LOUISVILLE – Louisville High School students are bringing the story of Anne Frank’s correspondence to an Iowa girl to stages across Nebraska this year.
The Lions are showcasing “Dear Anne, From Nina” for audiences throughout November and December. The one-act play focuses on the real-life pen-pal relationship between Anne and Margot Frank and two sisters from the southeast Iowa town of Danville.
Director Erik Quam told community members on Nov. 8 that Louisville was the first place to host a production of the play. He said it was exciting to be able to hold a world premiere in Cass County.
“This cast and crew are the first to bring this little-known story to life,” Quam said. “That’s a monumental task, and telling a story for the first time is an absolute honor many theater groups don’t often experience.
“Think about what it must have been like telling the story of “Romeo and Juliet” or “The Odd Couple” or even “Oklahoma!” for the very first time. What’s more? “Dear Anne, From Nina” is a true story. We’re making history right here in Louisville, Neb., and we are all so happy you are here to experience it with us.”
The story began during World War II when Anne Frank became a pen pal with Juanita Wagner of Danville, Iowa. Juanita’s sister, Betty Wagner, also became a pen pal with Margot Frank. The two sets of siblings exchanged one set of letters in 1940.
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Nazi troops invaded The Netherlands in May 1940 and defeated the Dutch army. The Frank sisters and their parents were forced to hide in a secret annex of a building in 1942 after Margot was ordered to report to a German work camp. They remained there for two years until they were discovered in August 1944.
The two sisters and their parents, Otto and Edith Frank, were first taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Anne and Margot were later transported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died of typhus in 1945. Edith died at Auschwitz in 1945, leaving Otto as the only member of the family to survive.
When the war ended, Juanita and Betty Wagner sent a letter to the Amsterdam address they had kept from 1940. Otto Frank responded to the letter and told the Iowa girls that Anne and Margot had died.
Playwright Claudia Haas used the historical timeline as the basis of her script. She changed the names of Juanita and Betty Wagner to Nina and Jeannie Jensen for the play, and she also changed the name of their mother to Alice Jensen. The remaining parts of the story are the same.
Many Louisville students began their experience with the play in August when they traveled to Danville. They toured The Anne Frank Connection, which is a museum that chronicles the storyline of Anne Frank’s family and the lives of people in Iowa. The Lions also visited the Wagner family home to see where many of the main characters of the play lived.
Cast and crew members then began learning the script and rehearsing lines in the Louisville Elementary School gym. They incorporated many lighting and sound effects and authentic props into the play. They also hung up two computer screens on walls of the stage. Multimedia operators are using the screens to showcase historical dates, times and photos for audience members to look at.
Cast members include Payten Petersen, Diana Geditz, Eva Quam, Charlee Peacock, Lea Kalkowski, Lucas Hrabik and Jacob Peacock. Stage crew members and operators of sounds, lights and multimedia include Allie Couron, Paige Teller, Emi Rupp, David Rupp, Caitlynn Prokupek, Cash Biesterfeld, Caleb Thieman, Laura Swanson, Shawn Kavanaugh, Lizzie Podrazo, Katie Hillabrand, Braidy Parrill, Jordan Buck, Keeley Porter, Will Josoff, Tommy Krejci, Gage Scholting, Hailey Caughron, Rena Hoefener, Ella Aaberg, Jaylin Gaston, Carson Downs and Olivia Heins.
Louisville students held two public performances on Nov. 8. They will travel to the York Invitational on Nov. 13, Kearney Invite on Nov. 20 and Nebraska Capitol Conference Meet at the Lofte Theatre in Manley on Nov. 22. They will perform for all Louisville students at 9:15 a.m. Friday, Nov. 19.
The Lions will compete in the District C1-1 Meet at Midland University on Nov. 29. Archbishop Bergan, Bishop Neumann, Johnson County Central, Lincoln Lutheran, Omaha Brownell-Talbot, Palmyra and Yutan will join Louisville during the day. The district champion will advance to the Class C-1 State Meet in Norfolk on Thursday, Dec. 9.
“I am so incredibly proud of the growth we’ve seen from the entire cast and crew this year,” Quam said. “This material is challenging and difficult. A special thanks to our seniors Payten, Lea, Jacob, Diana, Emi, Jordan, Katie, Carson, Laura, Gage, Olivia, Jaylin, Tommy and Caleb. Your leadership and dedication has been appreciated. You will be missed next year.”