The Bonhoeffer Blog: Notes from Cell 92

Bonhoeffer and Christianity

Cory Grabenstein as Dietrich Bonhoeffer in BONHOEFFER’S COST. Photo by Rebecca Rosenberg.

During Easter weekend, it was impossible not to think and reflect on the way in which Bonhoeffer’s Cost speaks about faith, God, and Christianity.  While a play about one of the most prominent figures in the Lutheran community could easily be heavy-handed with its religious themes and allegories, Bonhoeffer’s Cost pays just as much attention to Bonhoeffer’s religious beliefs as it does to who he was as a person.  That is, to me, a challenging balancing act to pull off and is the reason I selected this show in the first place.

Of course, it would be impossible for a piece about Bonhoeffer to not discuss his faith, and Bonhoeffer’s Cost in no way ignores his Christianity.  There are many scenes of him preaching, praying, reading the Bible, and speaking to God.  There’s at least one mention of religion on almost every page of the script, and it’s his faith that pushes Bonhoeffer to oppose the Nazi regime.  Time and again, he mentions how God has called him to stop Hitler, even if he must break the commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill” to do it.

You would think these countless moments in which religion is mentioned or discussed would paint Bonhoeffer as a saint or a martyr verging on sanctimonious, but remarkably he remains grounded and relatable.  When we first meet him, he comes off arrogant and snooty as he seems more concerned with the cleanliness of his cell than he is about being in prison at all.  Later, we see how shy and flustered he is around his fiancée.  There are also several moments when we see how his passion for his work and his writing prevented him from interacting and connecting with the people closest to him.

In this play, Bonhoeffer is no martyr or saint.  He’s just a man who happens to be guided by his belief and faith in God.  But he’s human and flawed, just like the rest of us.

And aren’t flawed characters more interesting than those who stand on the pedestal of perfection?

 

Jeff Davis
Director, Bonhoeffer’s Cost

BONHOEFFER’S COST Plays The Sanctuary At Palm Valley Lutheran Church, Located At 2500 East Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock, TX.  The Play Runs Thursday, May 11-Sunday, May 21, 2017.  Performances Are Thursdays – Saturdays At 7:30pm With Matinee Performances On Saturdays And Sundays At 2:30pm.  A Free Post-Show Reception Will Follow The Opening Night Performance On Thursday, May 11th.  A Post-Show Discussion With The Cast And Creative Team Will Follow The Performance On Friday, May 12th And The Evening Performance On Saturday, May 20th.

Tickets Are $12-20 With Discounts Available To Seniors, Students, Teachers/Educators And Current/Ex Military.  To Reserve Tickets, Please Visit Www.Ticketor.Com/Agapetheatre Or Call Us At 512-88-STAGE.

For More Information, Please Visit Http://Www.Agapetheatre.Org/Bonhoeffers-Cost.Html Or Call 512-88-STAGE.

BONHOEFFER’S COST Is Recommended For Audience Members Age 13 And Up.

Spicer, The Holocaust, and Why We’re Telling Bonhoeffer’s Story

I’ve been walking around today with an incredulous, worried, shocked, and horrified look on my face.

Earlier today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer commented on President Trump’s recent attack on Syria, citing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian citizens as the reason behind the military strike.  Spicer then added, “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II.  You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

Of course, Spicer is wrong.  Hitler didn’t just use chemical weapons.  He practically established the idea through his use of gas chambers designed to eradicate millions of “degenerates” including Jewish persons, gypsies, homosexuals, and the disabled.

The criticism and backlash came swiftly towards Spicer, but never one to admit defeat, his response was perhaps even worse.  “[Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said as if there were no Jews in Germany before referring to Concentration Camps as “Holocaust Centers.”

It baffles, saddens, angers, and greatly concerns me—both as someone who identifies as half-Jewish and simply as a human being—that a key White House representative ignores the atrocities of the Holocaust and then, when reminded of history, downplays its significance and importance.  When I consider that this statement also comes in the middle of Passover, my blood boils.

But Spicer is a microcosm of a bigger issue.  There are thousands of people worldwide who deny the Holocaust ever happened, as if 6 million people just mysteriously disappeared.  There are millions more, particularly among the younger generations, who live in ignorance of the Holocaust because they’ve yet to hear about the horrors perpetrated during World War II.  And I’d wager there are billions worldwide who are oblivious that a new Holocaust is currently happening in Chechnya as homosexuals are being sent to Concentration Camps.

It’s for these reasons and more that Agape Theatre has chosen to tell the story of Bonhoeffer’s Cost.  Mankind must not and can not ignore the horrors of our past, or we are doomed to repeat them.  These stories need to be told.  As the final Holocaust survivors die off, it becomes the responsibility of artists and storytellers to tell the stories of those who are no longer with us.

I am proud to tell Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s story.  If we all had half the courage that Bonhoeffer had, evil would struggle to cling to power in our world.

 

Jeff Davis
Director, Bonhoeffer’s Cost

BONHOEFFER’S COST Plays The Sanctuary At Palm Valley Lutheran Church, Located At 2500 East Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock, TX.  The Play Runs Thursday, May 11-Sunday, May 21, 2017.  Performances Are Thursdays – Saturdays At 7:30pm With Matinee Performances On Saturdays And Sundays At 2:30pm.  A Free Post-Show Reception Will Follow The Opening Night Performance On Thursday, May 11th.  A Post-Show Discussion With The Cast And Creative Team Will Follow The Performance On Friday, May 12th And The Evening Performance On Saturday, May 20th.

Tickets Are $12-20 With Discounts Available To Seniors, Students, Teachers/Educators And Current/Ex Military.  To Reserve Tickets, Please Visit Www.Ticketor.Com/Agapetheatre Or Call Us At 512-88-STAGE.

For More Information, Please Visit Http://Www.Agapetheatre.Org/Bonhoeffers-Cost.Html Or Call 512-88-STAGE.

BONHOEFFER’S COST Is Recommended For Audience Members Age 13 And Up.

The Unencumbered Freedom to Create

Cory Grabenstein (L) and Frank Benge (R) in rehearsal for BONHOEFFER’S COST. Photo by Rebecca Rosenberg.

We’ve now completed our first two weeks of rehearsals for Bonhoeffer’s Cost, meaning the foundation of staging and blocking has been laid.  We’re now free to do what I love best in the rehearsal process: explore and create.  It’s now that we breathe more life into the play by developing the look, feel, tone, and mood of the show.

It dawned on me on the way to rehearsal earlier this week that Bonhoeffer’s Cost is the first show that I’ve directed–or that Agape Theatre has produced–that no one in the cast or crew has seen before.

Until now, Agape Theatre has primarily produced established, published works that have been part of the American Theater cannon for years.  As such, there’s always been a film version, recorded stage production, or memorable live performance we could use as a reference point.  Even in the case of 2014’s Suffer the Long Night, the only non-published play we’ve staged thus far, I had seen a phenomenal production several years prior.  While the rest of the cast and crew saw the material through fresh eyes, I had the memory of the play’s World Premiere which helped us to navigate the many challenges of the script.

While we never have and never will copy another theater company’s production, it is somewhat comforting to have a reference point.  It can answer questions like, “What should this moment look like?” or “How do we make this character work?” or “How do we address the set requirements here?”  These reference productions can inspire us and point us and the show in the direction we need to go.

But we don’t have that luxury with Bonhoeffer’s Cost.  While there have been two full-scale productions of the play in Chicago and Philadelphia, none of us saw those productions, and all that we’ve seen of either are a handful of still images and a 30-second video montage from the Chicago production.

All we really have to guide us is the script.  We’re essentially going into Bonhoeffer’s Cost blind, and while that should be scary and intimidating, it’s oddly liberating.

The upside to producing to an established work is the roadmap laid out by prior productions.  They can tell you what to do (or what not to do) with the material.  But the downside in having that knowledge is that you’re constantly comparing your show and your performers to something else.  You may choose to do something not necessarily because it’s right for the material but rather because “it’s always been done that way.”  The pressure to live up to prior productions of the same play can prevent us from thinking creatively.  We often forget to tell the story the way we wish to tell it and instead deliver it the way it’s already been told.

That’s why my cast and I are realizing that ignorance is bliss.  All we have at our disposal are the 94 pages written by Mary Ruth Clarke and the documents written by and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In knowing nothing of the prior productions, we feel we’re able to approach the play in a fresh, new way.  All choices and decisions about the characters, the tone of the show, the pace, the look, and the mood all are coming organically from the discoveries we make in the text.  It’s forcing us to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it in a deeper way.  Every decision has to be justified, and the justification is never “this is how it was done before.”

I truly wish more regional and community theaters would produce more original works for this very reason.  There’s an unencumbered freedom to create when working with a new text, and that freedom challenges and rewards artists in a unique and valuable way.

I also hope that future productions of Bonhoeffer’s Cost know little to nothing about our approach to the play.  Not knowing is a tremendous amount of fun.

 

Jeff Davis
Director, Bonhoeffer’s Cost

BONHOEFFER’S COST Plays The Sanctuary At Palm Valley Lutheran Church, Located At 2500 East Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock, TX.  The Play Runs Thursday, May 11-Sunday, May 21, 2017.  Performances Are Thursdays – Saturdays At 7:30pm With Matinee Performances On Saturdays And Sundays At 2:30pm.  A Free Post-Show Reception Will Follow The Opening Night Performance On Thursday, May 11th.  A Post-Show Discussion With The Cast And Creative Team Will Follow The Performance On Friday, May 12th And The Evening Performance On Saturday, May 20th.

Tickets Are $12-20 With Discounts Available To Seniors, Students, Teachers/Educators And Current/Ex Military.  To Reserve Tickets, Please Visit Www.Ticketor.Com/Agapetheatre Or Call Us At 512-88-STAGE.

For More Information, Please Visit Http://Www.Agapetheatre.Org/Bonhoeffers-Cost.Html Or Call 512-88-STAGE.

BONHOEFFER’S COST Is Recommended For Audience Members Age 13 And Up.

Rehearsal Photos

Our incredible Stage Manager, Rebecca Rosenberg, snapped these photos in rehearsals this week.  Things are looking good, and we can’t wait to share the finished product with our audience!

BONHOEFFER’S COST Plays The Sanctuary At Palm Valley Lutheran Church, Located At 2500 East Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock, TX.  The Play Runs Thursday, May 11-Sunday, May 21, 2017.  Performances Are Thursdays – Saturdays At 7:30pm With Matinee Performances On Saturdays And Sundays At 2:30pm.  A Free Post-Show Reception Will Follow The Opening Night Performance On Thursday, May 11th.  A Post-Show Discussion With The Cast And Creative Team Will Follow The Performance On Friday, May 12th And The Evening Performance On Saturday, May 20th.

Tickets Are $12-20 With Discounts Available To Seniors, Students, Teachers/Educators And Current/Ex Military.  To Reserve Tickets, Please Visit Www.Ticketor.Com/Agapetheatre Or Call Us At 512-88-STAGE.

For More Information, Please Visit Http://Www.Agapetheatre.Org/Bonhoeffers-Cost.Html Or Call 512-88-STAGE.

BONHOEFFER’S COST Is Recommended For Audience Members Age 13 And Up.

Perceptions of Bonhoeffer

Now that the show is blocked, we are now at the part of rehearsals where deeper level character analysis comes into play.  Below, our Stage Manager, Rebecca Rosenberg, shares her thoughts on the characters in Bonhoeffer’s Cost and how our perceptions of the characters–and the characters’ perceptions of each other–require plenty of exploration and analysis on our part.

Keoni Ramo (L) as Klaus Klopstock and Cory Grabenstein (R) as Dietrich Bonhoeffer in BONHOEFFER’S COST. Photo by Rebecca Rosenberg.

Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, was imprisoned for 2 years and ultimately executed for plotting several attempts to assassinate Hitler and for helping many Jews escape during WWII. The play takes place in the last 2 years of his life with a few flashbacks.

Perceptions can be so diverse and unique. One may read the words of another and feel emotions and intentions filtered through their own current emotional state of being which gives an entirely unintended meaning to the original work. Some approach only with emotionless logic taking the words at literal face value, empaths may feel only what is not being said, some filter out all positive, some filter out all negative, some cannot register humor, irony, or sarcasm, and some automatically take an opposing stance no matter the words. And on rare occasion, one might be truly perceived, heard, and even understood.

Other people’s perceptions are so interesting to uncover, dissect, and re-interpret, especially when dealing with characters based on actual historical people and their actual personal correspondences. They knew nothing was truly private. There is much speaking in code for everyone’s safety. There are duties and expectations. But what were the emotional truths and connections behind the intentions? One slip or implication in the wrong direction could result in a friend or family member being tortured or killed for more information, whether the threat was real or imagined.

The challenge is finding the real human experience amidst all the fluff, keeping up with appearances, and secrecy. Evidence suggests several different relationship possibilities and interpretations between all the various characters. If only we could ask them what their true intentions and feelings were about each other and everything else going on.

For purposes of an audience coming in with their various established opinions, regardless of and/or despite any historical accuracy as documented, all possibilities are at least somewhat true for an audience. The process of uncovering and discovering these various truths fascinates me. I am grateful to be able to watch this character development unfold.

 

Rebecca Rosenberg
Stage Manager, Bonhoeffer’s Cost

BONHOEFFER’S COST Plays The Sanctuary At Palm Valley Lutheran Church, Located At 2500 East Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock, TX.  The Play Runs Thursday, May 11-Sunday, May 21, 2017.  Performances Are Thursdays – Saturdays At 7:30pm With Matinee Performances On Saturdays And Sundays At 2:30pm.  A Free Post-Show Reception Will Follow The Opening Night Performance On Thursday, May 11th.  A Post-Show Discussion With The Cast And Creative Team Will Follow The Performance On Friday, May 12th And The Evening Performance On Saturday, May 20th.

Tickets Are $12-20 With Discounts Available To Seniors, Students, Teachers/Educators And Current/Ex Military.  To Reserve Tickets, Please Visit Www.Ticketor.Com/Agapetheatre Or Call Us At 512-88-STAGE.

For More Information, Please Visit Http://Www.Agapetheatre.Org/Bonhoeffers-Cost.Html Or Call 512-88-STAGE.

BONHOEFFER’S COST Is Recommended For Audience Members Age 13 And Up.

Staging BONHOEFFER’S COST

Our first week of rehearsals for Bonhoeffer’s Cost are now complete, and things are already moving along quite nicely.  We dove right in with blocking and managed to stage the entire show over the course of just three rehearsals.

Producing the show in a non-traditional, unconventional theater space like the Sanctuary at Palm Valley Lutheran Church poses some interesting challenges.  The playing area isn’t very wide and is incredibly shallow, so we’re very limited as to what we can do with movement.  Still, the smaller space works well for a show like Bonhoeffer’s Cost.  Like the character of Bonhoeffer himself, the show feels confined in a claustrophobic pressure cooker.  The unique limitations of the space also required us to simplify our set.  While the script calls for multiple settings and plenty of furniture, we’ve decided to use only one table, two chairs, and projections to set the scene.  We’re forced to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to staging problems, and that’s an exciting and fulfilling challenge.

Despite all the hard work in rehearsals this week, we still had time to take this video of the Sanctuary which shows the beauty of the 120 year-old building.  We can’t wait to see the pews full of audience members.

 

​This week, we start my favorite part of the rehearsal process as we begin working the show scene by scene and continue to develop the characters and relationships.

Till next time,
Jeff Davis
Director, Bonhoeffer’s Cost

BONHOEFFER’S COST plays The Sanctuary at Palm Valley Lutheran Church, located at 2500 East Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock, TX.  The play runs Thursday, May 11-Sunday, May 21, 2017.  Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30pm with matinee performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm.  A free post-show reception will follow the opening night performance on Thursday, May 11th.  A post-show discussion with the cast and creative team will follow the performance on Friday, May 12th and the evening performance on Saturday, May 20th.

Tickets are $12-20 with discounts available to Seniors, Students, Teachers/Educators and Current/Ex Military.  To reserve tickets, please visit www.ticketor.com/agapetheatre or call us at 512-88-STAGE.

For more information, please visit http://www.agapetheatre.org/bonhoeffers-cost.html or call 512-88-STAGE.

BONHOEFFER’S COST is recommended for audience members age 13 and up.

/ / Bonhoeffer's Cost

The Journey That Lead Us to Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” 
―Dietrich Bonhoeffer

There is no way I could have known how long and winding my journey would be in directing Bonhoeffer’s Cost.  Truth be told, I had no idea I’d embark on this journey in the first place.

A play about a Lutheran hero like Dietrich Bonhoeffer isn’t likely to be on the short list of potential projects for an atheist director like myself, but it’s been on my mind since the summer of 2014.

June 2014 was a busy time for Agape Theatre, then Agape Actors Co-Op.  I was busy directing Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks while planning the rest of our 2014 Season with the assistance of my former Co-Artistic Director, Olin Meadows.  We knew we wanted to do a Christmas show, but we wanted to find one that hadn’t been overseen or overdone in the Austin area.

I recalled seeing a hilarious original comedy when I was living in Los Angeles.  The play involved a community theatre producing their Christmas play while half of their cast and crew is out due to the flu.  It was a side-splitting backstage comedy that showed the best and worst of Murphy’s Law, and I knew it would be a great choice for us.

That show was Suffer the Long Night.  I did some digging and found that as Suffer the Long Night was unpublished, we’d need to contact the playwrights–Mary Ruth Clarke and Greg Gilenna–to get their permission to produce the play.  I contacted them, and they immediately agreed.

And then came an unexpected follow-up e-mail form Mary Ruth.  “I’ve written this other play, Bonhoeffer’s Cost, which I really think you should take a look at.  You’ll find it’s very different from Suffer.

Different was an understatement.  While Suffer the Long Night was a bawdy ensemble slapstick comedy, Bonhoeffer’s Cost was an intimate, gripping biographical drama about a Lutheran pastor and theologian facing judgement for courageously opposing the Nazi regime.

I raced through the script over an hour and some change,  It featured a sharp and smart script with a clever non-linear structure that kept me furiously flipping the pages to find out what happens next.  It was an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, something biographical plays often strive for but seldom achieve.  I knew immediately that I had to direct it.  I wanted to tell this story about a real-life hero, and I knew the project would push me and challenge me in ways I hadn’t been challenged before.

My only concern: would our audience want to see a new, original play about a historical figure known to the Lutheran community but unknown in other circles?  To find out the answer, I added the show to a season planning survey to be sent to Agape’s patrons.  Our audience was given the play’s title and a one-sentence summary of the subject matter.  Bonhoeffer’s Cost garnered more votes than any other show on the survey, including classic American dramas like The Glass Menagerie.  It was clear that, despite being a new and unknown work, this show had an audience.

With that, my journey with Bonhoeffer’s Cost turned from “I want to direct this show” to “I will direct this show.”  We added the play to our 2015 Season with plans to produce it in the fall.

Of course, one question immediately came to mind.  Who did I know who could play Dietrich Bonhoeffer?  Bonhoeffer, especially as he’s portrayed in the play, is an everyman who shows tremendous courage and conviction, even when displaying those character traits will lead to his downfall.  He’s a rebel, a force of nature, but still human.  Still flawed.  Who could I find to play this complicated character, and who could I find who wouldn’t be overly intimidated by a role that called for them to remain on stage for two hours?

Sometime in the spring of 2015, I visited Sam Bass Community Theatre to see Never the Sinner, another biographical drama, this one concerning the infamous murder case of Leopold and Loeb.  The production starred a young man by the name of Cory Grabenstein as prosecuting attorney Robert E. Crowe.  The intensity and nuance Cory brought to the role was palatable, so much so that half way though one of his scenes, my fiancée leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s your Bonhoeffer.”

He was right.  This was a performer who I could tell enjoyed a challenge and had the talent to take on a hefty role.  After the show, I made a point to introduce myself to Mr. Grabenstein.  “Give me your e-mail,” I said. “I have a script you need to read.”  Cory quickly signed on to the project, and after holding auditions for the remaining roles, we started rehearsals in June 2015.

And then our journey stalled.  East View High School, which had been our home for the past year, informed us that due to the growth of several extracurricular programs, we would no longer have access to the East View High School Black Box Theatre.  Our venue was gone.

I regretfully informed my cast that we would have to cancel the production.  However, I assured them I would continue to look for a home for Bonhoeffer’s Cost and that if and when I found it, I would offer them their roles once more.

Six months later, I met a friend for lunch in Round Rock and noticed that the Round Rock Arts Office was half a block away.  I walked in and asked if they could recommend a venue for an upcoming show.  When I told them about the show in question, they suggested that I contact Palm Valley Lutheran Church.

I went home, got on Google, and did a little research on the church.  The gorgeous 120 sanctuary seemed the perfect venue, so I contacted Palm Valley Lutheran Church and sent them the script.

And with that, the journey was no longer stalled.  We had our venue, and it happened to be a thing of beauty with stained glass windows and a vaulted ceiling that added even further gravitas and character to our show.

I immediately contacted my cast, and half of them were able to return.  Cory Grabenstein emphatically returned to the show, as did Rachel Bremer as his fiancée, Maria, and Agape alum Zach Bond as his brother, Klaus.  Agape newcomers TJ Condit, Keoni Ramo, and Frank Benge would round out the cast as prison guard Klaus Klopstock, Bonhoeffer’s ally and brother-in-law Hans Dohnanyi, and the evil Judge Advocate Rott, respectively.

And now, nearly three years after I first read Bonhoeffer’s Cost, this crazy journey is almost complete; we start rehearsals tomorrow Monday, March 26th.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.”   If there is meaning to be found in this journey, I’d wager it’s that we should always have faith.  Whether we believe in God, in the universe, in destiny, or in ourselves, we need to have faith in something.

I’m grateful that the entire Agape Theatre family continued to have faith in this project, because what initially looked like an ending was, in reality, a new beginning.  Losing our venue at East View High School lead us to one even more appropriate and appealing for this particular production, and the subject matter is far more resonant in the political climate of 2017 than it ever was in 2015.  We need to be reminded today that one person can make a difference, and that our courage and conviction is valuable, even if we do not personally gain from our efforts.

As I may never again get the opportunity to direct a new American drama in a 120 year old venue, I want to cherish and record every moment left in this journey.

It is for that reason that this blog, “Notes from Cell 92” exists: to document and share our journey with this incredible project.

I hope you will come back every Sunday to read all about the Bonhoeffer’s Cost family and the process of taking this play from the page to the stage, and I hope you will join us at the journey’s end when Bonhoeffer’s Cost opens this May.

Sincerely,
Jeff Davis
Director, Bonhoeffer’s Cost

BONHOEFFER’S COST plays The Sanctuary at Palm Valley Lutheran Church, located at 2500 East Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock, TX.  The play runs Thursday, May 11-Sunday, May 21, 2017.  Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30pm with matinee performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm.  A free post-show reception will follow the opening night performance on Thursday, May 11th.  A post-show discussion with the cast and creative team will follow the performance on Friday, May 12th and the evening performance on Saturday, May 20th.

Tickets are $12-20 with discounts available to Seniors, Students, Teachers/Educators and Current/Ex Military.  To reserve tickets, please visit www.ticketor.com/agapetheatre or call us at 512-88-STAGE.

For more information, please visit http://www.agapetheatre.org/bonhoeffers-cost/ or call 512-88-STAGE.

BONHOEFFER’S COST is recommended for audience members age 13 and up.

/ / Bonhoeffer's Cost