We learned yesterday of the touring production of Total Verrückt!, a play about the transcendence of the human spirit in times of pain and suffering. We hope that as many of you as possible will take time to see it this week in its brief stay at Baltimore Theatre Project. In support of which, we bring you the words of Joanna Caplan, who both created and performs the play.
“One should be able to write fairy stories here,” writes Etty Hillesum in her diaries about life during the holocaust. “It sounds strange, but if you wanted to convey something [about life here] you would do it best in that form….You know, if you don’t have the inner strength while you are here to understand that all outer appearances are simply a passing show, as nothing besides the great splendor inside us, then things can look very bleak here indeed.”
November 30th 2015 marks the 72nd anniversary of Etty’s death. Her diaries and letters, kept between 1941 and 1943, describe life in the Westerbork transit camp during the German occupation.
Camp Westerbork was a paradoxical place. Between July 1942 and September 1944, almost every Tuesday a cargo train left for the concentration camps Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibór, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt.
That same Tuesday “Gruppe Bühne Westerbork”, The Camp Westerbork Theatre Group, put on original performances for their fellow inmates and Nazi officers. The group was headed by Max Ehrlich and consisted at one time of 51 people, some of whom were well-known actors and musicians from Berlin, Vienna and the Netherlands.
Etty had noted that “On days when the people from Amsterdam pour into the camp, we put up a kind of wooden barrier to hold them back if the crush becomes too great. During the cabaret this same barrier served as a piece of décor on the stage”. In fact the stage itself was build from wood the Nazis had taken from a wrecked synagogue located in a town that neighbored Westerbork.
By June 1944 the Westerbork Theatre Group, consisting of only 10 members now, performed its final performance called “Total Verrückt! Groteske Kabarrettschau” – “Totally Crazy! Grotesque Cabaret Show”.
Rooted deeply in this history, my performance entitled Total Verrückt! asks questions about the power of art and survival. In both Etty’s writing, and the Westerbork Theatre Group’s work, art serves to liberate its practitioners and ultimately allows them to live beyond the confines of their mortal experience.
“Through me course wide rivers and in me rise tall mountains. And beyond the thickets of my agitation and confusion there stretch the wide plains of my peace and surrender. All landscapes are within me. And there is room for everything. The earth is in me, and the sky. And I well know that something like hell can also be in one, though I no longer experience it in myself, but I can still feel it in others with great intensity. And that is as it should be, or else I might grow too complacent.”
My vision for this performance is also my vision for the theatre and art that I strive to make. I believe that theatre must push our intellect, pull at our heartstrings, move our spirits and inspire transformation. This piece is the articulation of this vision; it is my search for change, transformation, struggle, survival and everything that makes us human.
I look to Etty, Max and the others as I would look to the North Star. In these times of destruction and brutality we must now, more then ever, look to the human spirit with its resilience and vastness, its stories and dreams, to help rise-up above these dark times.
Total Verrückt! is written and performed by Joanna Caplan, directed by Matthew Glassman and designed by Sarah Cormier.
December 3 – December 6
Thursday Dec 3 @ 8:00 pm
Friday Dec 4 @ 8:00 pm
Saturday Dec 5 @ 2:00 pm
Saturday Dec 5 @ 8:00 pm
Sunday Dec 6 @ 2:00 pm
Baltimore Theatre Project
45 West Preston Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Tickets: General Admission – $22.00
Seniors/Artists/Military – $17.00
Student – $12.00
Details and Tickets
- Joanna Caplan is the writer and director of a Resident Artist at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, Massachusetts. She studied theatre in Montreal at the Dawson College Theatre Program (The Dome). She has worked as a performer and arts educator in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Massachusetts.