Gemma Rollison has always felt it necessary to know the story of Anne Frank because of her Jewish heritage.
“I’m Jewish on both sides, not religiously,” Rollison said. “It was always something from a young age that my mother made sure that I knew. It never really hit me until I decided to research it for this role.”
Rollison plays the title role in Civic Theatre’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which is set for Feb. 10-25 at The Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.
The story centers on Anne Frank, who wrote a diary and planned to write a book about her life hiding from the Nazis in a concealed annex in the Netherlands. She and her family were eventually captured, and she died of typhus in a concentration camp.
“It was really inspiring to me because if I had lived those 75-plus years ago, it could well have been me, and that’s a very frightening reality,” said Rollison, a homeschooled high school senior who lives on the south side of Indianapolis.
Rollison said her character is always jumping around and saying everything she thinks.
“She speaks very fast and she is very witty, so there are lot of lines to remember,” Rollison said. “There is a lot of complexity in what she says.”
Hamilton Southeastern High School senior Sydney Pinchouck is the understudy for the roles of Anne and older sister Margot but is guaranteed at least two performances as Anne.
“My dad’s family is Jewish and I read it as a young girl,” Pinchouck said. “Anne is the reason I was inspired to learn about my Jewish heritage. I also went to a Christian school for much of my life and learning about the Holocaust in a Christian school was a rough experience. We spent a lot of time talking about the Holocaust but it was less sensitive. Some insensitive comments were directed to me, things people didn’t realize they shouldn’t be saying to someone who is Jewish.
“Having Anne’s experiences to read helps me become more connected with that part of my life. So when I found out that Civic was doing the show, I knew I needed to be part of it.”
Rebecca Piñero, an Indianapolis Shortridge High School junior, is cast as Margot.
“I’m have two little siblings, so it’s easy to connect to the text you see between Margot and Anne,” Piñero said. “I’ve always been very interested in her story. I read her autobiography and autobiography of her best friends. I saw it performed at the IRT a few years ago.”
Piñero said it’s difficult to portray the history while understanding the grief of it.
“But you also still want to explore the hope and the triumph in the moments of the annex,” she said.
David Wood, a Lawrence resident, plays Anne’s father, Otto Frank.
“I’ve seen the play a few times and seen the movie,” Wood said.
Adrienne Reiswerg is the dramaturg for the production, making sure the Jewish holidays and traditions are accurately portrayed.
“My daughter-in-law, Michelle Cohen, is Jewish and thus my granddaughter,” Wood said. “My brother-in-law is Jewish. I have a little background, but I’ve learned more.”
Wood said he always thought Otto Frank was a fascinating character.
“It’s hard to get to know the real Otto because he’s always portrayed so stoically because he was so heroic to Anne,” Wood said. “Everyone else had an outlet and he didn’t have that outlet. I want to be able to think what he is feeling inside and maybe express that a little more, even if that’s not the interpretation people have seen a lot of.”
Garrett Rowe, a Lebanon resident who graduated from Indiana University in 2022, plays 16-year-old Peter Van Daan.
“He’s trying to find that balance because he’s still a kid, but he gets looked at as an adult,” Rowe said. “I got to see my high school (Lebanon) perform this when I was a freshman in college. I love the way it’s written.”
For more, visit civictheatre.org.