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Director Jillian Keiley and designer Bretta Gerecke in conversation with Pat Quigley, Interim Director of Education

Pat Quigley: What attracted each of you to the story of Anne Frank?  

Jillian Keiley: The Diary of Anne Frank had a profound effect on me as a child. I read the book when I was Anne’s age. Living in Newfoundland, I had no cultural connection to Anne, as I had never met a Jewish person. However, it was very meaningful to me that someone so far away and so different from me had the exact same thoughts I had. I was thinking those same thoughts about boys, about my mother. Her writing was so good and so true that, although she was living under extreme circumstances, she still felt very normal to me.  

Bretta Gerecke: I grew up in the south end of Winnipeg, surrounded by Jewish kids, so I was closely connected to that culture and religion. The story had a different resonance for me. Anne’s writing was so contemporary, brave and bold. It’s hard to say some of the things she said. I was inspired to keep a diary to write those things that I wasn’t saying out loud.  

PQ: Last season you worked closely together on Alice Through the Looking-Glass. How would you describe your collaborative process?  

JK: I have known Bretta’s work for a long time, and I knew she told stories through her designs in the same way I did, so I trusted her.  

BG: We share the same vision of storytelling. The process is a very organic flow of ideas. You trust that the other person is creative and smart and that what you are putting out there is being received in the spirit you intended. Everyone on the team wants to tell the story in the best way possible. You bring your own area of expertise into the mix, so a particular moment is told visually or through music, choreography or text, but you all find that through working together.  

JK: That’s exactly how you want the process to work. In this production I see the design as storyteller, as opposed to a place where the story happens. And Jonathan Monro, the composer, who is also an actor, uses the  music as part of the process of telling the story as well.  

PQ: Is this a way of breathing new life into an older text?  

JK: This is sacred text and we have to be careful. We are doing something artistically driven, but we can’t make the show about art at the cost of the story.  

BG: We don’t want to distract the audience from what the play is about. Anne was a force of goodness in the world; this story is about the extinguishing of an incredible light. If something in the design doesn’t feel right, it pulls you out of that story rather than taking you into a place of deeper understanding. It is a delicate balance to provide a background that supports the story, assists in the process of storytelling, but doesn’t detract from the story itself.  

PQ: How will you maintain that balance?  

JK: We are going to involve the audience in the collaboration. The actors will come out and introduce themselves and identify the parts they’re going to be playing. We are also going to introduce the singing and explain the set: “It becomes the kitchen and also transforms into the bedroom.” We let the audience in on all of the technical aspects beforehand, and then the set becomes a beautiful bed upon which the text is spread out, not a bed imposed on the text. This is important, because the design is conceptual, not literal, and we don’t want the audience taken out of the story as they try to figure out what something is or how it works.

Schulich Children’s Plays presents The Diary of Anne Frank.

Sara Farb - From Laughter to Tears

“It’s a gift doing repertory theatre, as I can exercise different acting muscles simultaneously. I am able to enter the comedic world of She Stoops to Conquer and enjoy the fun and wit of that play, while also exploring the human drama of Anne Frank. It is demanding, but I find that they actually feed off each other, allowing me to infuse each separate part with something I’ve learned from the other play.”  

2015 | Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank, Constance in She Stoops to Conquer and Mary in The Last Wife. Highlights | Cordelia, King Lear (Stratford Festival); writer/star, R-E-B-E-C-C-A (Theatre Passe Muraille); Natalie, Next to Normal (Theatre Calgary/Citadel Theatre).