2015 Best Specialty Ensemble in a Play Nominee: The Frank Family in Theatre To Go's "The Diary of Anne Frank"

The cast of Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Michael Molineaux).

The cast of Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Michael Molineaux).

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to particiapte in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

A family, in all of its complexity, is one of the hardest things to create on the stage. In Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank, Laura Frustaci, Lou Fuoco, Karen Hoff, and Taylor Bellavia create the famous Frank family, as they tell the story of the last few years in the iconic annex. Through their laughter, their joys, their frustrations, and their sorrows, we learn more about humanity and familial love. In their Interview, Laura, Lou, Karen, and Taylor tell us the most rewarding parts of working on this play, their own families, and to where they would travel in the world!

Hi, all, and thank you for joining us for the 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a bit about yourselves?

Laura Frustaci (Photo Credit: Maureen Carr). 

Laura Frustaci (Photo Credit: Maureen Carr). 

Laura Frustaci (“Laura”): I am a seventeen year old student at Burlington High School. I am a mentor to younger students, captain of the Improv Club, and editor of the literary magazine. I take voice lessons and ballroom dance classes. Previously, I have appeared in numerous productions including: Arsenic and Old Lace (Abby Brewster), 13: The Musical (Molly), Rent (Mrs. Jefferson/Bohemian), and It’s A Wonderful Life (ZuZu Bailey).

Lou Fuoco (“Lou”): I tutor writing and English as a Second Language at Berklee College of Music. Prior to that, I was in the software industry for many years. I’m a Brooklyn native and long-time Boston area resident active in theater for over 50 years.

Karen Hoff (“Karen”): I am a science teacher at St. Patrick School in Stoneham for grades 6-8. I have been there for 8 years. I am also a mom to 3 wonderful teens. I have lived in Melrose for 20 years and I been involved in community theater nearly my entire life.

Taylor Bellavia (“Taylor”): Hi! My name is Taylor Bellavia. I am a 9th grade student at the Shawsheen Valley Technical High School, and I am from Tewksbury Massachusetts. I've been involved in theatre since I was in the fourth grade, and, since then, I've been in Once On This Island as a Storyteller, Alice in Wonderland as The Mad Hatter, and Aladdin as Princess Jasmine. In middle school, I won the METG Ensemble Award for my role as one of Witches in Macbeth. I also played "Mom" in the one-act play, Perfect. I was also cast as a Featured Ensemble Member in the musical Catch Me if You Can at my town's high school, which I had a blast doing. This past summer, I performed as a Lady in Waiting in Once Upon a Mattress, where I met an amazing group of youth actors who I still keep in touch with today. My high school doesn't offer a theatre program, so I began my search for an audition, and that's where I stumbled upon The Diary of Anne Frank at Theatre To Go, Inc. To date, this has been my favorite production.

Can you tell us about your character in The Diary of Anne Frank? How would you describe him or her? What was his or her relationship with the rest of the family?

Laura: Anne is an intelligent and strong-willed individual. She is incredibly mature for her age on some matters, and, at other times, she is impudent and childish. Anne was extremely close with her father, whom she referred to as “Pim.” They had a deep, special connection. Anne was a typical teenager, in that she constantly argued and disagreed with her mother in her quest for independence. At times, she was jealous of her sister, Margot, to whom she was constantly compared, but they maintained a loving relationship.

Lou Fuoco (Photo Credit: Matt Guillory).

Lou Fuoco (Photo Credit: Matt Guillory).

Lou: Otto Frank is the strong one. He’s the glue that holds the family and everyone in the hiding place together. His humor and calm in the face of danger is usually enough to defuse any situation. He loves his family, but Anne is the apple of his eye. He holds hope that this story will have a happy ending, even after the family is captured.

Karen: My character, Edith Frank, was in many ways, a peacekeeper in the family. She did a lot of things to try and keep everyone on an even keel, even when Anne was being more challenging! She was at odds with Anne's personality because Anne was more outgoing and spoke her mind. Edith rarely spoke her mind of what she truly felt, and I think she was envious that Anne could. Another big conflict between Anne and Edith was that because of their different personalities, they didn't really know each other. You can see a change as they both evolve and understand each other better.

Taylor: I played Margot Frank, the older of the two daughters in the Frank family. She is a reserved, empathetic, and studious teenager who was looked upon as a role model for her younger sister, Anne. As quiet as Margot was, when there was great tension in the annex, she had no problem speaking her mind. She gravitated toward her mother more so than her father at times, constantly nurturing and caring for her. Margot and Anne's relationship was your typical sisterhood “competition.

What was the most challenging part of performing this play?  What was the most rewarding?

Laura: The most challenging part of performing this play was finding within myself the proper emotions to become the character. I had to feel the extent of the terror and trial the Franks, the Van Daans, and Mr. Dussel went through. The most rewarding part of performing this play was seeing the audience’s reaction after the final scene. This told me that I succeeded in presenting the material in a heartfelt and touching way, and they could tell how deeply affected I was by this show.

It is most rewarding as an actress to know I have done my job and conveyed the trauma and raw emotions these people experienced during their confinement in the annex.

Lou: I was motivated primarily by the desire to do justice to the complex character of Otto Frank. For many years I had read extensively about the Frank family, but translating that from the page to the stage was a big challenge.

Taylor Bellavia (Photo Credit: Sharon Crowley).

Taylor Bellavia (Photo Credit: Sharon Crowley).

My rewards were the bonds I formed with the cast and crew and the appreciation of our audiences.

Karen: The most challenging part of the play was also the most rewarding part for me. That was dealing with the intense material of the play and being able to convey the depths of despair, as well as the moments of hope they felt throughout the confinement in the annex. There were definitely times when we all felt the emotions during the rehearsal process, and this definitely brought us together closer as a cast and family.

Taylor: The most challenging part of the show was being serious for so long. At the rehearsals, we had so much fun and laughed so much, that when it was time to actually perform, I had to take some time to get myself into character and not laugh at inappropriate times during the show.

The most rewarding part was being able to see the emotional affect we had on the audience.

How did you not “take your work home with you”?  How did you relax or relieve the tension during the rehearsals and performances?

Laura: It was fairly easy to slip into Anne’s character, but extremely difficult to shift back out. It was important not to simply return to normal and ignore whatever emotions I had experienced as Anne. I would take time to really comprehend and accept every feeling this journey took me through. During rehearsals, we relieved the tension by laughing, joking around, and dancing. After some of the more serious scenes (I actually cried several times), we would hug it out. I think we could not have successfully performed this show had we not been such a close, loving cast.

Lou: I was happy to take my work home with me by continuing to read about the Franks and the historical setting in which they lived. The close bond we created during the rehearsal process enabled us to find humor without taking the edge off our performances.

Karen: Even though the material was extremely intense, there was also some humor. From the first read-through, there was a sense of bonding among the cast members, and you felt that this was not just something ordinary. Because of the bonding, we were able to relax and find humor in certain parts of the show, and this produced many laughs backstage. Without this closeness between the cast, we not have been able to explore the emotional depths required to portray the Frank family.

Taylor: When I would leave rehearsals, I would go back to being a student. There was no time to take my work home with me because I had so much on my plate with school. Relieving the tension was the easy part; we had so much chemistry as a cast that we could laugh the tension and stress away.

What did you discover about yourself from working on this production?  Have you had any other productions that have been eye-opening for you?

Laura: I discovered I have the ability to transform into a character and never fully leave her behind. Anne and I share many similarities, but I fully believe she was immensely braver and wiser than I am. I learned that some shows are not just shows, but life-changing experiences that will stay with you forever. I am truly lucky to have been a part of this, and I have never been a part of anything this special before.

Lou: Working on this show convinced me that I could handle the weightiest character I’ve ever taken on.

Many years ago, I played Don, a blind boy, in Butterflies Are Free, which opened my eyes (pardon the bad pun) in a small way to those who live in darkness.  

Karen Hoff (Photo Credit:  Karen Hoff). 

Karen Hoff (Photo Credit:  Karen Hoff). 

Karen: This production was eye-opening for me because it gave me more confidence about my ability to contribute to a cast of actors. I have been involved in community/school theater for most of my life, but mostly in an ensemble role. Roles like Edith Frank have shown me how strong I can be on stage and in my life, and have much to contribute. I am extremely grateful to have worked with this cast of The Diary of Anne Frank, and look forward to working with them again soon!

Taylor: There was a quote from Anne Frank that says that all people are truly good at heart, and that has been a new philosophy for me. It really changed my view of the world.

A show that I performed in middle school, Perfect, was about a girl aspiring to be society's definition of “perfect,” but realizing that she's beautiful the way that she is. That message had a great impact on me, as well.

Talk to us about your families.  Who is in your family?  What is one of your favorite memories with them?

Laura: My family is consists of my two moms, Joanne and Maureen, and my cat, Matty. My parents are so supportive of everything I do, whether it’s driving me here and there for rehearsals or giving me voice and dance lessons.

My favorite memory with them is when I was younger, every Friday night in the winter, we’d build a fire and play board games together.

Lou: I have two wonderful adult children, two wonderful grandchildren and a loving (and also wonderful) partner.

It would be impossible and somehow unfair of me to choose even one of my favorite memories. 

Karen: My family is David (my husband of 26 years), Patrick (son, age 22), Charlotte (daughter, age 20), and Margaret (daughter, age 15). We have lived in Melrose for 20 years.

Some of my favorite memories with my family involve our favorite vacation destination, Prince Edward Island. We have been vacationing there for 10 years, and funny things always happen on the vacation, or drive to or from, and have become legends the more the stories get told. I dare you to put a family of 5 into an aging minivan, drive 12 hours, spending time together and not come up with funny stories. It can't be done with my family.

Taylor: My family consists of my brother, Eric; my mom; and my dad. They can be crazy sometimes, but I really love them. They're so supportive of me and theatre. My favorite memory with them is sitting around the living room just relaxing and watching TV; I love the little moments with them.

In three words, how would your friends and family describe you as a person?

Laura: Creative, passionate, and hard-working.

Lou: I just asked my partner, and she said warm, empathic and easygoing. Love is blind.

Karen: Friendly, compassionate, witty.

Taylor: Intelligent, goofy, and musical.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?  Who would you bring with you?  What is one thing that you would have to do?

Laura: I would really love to go all over Europe, and, of course, stop by the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Obviously, I would take both my real family and my Frank family on this journey.

Lou: I’d like to take my real and my stage family whitewater rafting. Maybe somewhere in New Zealand.

Karen: I would love to go back to Europe and explore. I especially would like to return to Amsterdam because it is a beautiful city, and I want to revisit Anne Frank's house. I also want to see more of the European cities. I want my families, both real and Frank family, to join me. Between the sights, food, and friends, it would be an ideal trip.

Taylor: If I could go anywhere, I would go to Amsterdam, Netherlands to visit the Anne Frank House. I would obviously bring the Frank Family with me, so we can see how our characters really lived in person.

Do you have any other “family” shows that would like to perform?  Why?

Laura: I don’t have any particular family shows on my performance bucket list at the moment.

Edith Frank (Karen Hoff) is consoled by her daughter, Margot Frank (Taylor Bellavia) in Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Michael Molineaux).

Edith Frank (Karen Hoff) is consoled by her daughter, Margot Frank (Taylor Bellavia) in Theatre To Go's The Diary of Anne Frank (Photo Credit: Michael Molineaux).

Lou: I’ve wanted to be in The Diary of Anne Frank for over 40 years, so this was the pinnacle for me.

Karen: All of my children have been involved in their school drama program. Both of my older children have been on stage, but are more suited for the role of stage manager. They are good at that role, and my daughter received awards for being stage manager for her school's productions at high school festivals. My youngest is also involved in crew for high school and our local community theater, Theatre To Go in Melrose.

Taylor: I would love to perform The Addams Family; I've loved the story since I was very young. I would also really love to perform RENT, a community/family musical. It is one of my all-time favorites.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Laura: I am currently working on my school’s production of Mary Poppins as Miss Andrew.

Lou: Nothing definite but I’m always looking. Any suggestions?

Karen: Not at the moment, but I am always looking for suitable productions in the area, and planning some auditions in the near future.

Taylor: I, unfortunately, don't have any projects at the moment, but I'm always on the lookout for an audition nearby.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Laura: It really is such an honor to be nominated and I’m so lucky to have worked with this incredible cast.

Lou: I’m honored to be nominated along with my stage family for this award. Working on this show exceeded every expectation. Keep supporting community theater!

Karen: I want to thank those responsible for the nomination! This was such a special production and especially appropriate for the times. We have come so far in many ways, but we still have much to learn about how to treat others that may be different from us. We should all take a page from Anne's diary and look for the good in people. Thank you to my cast members for such a tremendous production and all of your friendship, memories, and love.

Taylor: I would just like to say that I'm so grateful for the opportunity to meet the amazing cast of The Diary of Anne Frank, and to be nominated for an award with them. The experience of this show was unbelievable and the cast will always be my family.