A report from Robert Duffley, Assistant Director on Our Class
Rehearsals for Our Class, opening in October, have begun. Last week, director Derek Goldman started the rehearsal process by introducing the play’s cast and production team to the multi-layered world of the play. The group watched documentaries, explored the script in table readings, and conducted frank discussions about the play’s challenges.
Taduesz Slobodzianek’s play follows ten classmates—five Christian, five Jewish—in a small Polish town through the chaotic years leading up to and away from World War II. Haunted by memories, this ensemble-based production weaves song, lyrical storytelling, and dance. Though entirely fictionalized, the script draws on the events of the 1941 pogrom in Jedwabne, Poland. In July of that year, an estimated 1,600 Jewish townspeople were murdered—not by German occupiers, but by neighbors they had known their entire lives. Giving voice to a spectrum of narratives, the play examines the complex human dimensions of atrocity as the ten grade-school classmates find themselves transformed by crisis into victims and aggressors, allies and rescuers.
Rather than to lament or to forgive these events, Derek Goldman explained to the cast that the play strives to embody a community’s process of “remembering, recovery, and moving on.” Through this embodiment, Derek hopes to achieve an honest remembering which is “generative, healing, and an opening of dialogue.”
Slobodzianek’s characters repeat the question “What could I do?,” often with chilling effect. For Derek, the question is raw and searching. The production, he said, searches for much-needed answers. Grappling with the play’s elements of violence, the cast explored the idea that in emergency contexts, communities find themselves divided not necessarily into different types of people, but into people in different kinds of situations.
The cast are using a variety of historical and academic resources to understand the complex situations influencing their characters over the play’s 70-year scope, including historian Jan T. Gross’ groundbreaking book “Neighbors.”
Last week, the team also watched the documentary Sasiedzi (“Neighbors”). In the film, Polish journalist Agnieszka Arnold interviews witnesses, participants, and survivors of the massacres in Jedwabne and nearby Radzilow.
One of Our Class’ particular strengths is bringing historical voices onstage. To start building these voices, the cast spent the first week of rehearsals in table reads, first surveying the script and then focusing on individual moments and details. Working with dialect coach Jennifer Mendenhall, the cast also began to encounter the characters’ vocal details. The actors will speak in a slight Polish accent and sing an array of songs in English, Polish, and Russian. (for more photos from the rehearsal room, click here)
By the end of the week, the actors had spent a lot of time coming to know each other and their characters. They also spent time choreographing waltzes, polkas, and fistfights, and beginning work on the play’s music. Moving into the second week of rehearsals, the cast has begun to put the show on its feet before designers will watch a run-through on September 24.
For updates on the play’s progress, stay tuned to this blog. We’ll keep posting news, information, and photos from the rehearsal process. And don’t forget to see Body Awareness, playing at Theater J through September 23.