Creative take on Kafka lands local students in prestigious Edinburgh festival
by emma silvers
As the lights come up onstage, four actors dressed in black are positioned into one connected, crablike figure. They move in perfect sync with each other while two other actors, speaking in gravely growls, provide the creature’s voice from behind a screen.
The scene onstage at Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco is a bit hard to describe — which is one reason cast members in the school’s production of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” laugh when people who haven’t seen the play ask “who plays the bug?”
“I take it for granted now,” said Ayelet Schrek, a 16-year-old member of the 17-person ensemble that left Aug. 11 for Scotland — to perform its production in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival.
“But when I think about it,” Schrek added, “it’s not something you would expect off the top of your head, to have Gregor be comprised of all these different people — to have four bodies, two minds. It adds so much, makes the show slightly different every time.”
That’s just one of many nontraditional choices the theater company made in adapting the 1915 novella, in which Kafka’s protagonist is transformed into a cockroach. The JCHS version is a play-within-a-play; it is set at the beginning of World War II against the backdrop of the Warsaw Ghetto, where a small theater company decides to perform the play.
Though “The Metamorphosis” debuted in May, student cast members, crew and faculty continued to work on the show over the summer and now have taken the production to Edinburgh for the annual five-day celebration of film and theater with participants from all over the world.
The JCHS drama department was selected as one of the 57 drama programs from among thousands of applicants, and it is the first Jewish high school chosen to perform at the festival. The group will give four performances from Aug. 19 to 23.
“I just couldn’t be prouder,” said Dylan Russell, the play’s director and chair of visual and performing arts at JCHS. “This company has worked so hard, they’re so talented, and I’m so excited to be part of it — to get to share this with a wider audience.”
Each student individually raised $1,000 to put toward the cost of participation, and together they raised another $5,000. “Since the student company was asked to fundraise for their trip, they learned about how companies raise money for a show and some of what producing entails,” explained Russell.
Jake Rosenberg (left) and Ayelet Schrek (right) interact with the four actors who compose the cockroach (clockwise from front), Renee MacDonald, Nathan Wexler, Evan Fenner and Yael Platt.At the festival, students will have 90 minutes to perform and just 15 minutes to put up and take down their props — just like the professional theater companies participating. Students also will do their own marketing, hitting the streets to gather audience members, handing out flyers and talking up the show to passersby on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
Cast members said they were looking forward to showing off the results of a long and sometimes arduous writing and production process. Russell held auditions in the fall. Throughout the winter, she and the students worked with Word for Word, a Bay Area theater company that transforms short works of literature verbatim to the stage.