Ghostlight Labs sheds light on Holocaust

Jackson McMurray, Staff Reporter

The Holocaust isn’t being taken seriously lately, thinks Grace Basta, director of the CWU theater department’s most recent Ghostlight Labs production, “And a Child Shall Lead.” The show, which opened on Oct. 18, ran three shows through that weekend.

“And a Child Shall Lead,” is a play by Michael Slade, which tells the story of a handful of children of various ages living in a Jewish concentration camp in Nazi- occupied Czechoslovakia. The children do their best to live their lives and fight oppression within their very limited means through the use of arts and humanities.

Basta and many of her collaborators on the project had a firsthand experience of seeing the Holocaust unit being phased out of high school humanities curriculums.

“It was a part of history,” McKayla Dawes, an actor in the production, said. “And things are kind of still continuing, or repeating themselves … They can say it never happened but it still happened.”

The characters start a newspaper for the prisoners of the camp, write poetry, draw pictures and play music. Sometimes these efforts are attempts to be heard by the world outside the camp, but often characters are simply trying to hold on to some agency in their lives. 

The program for the show includes a director’s note from Basta, which reads: “Listen to the words you hear tonight … We must use the voices of these children as a launching point to impact our world for good, to stand up for those who have been silenced.”

Basta clearly feels strongly that examining the horrors of World War II is a critical exercise now more than ever, and her cast member Brad Alemao agrees.

“Some of these problems and issues are still happening today,” Alemao said. “It’s very intense, and a lot of people are too afraid of the intensity to look at it.”

The show is the product of a long-stewing ambition for Basta, who originally pitched her idea for this Ghostlight Labs show in Oct. 2018. 

The production of the show was a staged reading, meaning that the actors carried their scripts in hand during the performance.

Basta said this was a matter of necessity, since they were only given two weeks to mount the production, but that it does actually add something to the performance, it allows the actors to be more solidly connected to the text. 

Basta makes use of the scripts for dramatic effect as well. They were integrated into the blocking, and whenever a character would die the actor would leave their script on the stage for the duration of the show, making their continued presence and influence known.

The shows took place in McConnell 119, a black box theater where approximately three dozen chairs were set up along the walls on opposite sides of the stage. The show was intimate by design, with actors coming within inches of audience members in the front row. 

The design of the show was minimal, with no props, except a doll and some blocks, and a simple, mostly static lighting design.

Beyond the script and the performers, the most integral element of the production was the music. Throughout the characters, and often the actors playing them, would perform music. Many scenes are underscored by recorder, violin and piano pieces. 

At the end of the show the actors stood facing the audience, some with tears in their eyes, and showed pictures and drawings from prisoners in Nazi concentration camps alongside modern-day photos of similar intensity from places like Russia, Korea and the U.S.-Mexico border.

The gesture asks the audience a hard question: “What are you doing about it?”