[6 August 2016 update: the ANNE play has closed. They are looking into having it travel around the world, but it seems unlikely as the set was huge and the production was very advanced (read above). The theater remains open, presenting a non-Anne play.]
I’m surprised to see I have not mentioned this before. There is a new theater in Amsterdam, the Theater Amsterdam, which will open on May 8th with a play, called ANNE, portraying Anne Frank. The play’s portrayal of her life story will start before Anne and her family went into hiding. It is not the movie, nor an old play version. My Netherlands contact has kindly provided some links about this.
It seems like a daffy idea, but then again “Life is Beautiful” actually works, is a very good movie, despite the very strange concept of it (comedy about the Holocaust), or MAUS (cartoon book about the Holocaust portraying the Nazis as cats, the Jewish people as mice, the American liberators as dogs). There will be nice packages with the Anne play – wine, riverboat tour – but that is what international-traveler-theater-goers expect these days. Perhaps strangest of all is the theater is funded via the Anne Frank Foundation (AFF), which is based in Switzerland, not Amsterdam, and ANNE is the only play they plan on putting on (it seems). The Anne Frank House museum has many objections to this endeavor, but what else is new: the two organizations are always feuding. Such territorial issues are not based in logic, but instinct. The AFH does not own Amsterdam, after all. So is this a big deal or not?
Consider the points brought up in this video of a Dutch TV news program. The segment about the theater starts at 9:00 minutes in and lasts to about 25 minutes in (so it lasts about 16 minutes). Most of it is in Dutch (the AFF representative, Yves Kugelmann (who is a board member), speaks in English, however, and the guy interviewing people speaks both Dutch and English). In addition to what you can pick up in the audio, there are old movies of Otto Frank (Anne’s father), including the safe deposit box he used to keep her diary books in, a lot of old photos of Anne pass the screen, scenes of Amsterdam today, and scenes of parts of the AFF archives.
Some background: the AFF is located in Switzerland, where Otto and his second wife moved after the war. Most tourists know about the AFH, not the AFF, which is more of an archive and charity. Otto’s will left the diaries and rights to the AFF, because he disagreed with the emergent philosophy of the Anne Frank House museum. In the video, when they interview Eva Schloss, please understand she knew Anne and Otto. She was Anne’s age and I think she went to the same school as Anne. Eva got to know Otto when he became her step-father after the war.
The AFF representative, Kugelmann, presents things as follows: the new theater is bringing their down-to-earth image of Anne to where tourists come to learn of her: Amsterdam. They are aiming to present play(s) to portray Anne as a living breathing imperfect, but brilliant, young woman. They view the Anne Frank House museum as glorifying and sanitizing Anne too much. They also object to the implication that Anne is a Dutch person and belongs to the Dutch. Yes, most of her life was in the Netherlands, but she was born in Germany, lived there, understood German, and she was also Jewish. Her family landed in Amsterdam was almost an accident – Otto was looking for anywhere to survive and continued to look for places to move on to after the German invasion of Holland. If they’d been able to relocate to Peru, they would have. Would she then be known as a Peruvian? The AFF does seem to recognize Anne herself aspired to identify herself as Dutch.
Also, IIRC, Melissa Muller pointed out that all sorts of dramatizations of Anne have been done, from puppet shows to documentaries.
On the opposing side, the AFH mentioned copyright: the copyright for her diary will expire soon, so is the theater an effort to cash in before that ends? (The AFF claims they have 70 more years of copyright protection, and claim all of the copyrights for the photos and diaries are theirs [which isn’t what the AFH told me when they demanded I remove all photos of Anne from this web site].)
My frequent Netherlands contact very kindly provided a translation of some key parts and I think they raise some good points and give a sense of the controversy around this new theater. I guess the Europeans were so polite in the interviews I did not realize there were some strong feelings and opinions flying.
Translations (the numbers are the times into the overall program in minutes:seconds format):
12:55 “I can tell you, how this is being done – it was absolutely not Otto’s wish to do it this way.”
14:12 “The relationship he had with my mother, she was his real great love… It was a fine marriage for 27 years … They discussed every word, every sentence [in the Diary]. She typed his answers to the letters he received. That was their life.”
17:48 “Anne was 4 years old when she came to Holland . She only spoke Dutch, she could hardly speak German, she felt totally Dutch. Otto always said: ‘She is a Dutch girl.’”
Reporter: “But [the AFF say]: ‘The Franks were a German family.’”
Eva: “True, they were originally a German family, but they became Dutch.”
21.27 Reporter: “What do you think of such a remark: ‘In the forties, the nazi’s stole everything from the Franks, and now the Anne Frank House is doing the same thing again [wanting to keep the loaned materials]’?”
Eva: “It’s absolute nonsense … to compare the Anne Frank House with the Nazi’s… It’s criminal!”
22:38 “Otto surely would not agree when the Franks’ possessions, which are now at the AFH, will be brought over to the AFF. There are all sorts of new people there who never met Otto, but who are now deciding what is best. They have absolutely no idea of Otto’s intentions for the materials loaned to the AFH and the rights of the AFF.”
09:55 ..”It’s a war.”
12:43 “The tone of the conversation [between the AFF and AFH] has changed, for sure… When I hear him say silly things like the Nazi’s robbed the Franks and they are robbed again by the AFH, then I think, ‘Well, please lower your voice with this. You will not make friends..’”
20:08 “.. the harsh way in which he makes statements in public about the Anne Frank House and other matters, …this is new…”
15.20 “[When Yves says,] ‘We were founded by Otto Frank, so we are of primary importance.’ What? the heirs, the Anne Frank police? – whatever..”
19:20 “The most important thing about Anne is her diary, and she did write it [in Amsterdam], not in Germany, not in Switzerland.”
22:59 “[The AFF] did three important things: the building of an ‘Anne Frank wing’ [of the Jewish Historical Museum in Frankfurt], a new theatrical play which will be on stage for, let’s say, the next 20 years? and they published – last year – the integral works of Anne Frank. These are three things, not by coincidence one after the other , and not by coincidence done a few years before the copyrights will expire..”
24:08 “Kugelmann thinks the copyright will stay on… well, this will give an interesting lawsuit then, at the end of 2015… I think so.”
Perhaps the issues can be summarized this way: this theater undertaking is risky, it is bold and big. It may not work, it may offend people, and it may turn Amsterdam into a sort of Anne Frank circus for the final years of the copyrights on her diary. If it is a terrible flop, of course it will close down within a year or two. Or it may be brilliant. If so, the problem is with this spokesperson and some lingering rancor from the misunderstandings between the leadership of these organizations. (The most recent of these has already been resolved in court: There was a lawsuit where the AFF had loaned a lot of materials to the AFH, which assumed it would be a permanent loan: it wasn’t. The AFF went to the courts and won the archival material back. I blogged about this last June.)
13 May 2014
The New York Times explains the controversy, but also give the play a very good review: