BY SOPHIE BIRD
When Audrey Heller, producing artistic director of the Jewish Theatre of Bloomington, sat down with Stages Bloomington Interim Executive Director Pat Gleeson to discuss a potential collaboration, she had no idea that they both would pitch the same opera. Heller and Gleeson recall being taken aback when each pulled out a copy of the children’s book Brundibár, which is based on the 1940s’ children’s opera of the same name. “That was how it all started,” says Heller. “We were both agape.”
Gleeson says she can’t imagine a project better suited for the two theater companies. Written in 1938 by Jewish composer Hans Krása, Brundibár was performed 55 times by a cast of children in Theresienstadt, the Nazi propaganda “model” concentration camp where tens of thousands of Jews were murdered. Many believe the opera’s antagonist was meant to represent Hitler. In some performances, the character was even depicted with a mustache. “It was a way to keep going in an intolerable situation,” says Heller.
Despite the grim history of the opera, the show itself is not quite so serious. Gleeson says that the story is primarily a fairytale about two children who must overcome a bully, the organ grinder Brundibár, to save their ill mother. The Stages and Jewish Theatre adaptation of the opera will be preceded by the short play, But the Giraffe, which was written by American playwright Tony Kushner to help explain the history of Brundibár.
Gleeson hopes the performance will provide a segue for students to begin discussing the Holocaust. She also says she believes the lessons in the story can be applied to the bullying that many students experience. “I think it’s about good overcoming evil,” Gleeson says. “The good guys win. The bully is defeated. We have to know we can win, because it’s not always easy otherwise.”
Heller and Gleeson will cast about 40 children and teens in grades four through 12 for the production. In addition to the cast, the choruses from Binford, Grandview, and St. Charles elementary schools, along with the Indiana University Children’s Choir, will perform in Brundibár through The Chorus Project.
The opera will be performed November 10–13 at The Warehouse, 1525 S. Rogers St. For more information or for an application to audition, visit stagesbloomington.com