February 21, 2012

Leigh Stein: “My greatest ambition was to ‘Be Anne Frank.'”


"This is a photo as I would wish myself to look all the time. Then I would maybe have a chance to come to Hollywood."

Anne Frank is alive and well.

That’s the premise in Shalom Auslander‘s new novel Hope: A Tragedy, where Frank is old, uncouth, and typing away in the attic of a farmhouse. Frank is “alive” in a more figurative fashion in Nathan Englander‘s short-story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, in which the characters from the title story play the “Anne Frank” game, wondering who among them would have had the courage to hide Jews from the Nazis, and face moral and emotional consequences as a result.

As a guest blogger at The Jewish Forward‘s “The Arty Semite,” Leigh Stein, author of The Fallback Plan, describes Frank’s influence in her own childhood, when her greatest artistic ambition was to “be Anne Frank” in a local play:

When I was 12, I auditioned for the title role in a community theater production of the Goodrich and Hackett play. I’m pretty sure I was one of the few, if not the only, Jew(s) to audition (in a town known for its Evangelical Christian college), and I thought I had it in the bag. All they had to do, I thought, was look at my last name and cast me immediately, to lend credibility to their production.

At callbacks, it was between me and one other Anne. I wore a plaid skirt and a pale sage cardigan with tiny rosebuds around the collar. I parted my dark hair on the side. While the other Anne smiled and laughed and generally behaved like she was at a food court in the mall, I delivered my lines with gravitas. I looked at the imaginary sky with longing. I was sarcastic, but never silly. I never let myself forget that Anne was a victim of the Holocaust, and it was my job on stage to honor that fact. More than anything, I felt I deserved to be Anne because I knew her so intimately after reading her diaries.

Shocker: the other Anne got cast. “But you look so much like her,” the director told me on the phone, as a consolation prize. “It was really tough.