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Erik DeCicco and students’ work will play big role in upcoming MOSH Anne Frank exhibit

A once in a lifetime opportunity has Artist in Residence of Theatre Erik DeCicco and the College of Fine Arts collaborating with the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History (MOSH) on a theatrical experience about the writings of Anne Frank.

The project, named The Works of Anne Frank, will be produced in conjunction with an expansive, community involved exhibit, aimed at middle school aged children and above, at MOSH and several sites throughout area beginning in January.

The school’s involvement began shortly after DeCicco arrived on campus at the beginning of the semester when he learned of the opportunity from Dean of Fine Arts Dr. Henry Rinne and Associate Professor of Dance and Division Chair for Dance and Theatre Brian Palmer.

Obviously interested, DeCicco researched and obtained a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank.

“What caught my attention were the fables she wrote,’’ he said. “I wasn’t as familiar with them. They have magical elements to them and I thought ‘there’s where we can do some acting’.’’

He submitted a proposal to Dr. Rinne and Dr. Lee Ann Clements, Associate Provost and Interim Dean, College of Arts and Science for approval to submit to MOSH and began researching the rights to the book as it’s heavily guarded text.

That searched kick-started a lengthy process which included learning the courts of Europe have ruled that as editor, Anne Frank’s father, Otto, actually owns the rights.

After a several-week process with the Anne Frank Foundation and its U.S. agent, which included plenty of “we don’t give rights,’’ the undaunted DeCicco received permission for his performance about two weeks ago.

“I explained the play is all students, in association with the Voices of Hope exhibit at MOSH, and that’s the spirit of it,’’ he said. “They were favorably inclined to allow us to engage the text. I think they were concerned because we want to use costumes and props and it became clear it they are protecting the image of Anne Frank and I got that,’’ DeCicco said. “I explained it was an actor performing out loud in a room and that’s enough. How many people get a chance to hear Anne Frank’s words out loud?’’

DeCicco said there will be a minimum cast of five for the 45-minute, one-act play, with auditions beginning soon. The experience the theatre students will get will be invaluable.

“Being able to do it out loud is a great experience for our students,’’ he said. “It’s a different kind of project; it’s not a play that exists. A lot of the students are used to rehearsing here, putting a show up here and it’s done and over. Now, we rehearse here and go and do it somewhere else. That’s what the professional world is like.’’

The potential impact on the school isn’t lost on DeCicco as the performance will be presented twice at MOSH and once at the Mandarin branch of the Jacksonville Public Library.

“This is a unique experience,’’ he said. “We’re taking it out into the world. We’re representing the University and our College. It’s a huge deal and amazing opportunity for that reason.’’

“The play is a great part of this and adds to the overall experience of the visitors to the museum and for the community,’’ MOSH Voices of Hope Project Manager Arlene Wolfson said. “It’s a great addition to the things going on.’’

Wolfson said the exhibit, which will run to mid-February, will be the centerpiece of community-wide initiative to begin conversations around the need for tolerance and mutual respect.

“We have pulled together about 40 community-wide and diverse organizations to do programming that focuses on these issues,’’ she said.

Attesting to the enormity of the exhibit programming will include an exhibit called Lawyers Without Rights about Jewish lawyers in Germany under the Third Reich and shows how the Nazis purged the Jewish lawyers as one of the earliest steps to attack the rule of law in Germany.

Another play, Letters from Anne and Martin, are words from Anne Frank’s diary and Letter From a Birmingham Jail and shows how Frank and Martin Luther King both had the same dreams and wishes for a world without discrimination and hate and both died because of those reasons. That play is scheduled for the Ritz Theatre one night and downtown library another day.

Local artists, violin music with 16 instruments from Israel, all played during the holocaust, is scheduled along with panel discussions, book discussion, a Ritz Chamber Players concert and a performance by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra are but a sampling of all that will be involved.

“This is going to have the most community involvement of anything we do at MOSH in 2017,’’ Wolfson said. “We’re not bringing the exhibit and saying ‘look what happened to this little Jewish girl’ and leaving it at that. We want to spark conversations around these issues of tolerance and the need for mutual respect because we don’t want what happened to Anne to happen to anybody else.’’

Wolfson said exhibit organizers will be looking for docents to volunteer and those wishing to will be able to sign up through the MOSH website. A calendar of events for the Voices of Hope, will be online soon at annefrankjax.com with an additional link through the MOSH website.

– Jim Nasella