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ISSUE 118 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/29/2005

Artist recounts Holocaust experience

By Rob Martin
Arts Editor

Friday, April 29, 2005

With Britten’s “War Requiem” still echoing in students’ ears, performer Claudia Stevens will beg further contemplation on the ethical issues raised by World War II May 4.

Associate Professor of Music at the College of William and Mary Claudia Stevens will present scenes from her Holocaust-inspired, one-woman show, “An Evening with Madame F” in Boe Chapel during chapel time.

“An Evening with Madame F” tells the story of Holocaust survivor Fanja Fenelson, who, as a youth, performed in the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz. Steven’s takes on the persona of the elderly “Madame F,” reflecting sensitively on her experiences in the concentration camp.

“Madame F” features an interdisciplinary and experimental approach to theater. It incorporates musical and theatrical elements to help audience members interact with the performance in a uniquely intimate way.

Once a professional pianist, Stevens combines her talents on the keys with thoughtful dialogue. “The importance of unusually combining theatrical and music [creates] greater expressive content and multiple levels of meaning,” Stevens said.

By combining vivid characters and thoughtful music, Stevens wants to engage students in serious contemplation. “I hope students will be interested in new ways artists can achieve complexity and depth combining tradition vehicles in unexpected ways,” she said.

Stevens also regularly performs “A Table Before Me,” a piece based on letters written by the Gestapo to her grandfather. By dramatizing these artifacts of history and human experience, Stevens hopes her family’s adverse circumstances may remind people of the painful but unavoidable reality of the extent of human cruelty.

Professor of Philosophy Ed Langerak began the arrangements for Stevens to visit St. Olaf College. “I was impressed when talking to her; she quoted Job 16:18: ‘Oh earth, do not cover my blood, let my outcry find no resting place,’” Landerak said. The verse, Landerak said, “reminds us how easy it is to commit horrendous atrocities. It’s important to the victims that their pain is remembered.”

Langerak finds the timing of Stevens’ performance so soon after the April 24 performance of Britten’s “War Requiem,” particularly suitable. “Whatever can be learned from these horrendous events must be brought alive to each generation, the arts is a way of engaging hearts to this common human heritage,” Langerak said.

During chapel, Stevens will present an introduction to her work and a couple “important and quite wrenching” scenes from “An Evening with Madame F.” In Viking Theater at 2 p.m., she will hold a discussion of her work and the issues it raises.

“An Evening with Madame F” will be performed in its entirety at the Jewish Community Center of St. Paul Wednesday evening. Stevens will also be an artist in residence (for Judaic studies and theater) from Monday until Wednesday at Carleton College. On Thursday evening, Steven’s will perform “A Table Before Me” at Carleton. The performance marks Yom Hashoa – Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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