hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 17, 2008

Local actors tell Anne Frank story

By Cara Spilsbury

The story of Anne Frank, whose diary chronicled her family's hiding as the Nazis occupied the Netherlands during World War II, is one of the most well known stories around the world.

But for three Haverhill residents performing in the stage version of "The Diary of Anne Frank" with the Acting Out Theater Company in Lawrence, Anne's chronicle of life before being shipped to a concentration camp is an important story to tell.

"Any way the story can be told is a good thing. We can't have children growing up in the world not knowing what people went through during World War II," said Rob Fitzgerald, 41.

The play opens on Friday, Oct. 24, at 7:30 p.m. at The Stage, 60 Island St., Lawrence, next to the Essex Art Center. There are two more shows on Saturday, Oct. 25, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.

The Acting Out Theater Company, a nonprofit corporation, performs about six professional shows a year and three company shows with its children's theater company.

In "The Diary of Anne Frank," Fitzgerald plays Mr. Van Daan, the patriarch of the family that hid with the Franks. He is joined on stage by fellow Haverhill residents Ariana Federo, 20, who plays Anne's sister, Margot Frank, and Michael Buckhout, 14, who plays Peter Van Daan.

The wide range of ages and experience in the Acting Out production has made for a great experience for the actors, who have all learned from each other as they came together as a cast.

"It's better working with people of all ages," Buckhout said.

"It feels more realistic," Federo said.

And working with this company has been drama-free for the actors, who playfully chatted before a recent dress rehearsal.

"It's my first experience with this group, and it's been going pretty smoothly," Fitzgerald said.

Director Penny Kohut thinks this production's cast, with its mix of young and old, green and experienced, will make the show a success.

"They've blended in beautifully," she said. "That's one thing I try to do, bring people together not just as characters, but I want them to feel comfortable. I just kind of put them up there and let them feel their way."

For Fitzgerald, the show is another chance to do what he loves. Federo and Michael dream of pursuing careers in acting. Federo, a Pentucket High graduate, previously thought only about film acting, but realized that experience in live theater was valuable. Michael, a Haverhill High student, followed in the footsteps of his sister by joining the Acting Out family and has also done two performances at HHS.

"It's about the audience," Michael said, looking out from his seat on stage.

The actors have been challenged as they've worked to channel their respective characters. Federo has learned to become a character that is completely different from her.

"She's shy and quiet, and she always has to be perfect. It's hard, but I just have to think about who in my life reminds me of that person," Federo said of her stage alter ego.

The cast had eight weeks of rehearsals before the opening, and as the first performance nears, the nerves begin to mount. But that adrenaline helps drive the actors.

"Once I go out on stage, I'm fine," Michael said.

For more information on Acting Out and for tickets, visit www.actingout.biz or call 978-475-2570.