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One-Act Players to present 'The Terezin Promise'

Marie Nitke/FOCUS The cast of "The Terezin Promise" poses in character during a recent rehearsal at the Perham High School Auditorium.

The Perham High School One-Act Players are striking a serious tone with this year's show.

Playing children at a Nazi concentration camp, the actors shoulder some heavy emotional and political themes.

"The Terezin Promise," a follow-up to "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," which the players performed five years ago and almost made it to state competition with, is inspired by a true story.

Tens of thousands of children passed through the Terezin concentration camp between 1941 and 1945, secretly recording their experiences in poems and drawings. Those drawings were kept hidden and were preserved. Today, they belong to the State Jewish Museum in Prague and are exhibited around the world.

"The Terezin Promise" tells the tale of how these drawings survived through the eyes of several students at the concentration camp, as well as their teacher and a Nazi soldier.

The play's director, Rachel Lorentz, said the show demands some intense emotion from the actors, and that can be a challenge. But it's a challenge the players are striving to meet.

Christopher Knutson, for example, has a difficult role as the Nazi soldier, but Lorentz said he's been doing really well, even with his toughest scenes.

"It's challenging portraying something that not everyone will accept," said Knutson in an interview last week. "I try to focus on playing a soldier from that period, and not specifically a Nazi soldier."

This is the Perham High School junior's second One-Act Play. He also performed in the recent musical, "White Christmas."

His classmate, Sierra Lynne, plays the teacher, Irena. Lynne's older sister was in, "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," so she was introduced to a lot of themes of this show earlier on. Still, she's learned some important things by being a part of "The Terezin Promise."

"I've learned so much about how things aren't important to you until they're gone," Lynne said. "I've learned not to take things for granted."

Alyssa Jane Olson, who plays the "leader of the kids," Raja, is also learning things by being in the show.

"It really opens your eyes," she said. "These kids (at the concentration camp) are about our age, and they went through a living hell."

She can relate to her character, she added, because they both have the tendency to stay positive through hard times.

El-Shan Mirzazade, a foreign exchange student who plays one of the kids at the concentration camp, said he can relate to his character, too, but in a different way. This being his first time in front of an audience, Mirzazade admitted that he's a little nervous - but that will help him appear more authentic on stage, as his character is nervous, as well.

His character, Hanus, has influence over the other kids in the class, and butts heads with Raja.

Petr, on the other hand, played by Michael Thompson, has little sway over his concentration camp classmates.

"He's a confident man," Thompson said of his character, "but he's like a bag of chips - seems like there's substance, but mostly it's air."

Other characters include Eva, played by Jessica Maxwell; Helga, played by Mary Foster; and Anna, played by Amelia Portament. Students are also helping with make-up, lights and sound.

"The Terezin Promise" is written by Celeste Raspanti of St. Paul, Minn.

The Perham High School One-Act Players will be holding a dress rehearsal/public performance on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 1 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Middle school students will also be watching the show at that time; another performance will be held that day for a high school audience, at 2:15 p.m.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, the players will compete in a sub-section contest in Battle Lake. Sections will be held Feb. 2 in Park Rapids, with state contests the following Thursday and Friday in St. Paul.

The One-Act Play is a Minnesota State High School League sanctioned activity.