Rehearsal of Remembrance: Stuyvesant Hosts Dr. Roald Hoffman

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Stuyvesant hosted a semi-performative play reading of “Something that Belongs to You” on June 3. The play was written by Stuyvesant alumnus Dr. Roald Hoffman (’55), who is a Nobel laureate in chemistry as well as a Holocaust survivor. The event, organized by history teacher Lisa Shuman and Stuyvesant alumna Raisa Ostapenko (’07), exclusively showcased student actors and was accompanied by a short ceremony honoring Dr. Hoffman’s accomplishments.

“Something that Belongs to You” is primarily based around Dr. Hoffman’s childhood experiences during the Holocaust and how those moments shaped him as an adult. The play follows a family in 1992 looking back on their experiences during 1942. The story starts with an 81-year-old woman named Frieda Pressner, whose son Emile and granddaughter Heather ask her to talk about her experiences during World War II. In the play, Dr. Hoffman utilizes symbolic objects, most notably a wedding ring, to emphasize the cynicism and false relationships that characterized the Holocaust. The play also alternates between flashbacks and the present day to portray the themes of loss, hate, and forgiveness. Though the play tells a solemn story, its humor kept the audience engaged.

According to Shuman, who herself led an acting career in the past, using drama and film to convey the Holocaust’s undertakings was not only an essential teaching tool, but it also helped present the play’s relevant themes. This may have been the first program of its type that Stuyvesant put together, but “the students worked extremely hard and knocked it out of the park. [...] I am really proud,” she said.

Such success would not have been possible if it weren’t for two aspects: the student actors’ interest in Dr. Hoffman’s story and their dedication to story-telling. “We worked very hard with the students on line delivery, connection to the story characters, projection of messages, as well as on ideas to make presentation multi-sensory,” Shuman said.

Despite a busy academic season and rehearsals being only once a week after school on Fridays, the cast and production crew managed to be productive with the time they had, which contributed to the success of the play. “We would read through the play and the directors would give us information on how they would like to see the piece performed and on how to approach the stage,” sophomore Katherina Corr said. “Furthermore, the directors were very understanding with other commitments that came up, such as APs.”

Though the play was a success, cast members expressed frustration with time constraints. Corr recognized the potential that the play would have had if more time had been allotted to its development. “While the play was only reading, having a more comprehensive set would have helped distinguish between the 1992 and 1942 scenes,” she said.

Shuman elaborated on the challenges that the students encountered by discussing how the script itself jumps between periods of time, something which is difficult to execute even in theatrical productions. “This was compounded by the lack of tech rehearsals in the auditorium,” said sophomore Katie Leton, who ran technical elements behind the scenes. “Fortunately, there weren’t any major problems with the technical aspects in the end, such as lights and sound. We pulled it off!”

Students who attended the play reading were able to recognize its underlying themes. “What’s important about this play is the idea of getting past the hate that they have while still remembering what happened,” sophomore Eve Lin said.

In addition to acknowledging the importance of forgiveness, Corr hopes that onlookers realized that sometimes, trivial objects—in this case, a ring—can hold great significance and power. “While it seemed like a nice deed to return the wedding ring, Frieda's memories were reawakened as a result,” Corr said.

Looking ahead, Shuman is optimistic about putting together a production similar to “Something that Belongs to You” and encourages more students to participate in Stuyvesant’s theatrical productions. “Performances are a great experience, especially for life skills such as creativity and acting. If you’re not already involved in the Stuyvesant Theater Community, you should feel comfortable trying out new things because you never know when you have hidden talents,” she said.