Finding new, innovative ways to tell the story of Jewish families in Nazi Germany can be difficult in the twenty first century. With so many powerful portrayals of true stories already in existence, it can feel like all tales have been explored and all tears shed. However, through the use of puppets, multimedia and a trapeze, Stav Meishar brings the incredible true story of Irene Danner to life in a style as unique as the story itself .
Born in Israel with Grandparents who survived the Holocaust, Meishar discovered the story of Irene Danner when she wondered if there had ever been a Jewish circus. Much to her surprise, she uncovered the story of Adolf Althoff, a German circus owner who saved a family of Jewish circus artists. This led her down the rabbit hole of research where she has emerged six years later with her first solo show in England ‘The Escape Act’.
Telling a story involving Elephants, Nazi’s and a travelling circus with an ensemble of characters makes for an expensive set. Yet, through her artistic innovation Meishar plays all the characters. There’s Danner’s family home localised in a briefcase with cardboard cutout characters, Clowns from the circus performed with hand puppets and also secondary characters brought to life with incredible shoulder puppets. Meishar also performs on the trapeze with all of these techniques enticing you into the story.
In moments, Meishar breaks out of playing an 18 year old girl, puts on her glasses and gives glimpses into her own life. In a quest to explore Danner’s life, Meishar wants to know the origins of her family but as most of her family stems from Eastern Europe, there is a breakage in the lineage and all that’s left is dead end roads. This is the situation for hundreds of Jewish families and this question of identity is something that affects us all and is explored well.
Impressively, Meishar tows the line of light heartedness and seriousness well with the most touching moment coming when a video of Danner herself is projected on screen to tell the awful story of how her Grandmother was captured by the Nazi’s. These human moments reiterate the truth that these incidents were not that long ago and they could still happen today.
With the project still in development, there’s no doubt it has the potential to tour through schools and educational events. The life of Irene Danner is moving and the strong community nature of the circus, created through Adolf Althoff is something society should aspire to today.
Overall, the stories of the holocaust will never lose their importance, and as long as artists such as Mesihar continue to push the boundaries, there’s no excuse for these people to ever be forgotten.