Courtesy of JASON GALLEGOS
“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is one of the most heartbreaking pieces of literature to emerge from the Holocaust. It’s comprised of stories and poems written by Jewish children in the Theresienstadt (or Terezin) concentration camp, few of who survived to see their works published.
Gail Humphries Mardirosian, a professor in AU’s College of Arts and Sciences, has now re-imagined that work at a multimedia show to be performed at the Katzen Arts Center.
“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” incorporates several elements, including music, puppets and other cast-created art, as well as several languages added to the English translation of the show.
Audiences will be exposed not only to Czech and Hebrew, but to American Sign Language as well.
Ben Gibson, an AU alumnus and recent Helen Hayes Award Nominee, is the show’s choreographer and visual theater specialist.
”[ASL] really transcends the spoken word and blends text and movement in theatre, which is part of my goal for this show — to represent another voice that was not only heard, but could be seen.”
Mardirosian chose to incorporate ASL because of the intensely physical nature of Czech theatre and how important the physical expression of words is.
Mardirosian is not new to the surviving artworks found at the Terezin Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic. After returning from her study as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Czech Republic from 2008 to 2009, Mardirosian staged “The Voices of Terezin.”
Inspired to reach out to the children of the D.C. community, she decided to extend the Terezin project.
However, “Butterfly” is a show entirely separate from “The Voices of Terezin” and was in fact written as a children’s show. The musical, inspired by a collection of poetry and artwork done by children and found at the Terezin camp, tells the stories of those within the Terezin camp and their struggles.
Mardirosian used a favored phrase to describe the project, “‘Works of art as both a sword and a balm,’ because it’s a way of expressing and fighting … and also as a possibility to heal.”
The cast members all spoke about the different aspects of the show and about performing a show rooted in heavy subject material aimed at a younger audience. “[Children’s theatre] just adds another layer of selflessness,” said cast member Laura Aristovulos, a senior in CAS, “because you’re doing it for the children. And I find that [in] children’s theatre, more than any other theatre the show becomes more about giving to the audience.”
In addition to the production itself, the “Butterfly” project has an educational outreach aspect. Members of the project traveled to various D.C. schools to speak with children about the issues of the Holocaust and Terezin and taught them portions of ASL.
Mardirosian’s eyes sparkled when she spoke about the educational outreach workshops.
“We were doing the workshops for children [aged] 12 and 13. The children in these stories were mostly 12 to 15.”