Student playwright tells tales of survivors

Holocaust play image
Zoe Bond, on the set of her play "Raining Season."

It's just five people, on five stools, telling stories for 40 minutes. But Zoey Bond's play Raining Season spans four continents and nine decades.

That's because the five people represent five survivors of genocides: two from the Holocaust, plus survivors of attacks in Rwanda, Darfur, and Cambodia. Zoey plays Clemantine, the survivor from Rwanda.

The play starts with each actor speaking the words of one of the survivors Zoey and her friends interviewed. Each starts his or her story at the beginning, taking turns telling about their childhoods before the trouble started. Then, while each was still under 18, they started noticing-changes. Soon, each tells of being caught up in a personal, yet national, tale of oppression, violence, and death. Each story then ends with the aftermath of the war, their lives today, and their thoughts on what the words "never again" mean.

To tell the next segment of his or her story, each actor stands in front of a card with his or her name and country on it. There are no costumes or sets- just people and words. Weaving the stories like this, Zoey finds, reveals their similarities and differences.

Zoey, now just 18 herself, interviewed the Holocaust survivors personally. Initially, the project was only going to be about the Holocaust, but then she realized that as other, more recent genocides had also happened since, these deserved to be included as well. She was put in touch with the survivors through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Chicago branch.

To date, Raining Season has played before more than 4,000 people at schools, congregationsboth synagogues and churchesand community centers. There have been requests for the play nationwide. However, the play is intended to be given during the school day-but all of the actors are students themselves, with their own classes! So a video version is in the works. The DVD will also include interviews with the survivors and the director. Also, a touring company of slightly older actors is being collected, and Clemantine's real-life niece will play her.

For her work, Zoey was chosen as an Upstander, one of only 12 in Chicago. This means a video about her and her play was shown as one of the Upstanders: Portraits of Courage. These videos are a part of the nationally-touring "Choosing to Participate" exhibition, which is made up of artworks- also including paintings and sculptures- that examine the impact of bigotry. "Choosing to Participate" also has paintings, sculptures, and other artworks. You can see it at the Harold Washington Library until Nov. 11.

"Choosing to Participate" is put on by an organization called Facing History and Ourselves. They also create study plans, and Zoey took one, in eighth grade at Glencoe's Central School, that discussed the Holocaust. Zoey remembers feeling, "if I didn't do anything about the issue, I would be a bystander too."

In writing the play, Zoey wanted to tell these difficult, yet inspiring stories, but she also had another goal in mind. She wanted to show that "The youth can make a change. Not all kids in my generation just care about technology, and we're not all lazy. We are active, and we do want to make a difference."

Zoey is now majoring in theater at the University of Southern California, after graduating from New Trier in June. She also intends to study film. But she has been interested in acting since she was five years old, she said- or, as she understood it then, "make-believe, on stage."

In college and in her career, Zoey wants to create more works that are not just entertainment, but that speak to the audience and get them thinking. She thinks that theater is, in some cases, a better way to teach than lecturing.

Getting the story across with a peer actor, someone the student audiences' own age, is key. The message she wants viewers to leave with is simple, yet profound: "This is real. This is happening now. And it's your responsibility to do something."

Paul Wieder is public relations manager at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

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