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U of I presents ‘First Bite’ theatrical series featuring new work by playwriting candidate

Jan. 28, 2021 Updated Thu., Jan. 28, 2021 at 1:56 p.m.

Next up in University of Idaho’s “First Bite,” a series of virtual workshop performances featuring plays written by students, playwriting candidate Kendra Phillips’ new work, “Her Sister,” explores the largely untold story of Margot Frank, older sister of Anne Frank. Free virtual live readings of “Her Sister” will begin at 6 p.m. Friday.

Despite being the sister of one of the most well-known Holocaust victims, very little is known about Margot Frank. But when Kendra Phillips was cast as Margot in a high school production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” she found herself relating to the character in a way that was difficult to forget.

Today, more than 15 years later, Phillips is revisiting the character, this time, as a playwright. No one remembers Margot, Phillips explained. “She is lost to history,” she said. “That’s what really pushed me to want to write her story.”

“Her Sister” explores themes of loss, suffering and identity while focusing on the lesser-known members of the Frank family – and none more so than Margot.

Phillips went through Anne Frank’s diary with a fine tooth comb and researched as far as possible into mentions of Margot elsewhere to start building her character.

For Phillips, the end result was a portrait of a girl all but lost to history who she still considers a kindred spirit. Instead of the pretty, quiet, obedient “wallflower” with only a few lines described in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Phillips’ play gives us “all Margot.”

The play has a nonlinear structure and an unusual and dynamic cast. Margot, for example, is played by every female member of the cast at one point or another.

This presented a difficult task for show director Jennifer Hughes, a directing candidate at UI. And, on top of everything else, directing the show over Zoom hardly made the task any easier.

“After that first week of rehearsals, I had a little kind of existential crisis,” Hughes said. “But then I reexamined my thinking. Trying to take this show as its own niche field of theater as opposed to trying to take what I already understood about directing and mash it up into this new format. I really had to rethink the whole thing … and, in the second week, I started to feel so much more comfortable.”

A great deal has had to change in the world of theater to allow for live shows in the past year, but not all of those changes have been negative.

“I’ve been glad to discover that a lot of the skills and the training that we have translate,” Hughes said, mentioning the voice training and the cast friendships that develop over the course of a project. “At the end of the day, we go back to all of that training, it doesn’t change at all on Zoom. It all still needs to happen.”

Phillips hopes that “Her Sister” will give audiences a renewed realization of what was lost during the Holocaust.

“For so many people, their knowledge of the Holocaust comes from the diary of Anne Frank,” she said. But the rest of the estimated 11 million other victims are nowhere near as well-known.

“Especially right now … I think it’s important that we don’t let people get lost in the numbers.”

For more about “Her Sister,” visit uidaho.edu.

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