display, the butterflies will be shipped to the Houston Holocaust Museum. The museum is now collecting handmade butterflies from individuals and groups and plans to feature 1.5 million butterflies as part of a 2014 exhibit.

As for his show choice, Fietek had seen some of the original artworks of the children from Terezin  when he visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. about three years ago. It sparked his interest in the play.

“The piece communicates well and is so relative today – the idea of using your God-given gifts as a way to process difficult times throughout your life.

“So many kids have difficult times and don’t know how to process it. The play speaks to a healthy way to deal with it.”

Tickets available at the door. For more information call 763-506-3667.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com


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