SHC Alums Produce "Muse of Fire"

SHC alumni Daniel McElroy ’13 and Sophia Cannata-Bowman ’13 team up as the producing and directing team of Muse of Fire, a new work by writer Jake Rosenberg.
The play exposes the secret lives of Auschwitz prisoners who risk everything to perform a comedy play in the camp in order to maintain their dignity. The play was selected for production at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre in New York City, and opening night is scheduled for October 29. We caught up with Daniel and Sophia recently to learn about the play and how their years at SHC continues to inspire their creativity. What was the impetus for telling this story? DANIEL Jake Rosenberg, who wrote the play and went to the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, wanted to memorialize the Holocaust in a way that he hadn’t seen before. It’s a story that needed to come to light now, as younger generations (with some personal distance from the historical events) have different relationships to the Holocaust than did generations who experienced it themselves. SOPHIA We are embracing the fact that for many of the people in the camps, it was comedy and performanceneed to stay positive and hopeful, to retain a sense of normalcythat helped them survive. We are thus bringing together comedy and drama to reveal this truth, and to honor the brave men and women who risked their lives putting on these performances. How did the three of you come together as a producing and directing team? Sophie and Jake have known each other for years, and of course Sophie and I have been collaborating creatively since the beginning of our time at SHC. When Jake arrived in New York this year, he needed a team to help get this show off the ground, and Sophie and I were looking for something to really sink our teeth into together, so it was the right opportunity at the right time. Luckily, the three of us are really on the same page, and we’ve quickly built a lot of creative and personal trust that is definitely going to extend far beyond this project! What do you hope the audience walk away with after seeing Muse of Fire? [caption id="attachment_369899" align="alignright" width="240"]Muse of Fire poster, San Francisco staged reading. Muse of Fire poster, San Francisco staged reading.[/caption] SOPHIA We want the audience to walk away feeling hopeful. We want them to reflect on what it means to be human, and how we maintain that humanity under threatening circumstances. DANIEL We really hope that audiences walk away with a new perspective on the Holocaust. We are trying to tell the stories of people who experienced great dehumanization in the concentration camps, and how they fought the forces that stripped them of dignity through theatre and comedy. By taking such a daring approach, we hope that Muse of Fire can inspire new ways of conceptualizing a period that is often only spoken about in one way. Tell us about the title of the play. SOPHIA The title of the play is from the prologue of Henry V. Jake, in creating the title, wanted to express that this play (and the play within the play) is one born from the fires of the Holocaust. In a way, we are preserving the memory, not only of those who died, but those who fought to live. What did you find most challenging in giving a voice to this story? Most rewarding? DANIEL The most challenging thing in staging this production is being honest and fearless without being disrespectful of what is truly still a controversial subject. We want to tell our story the way it deserves to be told, but striking a balance between grittiness and reverence has proven a challenge. We find ourselves often checking with each other about the appropriateness of decisions from costumes (we opted to go with authentic replicas) to marketing strategies before going ahead with anything. SOPHIA For me, what’s most rewarding about the project is finding that ownership, and feeling like we really have added something unique to the Holocaust narrative. How did your time at SHC prepare you for this moment? SOPHIA Ms. TK really made me passionate about theatre. She taught me how to be a more grounded actor, and thus how to direct a grounded performance. Mr. Sansoe taught me how to look at history critically; how to research with a magnifying glass, and how to look at an issue from multiple anglesall skills that are now integral in my work as a writer. Ms. Diaz, an undeniably central part of producing the lip dub, allowed me and Daniel to pursue our passion for film by letting us direct that thing, God bless her soul! Ms. Bechelli, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Pardini, Dr. Hogarty, Ms. Balla, Mr. Cursio, Ms. Phelan, Mr. Barnes, and honestly so many others, supported my love of film, theater and writing throughout my years at SHC. It’s impossible to name them all. DANIEL There is no way that I’d be doing the things I’m doing if it wasn’t for the personal encouragement I’ve received (and still receive!) from the SHC community. The support system, from both peers and mentors, that was built around me during my time at SHC not only taught me exactly where my strengths lie and how to maximize what those to can do for me, but it also taught me how to see that potential in other people. My ability to collaborate comes entirely from both academic and extracurricular experiences I had in high school. Senior Seminar completely recalibrated my approach to scholarly thought, and Br. John’s AP Language class taught me to articulate my thoughts on the level that this kind of work requires. On the extracurricular side of things, my practical experience of preparing of large-scale organizational endeavors for SBO (yes, I’m talking about the lip dub), has definitely allowed me to know what is and isn’t possible from a production standpoint, and without that experience I would not be nearly as adept at organizing the many moving parts of a production.  

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