At the start of this school year, nine Pace Academy theater students created a powerful performance bringing to life the stories of two Holocaust survivors. With a mere four hours of rehearsal before the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival’s screening of the documentary “Witness Theater,” Pace’s student actors shared their own rendition of the Brooklyn, NY-based program that unites Holocaust survivors with high school students to share their stories.
The local effort to explore human rights was created by the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) as part of their educational initiative “On Campus.” Presenting Oren Rudavsky’s documentary “Witness Theater” at Pace Academy, AJFF aimed to promoted cultural empathy by humanizing the horrors of the Holocaust for audiences young and old.
With Holocaust denial on the rise, a witness is the only thing that can separate fact from fiction. Pace Academy’s performance “This is What I’ve Scene,” directed by Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit Education Director Mira Hirsch and the Student performers, witnesses the agony portrayed in the film, included Emerson Barrett, Bea Chadwick, Madison Edwards, Audrey Holton, Kellee Kindle, Oliver Loree, Caitlyn Pinsker, Nikki Rubin and Olivia Ullmann.
This video of “This Is What I’ve Scene” was filmed by AJFF intern 18-year-old Sam Rosner.
About the film:
“Witness Theater” is an independent film showing Holocaust survivors sharing their stories with high school students so their tragedy can be understood for a modern time. Led by a drama therapist in Brooklyn, NY, the teenage and elderly participants breach generational divides, as students listen to the survivors’ stories and then create a theatrical piece to share them on a modern stage. “I want to know how they [the survivors] really feel and also for the other students to really connect,” says one workshop participant in the film’s trailer. Pointing to his wife Cipora, 90-year-old Aron Tambor earnestly shares in the same trailer, “If not for Hitler, I wouldn’t have her!”
Rudavsky provides us a seemingly simple solution for the audience coping with its ambivalent role: “We are all witnesses.” Using our artistic tools, we can at least begin to comprehend data points as fully developed people, each with their own stories worth telling. “Witness Theater” is just that – an examination of human understanding in the midst of generational apathy. These stories are more important now than ever. Just look around.
Audiences also enjoyed the self-expression station facilitated by VOX ATL, a partner nonprofit encouraging teen voices for empowerment and social dialogue.
– By Sam Rosner, AJFF intern
Here, we share teens’ thoughts on today’s human rights priorities and heroes.
What is the most pressing human rights issue right now?
“In my opinion, one of the most pressing human rights issues are the overall lack of education, communication and love. Even after all of the past events and human rights progressions, we still have hate rallies and groups being held. There’s no room for this amount of hate in the world.
There are so many various issues of human rights, right now in our world. Access to basic needs: food, water, health care, etc. There should be a natural birth right of anyone in human society, are still not available to all. Take for instance the Flint, Michigan crisis where access to clean water is still a struggle some years after the news channels stopped speaking about it all. In more current events, our country still struggles with the migration crisis. Children are being put into cages, separated from their families and held in conditions they do not meet the basic requirements of human life. The United States was established upon the basis of freedom and equality for all, so why don’t we set and example for the virtues we were meant to uphold upon our establishment. It seems a bit hypocritical to me when everyone acknowledges all of these issues around the world, when we fail to face our own.”
Liv Ullman, 17
“In my opinion, one of the most pressing human rights issues are the overall lack of education, communication and love. Even after all of the past events and human rights progressions, we still have hate rallies and groups being held. There’s no room for this amount of hate in the world.”
“Gender pay gap” and “Separation of immigrant families in concentration camps at the Mexican border.”
Who is your human rights hero?
Your promotion of human tolerance through the musical theater canon has not only transformed the landscape of American popular culture but revolutionized the interactions that make society. Never taking your work too seriously; the power of your lyrics and melody will only continue to change lives.