“While we learned a lot from our professional counterparts, we were encouraged to remain true to our choices and voices.”

The following post was written by Bridget Welch, a student at Mendon High School, and a participant in Geva’s Stage Door Project: The Diary of Anne Frank. Join us on Thursday, March 15th at 7:30pm on Geva’s Wilson Stage as the Mendon High School cast performs their version of The Diary of Anne Frank on the set of Geva’s own currently running production! Call for tickets to this special one-night-only event, or purchase them here.

Bridget Welch as Edith Frank
Bridget Welch

My name is Bridget Welch and I am playing Mrs. Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank as part of Geva’s Stage Door Project with Pittsford Mendon High School. As our March 15th performance approaches, I cannot help but feel immense gratitude for the unforgettable experiences I’ve had at Geva. This unique artistic opportunity has been educational, engaging, and inspiring.

For proof of how intensely involved Geva has kept us, my last ten-plus emails are from the professional cast’s stage manager, Frank Cavallo. For the past several months, Mr. Cavallo has copied our curious cast in on their behind-the-scenes email chain, documenting every detail of every one of Geva’s Anne Frank performances. Whether a performance ends in solemn silence or a standing ovation, we know about it.

Throughout the Stage Door Project experience, Geva has kept our cast more than just informed, but warmly welcomed. I’ve never felt like an outsider. Everyone in the Stage Door process has been incredibly gracious. I remember our first invitation to observe and interact with our professional counterparts. It was not only their first read-through, but also their first time meeting each other, and yet they welcomed us with open arms. I feel fortunate to have been a part of their process, literally from day one. Skip Greer and Lara Rhyner, Geva’s education directors, have been so wonderful about making us feel like a real part of this production by including us in rehearsals, meetings, and cast dinners.

Geva actors Ann Arvia, Naama Potok, Steve Hendrickson, Gus Cuddy, and Anna Lentz visit their student counterparts’ “The Diary of Anne Frank” rehearsal at Pittsford Mendon High School

Despite the fact that we are students, Skip and Lara always make us feel like a valued part of their process. After every Geva rehearsal we discussed what we observed, not only in performances (authenticity of relationships, thoughtful tone choices, etc.) but what we learned about the rehearsal environment. I picked up on the cast’s passion and patience. Everyone in the rehearsal room was focused and invested at all times. Actors took risks and made conscious choices until each moment worked for everyone. Skip encouraged us to absorb everything, but not necessarily “steal” everything. While we learned a lot from our professional counterparts, we were encouraged to remain true to our choices and voices. In my notes after one observation rehearsal, I wrote: “Everyone is learning, de-weirding, checking in on motives, and trying things. Just like us.”

Conversation is one of the most powerful aspects of the Stage Door journey. Everyone at Geva is willing (and excited) to talk with us. One night, I witnessed a student cast member having a detailed discussion with Dan Roach, Geva’s Sound Designer for Anne Frank. He seemed just as pleased to teach the young actor as the student was to learn about his work.

Bridget Welch with her professional Geva counterpart, Naama Potok, at the cast-to-cast dinner

Personally, I am grateful to have had several insightful conversations with my counterpart, Naama Potok, who always greets me with a hug. I am so lucky to have met and learned from her. Naama, like the entire Geva cast, is inspirational. She exudes passion and genuinely cares about her art and sharing it. We’ve had such thoughtful conversations, interactions that have made me question, “Who is Edith Frank?” and even, “Who am I, the actor?”

It’s easy to bask in all of the theater lessons I learned at Geva, but the most important lesson I learned had nothing to do with scripts and stages. It came from a special visit Geva arranged with Steven Hess, a local Holocaust survivor and historian. Through his real-life memories and research, we got a personal look into the unthinkable reality of Anne Frank’s experiences.

The Mendon Drama cast of “The Diary of Anne Frank” rehearses on the Geva set, designed by Bill Clarke 

The Mendon High School cast is made up of aspiring artists of all kinds. We are passionate, funny, and curious teenagers still very deep in the process of finding ourselves.  Despite the passage of time, we are not unlike Anne Frank or her sister Margot, who poignantly said, “Just because someone’s young doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say…”

Even though we are a cast of high school students, we have plenty to say. I am so thankful that everyone at Geva has encouraged us to express ourselves. Thank you, Geva, for helping us share Anne Frank’s story in the truest, most touching way. It has been an honor to learn from you and help keep this important piece of history alive.

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