Surrey Youth Theatre Company (SYTCO) is offering a powerful – yet ultimately hopeful and uplifting – drama about the Holocaust as its virtual main stage production for this season.
Good-Bye, Marianne by Irene N. (Kirstein) Watts, directed by SYTCO founder and artistic director Susan Pendleton and assisted by Marina Cyr, will be available for online streaming from June 11 to 13, and June 18 to 19.
There’s something that also seems very right about the South Surrey-based company tackling this particular play, as the author, now 90, was a long-time resident of White Rock from the 1970s to the 1990s.
During her time in the city, Watts – named a life member of the Playwrights’ Guild of Canada in 2001 – directed some nine shows for White Rock Players Club, starting with Of Mice and Men in 1979 and concluding with The Night of the Iguana in 1994.
It’s also highly serendipitous, in that the German-born Canadian writer and educator (she earned degrees in English literature and modern history at Cardiff University) has been a champion of theatre for children and youth throughout her career – which included founding the Young Neptune touring company and helped establish the Neptune Theatre School in Halifax, N.S., and also becoming founding director of the Vancouver International Children’s Festival.
Good-Bye Marianne, first produced by Carousel Children’s Theatre in Vancouver, in 1994, is a one-act adaptation by Watts of her own novella.
It was inspired by own experiences – and those of friends and other young people in Berlin – who were forced to flee Germany in 1938, when she was only seven, as part of the Kindertransport evacuation of Jewish children.
“I didn’t know that she used to live here when I selected the play,” Pendleton admitted. “But it’s fabulous that it’s also a White Rock story.”
“I wanted something serious and impactful, something for a small, small cast, that would work online, with no set and minimal costuming,” she said, adding that older girls of her senior company had also been looking to do more serious and challenging material.
“I had them read several things, but this is one where the casting worked and when we read through it, it was a good fit for the company.”
Rehearsed via Zoom – as all SYTCO classes have been conducted this year – the 43-minute, one-act show was recorded with full COVID-19 distancing protocols at Peninsula Productions’ black box theatre in Centennial Park.
“I’m glad we went very small with Zoom this year, rather than going big and having to close it down at some point,” Pendleton added, noting that, while the learning curve for creating online theatre has been steep, it has provided some advantages and options she’d like to keep in SYTCO’s repertoire even after a post-COVID return to normal theatre production.
Good-Bye Marianne is set in the days immediately following the Nazi-fostered Night of the Broken Glass (November 9, 1938), after which it became clear there was no safe haven left in Germany for the Jewish population and families struggled to find ways to get their children out of the country, particularly through the Kindertransport underground rescue mission.
Young Marianne Kohn (Ruby Forte) arrives a few minutes late to school one morning to find that Jewish students are no longer permitted to attend. On her way home she makes an unexpected friend, Ernst (Bria Pickering). But the friendship soon founders when he discovers she is Jewish – and she discovers he is a member of the Hitler Youth.
Though Mrs. Kohn (played by Maya McCobbina) wants to shield and protect Marianne from the truth of the danger they are in, the time for honesty has come. She reveals to Marianne that her father (Harrison MacDonald) is not away on business as Marianne has been led to believe, but actually hiding from the Gestapo after escaping a Nazi prison camp where he was nearly beaten to death.
While Marianne must contemplate leaving behind everyone and everything she has known to escape to Canada, an unexpected gift helps her see that all people are not the same, and renews her hope for the future.
Also appearing as friend Inge, and the school secretary, is Kate Spratt.
Pendleton notes that guest actor MacDonald, who also appears in the role of Mr. Altman, is actually the son of Peninsula Productions’ executive director, Janet Ellis, who had originally volunteered to help with camera.
“Janet – and Peninsula Productions – have been very good to us in helping get this produced,” Pendleton acknowledged.
Tickets for the online production are $7 plus a service fee.
To access the stream visit https://sytco.anywhereseat.com