Feinsod act ii

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Thank you for your inumerable contributions to the arts community and being a great corporate citizen.

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Prelude: This is “Arthur Feinsod, Act II.” In the 18th issue of Spectrum magazine, I wrote an article titled, “Giants Walked Here.” It was about some of the well-known and highly successful visual artists who worked and were educated here in Terre Haute. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to interview Arthur Feinsod on two occasions, and I will simply say to you that we are living in the shadow of another giant. “Arthur Feinsod, Act II”…enjoy!

Brian: In our last interview, we ended with discussing how long it took to write Coming To See Aunt Sophie (Feinsod’s play about Jan Karski, the Polish World War II resistance movement fighter). Let’s pick up from there. What happened next?

we would do. So I sent the draft to them and by the end of January they got back to me and said that they were definitely interested in presenting the play.

Arthur: I had finished the draft and sent it on to Poland, and they said they were interested in the play because they had festival money to celebrate Karski’s 100th birthday (he was born in 1914). They wanted to potentially do my play and tour it to possibly four cities. They weren’t sure at that time how many and exactly what

Arthur: We put it all together. Dale McFadden, the director, who is professor of theater at Indiana University, and I discussed casting, and we decided who the cast would be. We put together a rehearsal schedule in April here in the United States.

Brian: How did you proceed from there?

Brian: Talk about the casting.

Arthur: One of the most fortuitous things was that the person we wanted most for the Male Other, the actor who plays thirty roles was Alex Miller, an American actor living in Mannheim Germany (he has been living in Germany for 20 years). So we called him and told him that we would like him to play the role, but he would have to rehearse in the United States and would that be possible. He told us that just by chance he happened to have a lot of travel credits, so he could actually come to the United States for free. Brad Venable, professor at Indiana State University, put him up at

his house and Alex was able to rehearse with us in America. So, we had the entire month of April (all of us) to rehearse and prepare to go in May to Mannheim, Germany, to do the show. We did most of the rehearsals in Terre Haute in the Theater Department’s New Theater and some at a small theater space in Bloomington at the Indiana University Theater. Brian: When did the play premier in Mannheim? Arthur: The play premiered on May 9th. We arrived there a few days early so that we could work

-Brian Miller


Interview with Arthur Feinsod

24 Spectrum

Connecting You to Arts and Culture in the Wabash Valley 25

in the theater to reestablish the blocking in the theater itself. I had very little to do since Dale was by now basically pleased with the play. I attended a few rehearsals and gave a few comments to Dale, but it was basically them working. My job was to watch the production and enjoy Mannheim. They worked very hard, and it wasn’t a very long rehearsal process for a pretty complex play. It was only four people and they had a lot to do in that two-hour performance, and they all had to work really hard.

said how moved she was by Act I, how beautiful it was, how she could barely talk afterwards. We feared maybe people hadn’t liked it; it never dawned on us that people didn’t applaud because they were so engaged. So we went back into the theater for the second act. In contrast, the response at the end of the play was overwhelming. It seemed like the applause went on forever. They not only had the actors come out four or five times, but they had me come up twice to take a bow with the actors.

Brian: Explain what it was like when that curtain went up for the first time?

Brian: What was the most unique response that you received?

Arthur: Well, it was extraordinary. First of all, the context was that we were performing in front of a German audience and the Germans (Nazi Germans, of course_ don’t look good in the play. There are scenes, for example, where the Nazi guards torture Karski. And we were very unsure how the audience would respond. I had German friends in the audience because I had worked there before. I felt that they were supportive of the play and that they were there to see me succeed, not fail, and that felt good. But, still, there was uncertainty of how they would respond. That uncertainty is always there with any production, but more so when you’re doing material you know would be sensitive to the audience. Brian: What was the audience reaction during the play? Arthur: The audience was completely engaged. You could hear a pin drop. At the end of Act I, there was no applause. I had never seen anything like it. So, Mary and I took a walk during the intermission, wondering why there was no applause. Brian: That must have been a strange feeling. How did the audience react at the end? Arthur: We were coming back to the theater for Act II, when suddenly a woman came running up to us with pouring tears. She 26 Spectrum

Arthur: We performed again on Saturday, and because of the way the festival worked we didn’t start until 9:30 p.m. So, the play didn’t end until 11:30 p.m. The problem was that there was to be a talk back with the audience where we all – the actors, myself and Dale – were supposed to go on the stage and talk about play, the experience of putting it on... That was supposed to start a midnight, and I thought, “Oh my God, no one is going to want to stay to talk about this.” Plus other cast members from the other two shows were on the stage to talk about their plays, too. There was this huge number of people on the stage. I thought the talk would take 20 minutes, but it went on and on for two hours. I was exhausted. The most memorable thing came from Chris Thorpe, a well-known, well-regarded English experimental actor from one of the other plays. At the very end – it must have been around two in the morning -- he turned to us and said, “You know I am not a fan of traditional theater, but your play gave me new hope for the traditional theater.” That meant so much to me; I was really touched. Brian: Where did you go next? Arthur: On Sunday, we were off to Poland: no rest for the weary. Our first stop was Łodz, Poland, the hometown of Karski. What was really extraordinary was that we had a representative from that part of Poland to the European Union (EU) there in the audience. I didn’t know who he was at first

but I did know it was a big deal when he arrived. I later found out that he was the one who had proposed the idea that 2014 be the year of Jan Karski, which was voted on and passed. So, he was deeply invested in seeing this play. Afterwards, he was very moved by the show and asked me if there were any way we could bring the play to the EU and have it performed there, perhaps in December. However, it didn’t work out. With that being said, it was still an incredible honor to be asked to perform in front of the EU. Brian: Where did you go from there? Arthur: Our next stop was Kielce, Poland. That was a very significant city. First of all, it was the only actual theater we performed in. It was a beautiful baroque theater. The company that performs in that theater invited us. There is a Karski Foundation in Kielce, and the woman representing the Foundation took me around the square to see different places, and I sat next to a sculpture of Karski. Near the sculpture was a memorial plaque that said, “This is to memorialize the 28 Jews who had been massacred here in 1946.” This is a reason they had asked us to perform in Kielce. In 1946, Jews who had lived in Kielce were coming home from a concentration camp and were met by anti-Semitic Poles who killed 28 of them. You can image those starving people coming back home who were greeted by anti-Semites from their own hometown. So, Kielce has this sort of infamous blemish on the city. There is a desire to repent for their past. My play is about a Polish Catholic who risked his life many times to get the word out about the Polish Jews walled up and starving in ghettoes and being exterminated in concentration camps. The response to the play from the people of Kielce was just incredible. The head of the theater came up to me afterwards and said that he had reservations about an American group doing this play; however, he was very impressed by the performance.

Brian: So then you had one more performance in Warsaw. How did it go over?

to the United States. She basically said this play has a mission that it needs to fulfill in the world.

Arthur: That was the big one. The final performance was in Warsaw, Poland, on the grounds of the old Jewish ghetto. The ghetto had been destroyed (except for one building) by the Nazis who then sent any survivors to concentration camps. Most of them ended up in Auschwitz.

Brian: What has happened since then and how many performances have you had since returning from Europe?

Brian: I can’t image the emotions you must have had. Arthur: Oh, you wouldn’t believe it. It was phenomenal. Brian: Wow! Okay, please go on. Arthur: On May 18th, we performed in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. In order to honor the past, the Polish government, with private donations from Jews around Europe and the United States, built this museum, designed by a Finnish architecture firm with the image of the waves parting for Moses. It is stunningly beautiful, hardly a straight line in the whole building. We performed there in the large lecture hall before it had officially opened. There were Auschwitz survivors in the audience and people who had lived through the atrocities in one way or another. We had a talk back afterwards and it was so powerful: people standing up who were Auschwitz survivors expressing their appreciation for what Karski had tried to do to save their families. Two extraordinary people who had been in Auschwitz rose up to thank us. One was a friend of Karski’s, Marion Turski, who was a Jew in the Łodz ghetto and then endured Auschwitz. He stood up and said, “First of all I want to tell you that I was a good friend of Karski and I know about his life, and this play is very accurate and catches his life and the spirit of his life.” I was very moved by that because I had spent so much time researching Karski’s life and wanted my play to be accurate. His wife Halina then stood up. She had edited many films including the early films of Roman Polanski before he came

Arthur: We have had four touring performances in and around Terre Haute in addition to performing at the Crossroads Repertory Theater. We were at Jewish synagogue, St. Mary-ofthe-Woods College, the Holocaust Museum and the Unitarian Congregation on Fruitridge. The play, directed by the same director who did it in Europe and here in the United States, will be performed in Bloomington in June of this year. Brian: What does the future look like for this play? Arthur: The artistic director of the Chopin Theater in Chicago came down to our last performance in Terre Haute on July 22nd. He invited us up to perform at downtown Chicago’s Chopin Theater on September 20th and 21st. Someone at one of those performances had close friends in Australia. So I received an email from Michael Shur, who is a theater supporter, and he asked if I would email him the script. He got back to me almost immediately, saying he loved the play and was passing it to his friend, who was a major producer/ director in Sydney. A few days later I received an email from that friend, producer/director Moira Blumenthal. She said she wanted to do it as a first-class production. Brian: What is a first-class production? Arthur: A first-class production is at the level of a Broadway or an Off Broadway production. The play has been contracted for 24 performances at the Fig Tree Theatre (one of the oldest in Sydney), during August 2015, with the Australian movie star Nicholas Hope as Old Karski. If it does well, it could get extended to more performances. If the reviews are good and it does well with audiences, it also has

a chance to go to Melbourne. Michael and Moira have already looked at theaters there. And it could go on to Johannesburg, South Africa, maybe to Israel. It all depends, of course… Brian: Do you have another project in the works? Arthur: I have a solid draft of a new play, one that especially excites me, but we’ll have to wait and see before I talk about that one. In the meantime, I want to thank director Dale McFadden, documentary film director/ producer Mary Skinner and my wife visual artist and ArtSpace Executive Director Mary Kramer; I consider the three of them the godparents of Coming to See Aunt Sophie since they were my first readers, the first to believe in her, the first to suggest I may really have something here.


Tickets at the Buskirk Chumley Box Office: 812-323-3020, www. bctboxoffice.com, M-F 11 am—6 pm; Sat & Sun 12—5 pm June 13, 18, 20 | 7:30 pm June 14, 21 | 3:00 pm

Coming To See Aunt Sophie By Arthur Feinsod Directed By Dale McFadden Venue: Bloomington Playwrights Project 109 W. 9th Street, Bloomington, IN Arthur Feinsod’s most recent play, Coming to See Aunt Sophie, is a two-act drama based on the life of World War II Polish Underground courier Jan Karski, the “man who tried to stop the Holocaust.” Read more at http://www.jewishtheatrebloomington.org -Brian Miller Connecting You to Arts and Culture in the Wabash Valley 27

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