“Just Like You and I:” Joshua Bates on The Diary of Anne Frank
Q: As we sit down to talk, we’re about seven hours from the opening night performance. How do you feel about the show at this point in the process,now that it’s effectively out of your hands?
A: I think if I told my other casts, I think they wouldn’t wanna hear this, but I think this has probably been the easiest show I’ve done. It’s been, the cast and the crew have put so much work into it where it showed the week of tech week. Usually, it’s very nerve-wracking and there’s a ton to do, but I felt like I was in the way sometimes. Which is a nice relief.
Q: What drove you to produce this show?
A: I proposed this show when I was directing The Crucible. I’ve always been interested in this play, you know, and I did pitch it to the committee, and I’ve wanted to do this show for quite some time. It’s extremely relevant, it’s more relevant than it ever has been in the US, and we have a large Jewish community in Summerville and in Charleston. I just think this story needed to be told, particularly here in the South.
Q: This is the third show you’ve directed with Flowertown in as many seasons. What do you think you’ve learned over the course of that time?
A: I think in the last three years, I’ve learned there are a group of people here at this theater that are extremely passionate and hardworking. And if they understand your vision and they see your vision, they’ll do anything they can to make that happen. It’s a delight.
Q: Similarly, how do you balance this, your work with Is This Art?, and your career?
A: I don’t. (laughs) It’s extremely challenging; having a family, having two kids at home, having a wife, everything you just said. it’s extremely difficult. Comedy’s been put on hold simply because there aren’t enough hours in the day. It’s the amazingness of my wife. She helps me with my schedule, my calendar, staying on top of all the things I’m responsible for. If it weren’t for her, there’s no way I could juggle all these balls.
Q: This is the second year in a row you’ve done a historical drama (though the term seems wrong, somehow, when discussing a play such as this). Did you take any tips from your time on The Crucible that you put to use here?
A: Yeah, I think with The Crucible, it was letting the cast know these were real people. To absolutely try to find the character, while going on that journey, it’s important to look at the history and what the truths are, and to keep those in mind when finding those characters. That, and making it relevant to today. I think it’s really important with our audience, to ensure that they kinda connect the two.
Q: How do you direct your actors in a show like this, in contrast to The Crucible? Much of the text is verbatim from Anne’s diaries. How do you ensure the actors treat the material with the gravity it deserves?
A: I think one is to, I make them do the research. I make them look at the people and understand the person as much as they can. You’re not starting off with a blank canvas, there’s something already there; it’s a matter of what you add to it. I try to, with both shows, I’ve tried to enhance it visually and aurally by different sounds, by different music, the lights, all of that, just keeping it relevant. That’s where you’re able to put your own spin on it. And to make the characters real life. You want to do that in any play, but especially in this kind of show. You want to show that they’re just humans, like you and I, that we’re just peeking in on their lives. As opposed to these grand caricatures.
Q: Like the last time I interviewed you, I feel like I have to ask about the set, because it’s truly impressive. It’s sort of the direct conceptual opposite of Crucible’s “interpret it how you want” approach to stage design and seating. How did you put it together?
A: I still wanted it to be abstract. Looking at diagrams and pictures of the attic, the true annex, they look nothing alike. I wanted to show a color and a crampedness that they kind of lived in that’s kinda stylized. I wanted to show that they, all eight of these people, lived in such a small area for such a long time; the awkwardness of that, and later in the show, how fluid it is and how they’re able to move in and out, and how they live a little more seamless. I think any show really grabs your attention when you walk into the theater and before the show starts, I think we did that with this show as well.
Q: We’re holding special talkbacks following our matinee performances with the Jewish Federation of Charleston. These will feature talks with Holocaust survivors, as well as with members of USC’s Anne Frank Partnership; we also have a traveling exhibit that’s free to the public in our Studio. What do you hope audiences will take away from these talks? How did you arrange them?
A: Courtney did a great job reaching out. When we started the production, our goal was to reach out to the community, because we knew there was a great community in town that wanted to share stories, of the lives of Jews and the Holocaust. I want them to take away that this is relevant. This wasn’t 100 years ago, this was less than 80 years ago. This could have happened to our grandfathers, our grandmothers. This could easily happen today. The eight people that lived in the annex were just like you and I; they had hopes and dreams that were taken away.
Q: It is no surprise to say that The Diary of Anne Frank is perhaps more vital today than it was even five years ago. Why do you believe these stories are so important?
A: Antisemitism is on a historical rise in our country, and it’s coming from a bunch of different avenues. The way to counter that is to show history. To show that the history of even people who live here locally, you have to counter it. You have to be on the offense. And you have to tell stories of persecution and of tragedy to get people to understand and to be interested. We had our final dress rehearsal last night, and a woman who came and watched the show said, “I knew the story, but I never really thought of these people as real people. They were just like you and I.” And that’s what I want people to take away from it.
Q: There’s a quote from Anne’s diaries: “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” Do you believe that? Does that inform how you approached telling this story?
A: I would like...after you see the show, you’ll know my answer. I address this at the very end of the show, and I could let the show answer that, but, no. I don’t think so. I think Anne, like many children, had a certain naivete, and she was full of hope, but no. As much good in the world there is, there is evil. And we always have to be on the watch for that.
Q: Last question. Why should people come see this show?
A: I think we all have heard Anne Frank’s story. But most of us probably need a better lesson on it. This newly-adapted version of this play is a more truthful aspect of their lives in the annex. It brings a different angle of relevance. And the cast and crew have worked so hard, and they’ve studied so much to bring these characters to life. And I’m really excited for audiences to see that and to witness that.
The Diary of Anne Frank is at Flowertown Players through October 6th. Tickets can be purchased HERE or by phone at 843-475-4807.