PAPAYA Yields Bitter Fruit of Holocaust

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The PA Performing Arts for Young Audiences (PAPAYA) kicks off its third season at the Bride with the first U.S. premiere of The End of Everything Ever performed by the company New International Encounter.
 

At 6 years old, Agata was forced to leave everything she ever knew and held dear behind — her family, her country — to end up placed somewhere where she did not know the language, the culture or the people. 
 
And yet, it is a tale shared by some 10,000 other Jewish children who were also rescued by the Kindertransport before World War II — and it will be told again on a Philadelphia stage this week. 
 
The PA Performing Arts for Young Audiences (PAPAYA) kicks off its third season at the Bride with the first U.S. premiere of The End of Everything Ever performed by the company New International Encounter.
 
As part of PAPAYA’s International Family Series, performances will take place at the Painted Bride Art Center on Jan. 24 and 25. There will also be school matinees on Jan. 21 and 22.
 
NIE was founded in the Czech Republic in 2001 and features artists from the United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Poland and Norway. 
 
The Kindertransport, or Children’s Transport, spirited refugee Jewish children out of Nazi Germany and into Great Britain between 1938 and 1940.
 
The six-person ensemble will tell the story of Agata, a 6-year-old Jewish girl from Germany who is put on the Kindertransport in the 1930s. She leaves her family behind for a new one in London, a place in which she does not speak the language. 
 
She absentmindedly chews on her paper nametag — her only source of identity — on the way, thus erasing her chances of ever returning home.
 
Her sole source of comfort and connection to her home: a stuffed bear she uses to express herself along the journey.
 
“The courage that we have to be bigger and braver because we have to care for something else, I think that’s a part of the story,” said Sebastienne Mundheim, PAPAYA artistic director of engagement. “The sense that somebody is listening keeps the will to keep going in place.”
 
After the performance, the PAPAYA Lab welcomes families to discuss the play in small groups and workshops with PAPAYA artists in addition to the six NIE members. 
 
According to Mundheim, “One of the things that’s interesting about what’s going to really engage kids and what engages us historically is, how do we feel empathy? What makes us connect with a story? What makes us care about individual people?
 
“It’s an incredible thing for Philadelphia kids and families to have access to these really sophisticated thoughtful performers from other places,” she added. “That interpersonal opportunity aside from the theater is very special and important in our global times.” 
 
Although her troupe is telling a story with historically tragic undertones, Mundheim explained that it is undercut by a lot of funny moments, too.  
 
“This company does address really difficult questions but also gives us places where we can feel comfortable in relationship to the content,” she said. “There are truly terrible things, and yet we all laugh together or we sing together or we play instruments together — those are really the moments that make up life.”
 
The story follows the themes of alienation and immigration, but Mundheim said it is not a text-heavy or overt history lesson.
 
“You walk away having enjoyed a series of characters and moments and performers, but you’re introduced to a piece of history,” she said. “You have a sense of caring and urgency about what it means when people’s survival is threatened.” 
 
Studying the Holocaust has been part of seventh- and eighth-grade curricula since 2014, when then Gov. Tom Corbett signed a law that recommended the state’s 500 school districts implement Holocaust education programs, which became a requirement for the 2015/2016 school year.
 
Mundheim hopes students will “walk away with questions and talk about history and that they’re able to think about how that’s relevant now.”
 
Kjell Moberg, artistic director of NIE, said this story is very relevant today because it parallels the international refugee crisis as Syrian immigrants flee throughout Europe. 
 
He said Syrians are going through similar horrible times — losing parents, children — which, sadly, gives The End of Everything Ever an au courant point of reference. 
 
“We want to use this story of this Jewish girl as a magnifying glass to understand history better and to tell a story of someone who’s not so often told,” Moberg said.
 
“Maybe people will think differently about the situation. Maybe they will help someone,” added Iva Moberg, NIE associate director. “There is hope in people.”
 
When the company began, Kjell said, they wanted to perform pieces that said something substantial about the war in Europe. Through research, he came upon the 2001 novel Austerlitz, by German author W. G. Sebald, about the Kindertransport, which led to this production.
 
Iva and Kjell will also be starring in the show, along with Bara Latalova, David Hlavac, Kieran Edwards and Robert Orr, none of whom are Jewish. 
 
Kjell finds the story more impactful when he relates it to his own children. He wants to help the younger generation understand that this story is still too-recent history that should not be repeated. 
 
“To me, I feel it’s a very European story in many ways, and it will be interesting to see how that resonates here in America,” he said. “People should never forget how, not so long a time ago, this was in the heart of Europe, in the city we live. I really wanted to shine a light upon that, that I can tell my children in the very train station this story took place.” 
 
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737
 

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