The University of Kansas
317-A Murphy Hall
1530 Naismith Drive
Lawrence, KS 66045
Story by Charla Jenkins
LAWRENCE---"If the Whole Body Dies: Raphael Lemkin and the Treaty Against Genocide" by Robert Skloot will be staged by the University of Kansas Theatre later this month with the playwright in the title role. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1,3, 4, 5 and at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 2, in the Inge Theatre in Murphy Hall.
John Gronbeck-Tedesco, professor of theatre, is directing the production. Tatyana Wilds, Lawrence doctoral student in scenography, is the scenic, lighting and costume designer. Skloot, professor emeritus of theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will play the role of Lemkin.
The one-act drama was presented as a staged reading at KU in March with Skloot in the leading role. It imagines the last day of Lemkin’s life and his obsession to stop genocide, the word he coined in 1944, through the international treaty he wrote.
Published by Parallel Press in 2006, Skloot's play dramatizes the life-long dedication of Lemkin, a Polish-born Jew who served as a Public Prosecutor in Warsaw, to fight genocide. He published essays on international criminal law, fought against the German siege on his city, and eventually immigrated to the United States in 1941, where he joined the law faculty at Duke University.
He became an advisor to Supreme Court Justice and Nuremberg Trial chief counsel, Robert H. Jackson in 1945. Lemkin’s legal definition of genocide as an offense against international law became a foundation for legal use during the Nuremberg Trials, The General Assembly of the United Nations formally adopted the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” in December 1948.
The drama is set a radio studio somewhere in the U. S., where the play is being broadcast in the presence of a live audience. Actors are costumed as radio actors wearing normal professional garb either soon after Lemkin’s death or in the “now” of the broadcast, Gronbeck-Tedesco explained.
By turns funny and sad, Gronbeck-Tedesco said he hopes the story will stimulate discussions about historical genocide and Lemkin's unfinished mission Included is the original text of the Treaty Against Genocide.
"The play has a clear through line," he said. "The audience witnesses Lemkin's struggle to convince the U.S. government to adopt the term 'genocide' as the official word that labels the purpose of the Holocaust. At times the play seems to occur in Lemkin’s memory, as a series of flashbacks, and throughout the play, he encounters allies and enemies to his cause, including Wisconsin’s Senator Proxmire, who favored the proposal, and Anne Frank, who appears in the play even though the protagonist never met her but certainly drew motivation and inspiration from her."
"The play represents a third- or fourth-generation response to the Holocaust in which the subject is freshened and reignited by using a complex international frame and by creating a tension between the Holocaust as a historical event and the subsequent political conflict over the term 'genocide'," Gronbeck-Tedesco said. "The conflict underscored the resilience of prejudice and inaction even while the images of the gas chambers and their victims were still in circulation across the American media."
Skloot taught and directed plays at UW–Madison, beginning in 1968 and served as an associate vice chancellor from 1996 to 2002. Besides many articles and book chapters, he authored "The Darkness We Carry: The Drama of the Holocaust" and edited the two-volume anthology, "The Theatre of the Holocaust" and "The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and Armenia." He served as a Fulbright Professor in Israel, Austria, Chile and the Netherlands and held a joint appointment in theatre and Wisconsin's Mosse-Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies.
Skloot continues to work across cultures as evident by his most recent collaboration in 2010, "The Magic Bottu: An Empowerment Play for Children.Telugu" in Vijayawada, India.
Several related activities have been planned around the "If the Whole Body Dies" run. Talkbacks will be held after the performances on Nov. 29 and Dec. 2. The playwright/performer will conduct an audience discussion on Nov. 29 and an audience talkback, moderated by Rebecca Rovit, assistant professor of theatre, with the cast and director and Skloot will be Dec. 2.
On Friday, Nov. 30, "Genocide: The Arts, Memorializing Trauma, and Reconciliation," an intra-university colloquium, will be held from 12:00 - 5:00 p.m. in the Hall Center for the Humanities. This event, sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities, Department of Theatre, School of the Arts, and the Center for Global and International Studies, will feature KU speakers Tanya Hartman, Visual Arts; Stephen Egbert, Geography; Stephen Grabow, Architecture; Mariya Omelicheva, Political Science and CREES; Rovit and Gronbeck-Tedesco, Theatre; and special guest, Skloot.
Skloot will speak to a Script Analysis class, at 11:00 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3, in Room 341, Murphy Hall. "Theatre as a Means for Peace-building," an hour-long film screening of "Acting Together on the World Stage," will be held from 1:00 - 2:15 p.m. Dec. 4, also in Room 341, Murphy Hall. Both sessions are open to the public.
General admission seat tickets for "If the Whole Body Dies" are on sale in the KU ticket offices: University Theatre, 864-3982, and Lied Center, 864- ARTS, and on-line at kutheatre.com. Tickets are $10 for the public, $9 for senior citizens and KU faculty and staff, and $5 for all students. All major credit cards are accepted.
Members of the cast for the KU production include (listed by name, class, major, parents’ names, high school, and role):
CHEROKEE COUNTY From Columbus 66725
Brody Horn, sophomore, theatre major, son of Brad and Kelly Horn, Columbus High School, Richard Walsh.
CRAWFORD COUNTY From Pittsburg 66762
James Teller, senior, theatre major, son of Stephen and Nikki Teller, Pittsburg High School, Foley Technician.
DICKINSON COUNTY From Chapman 67431
Caroline Collett, freshman, theatre major, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Keith Collett, Marion High School, Francine Lemkin.
FRANKLIN COUNTY From Ottawa 66067
Janice Craft, non-traditional student, no major, daughter of Betty Wittmeyer, Ottawa High School, Woman.
JOHNSON COUNTY From Overland Park 66212
Margaret Hanzlick, senior, theatre performance major, daughter of Janeé and David Hanzlick, Shawnee Mission South High School, Storyteller and Director.
SHAWNEE COUNTY From Topeka 66614
Sara Kennedy, junior, theatre major, daughter of Holly and Scott Kennedy, Washburn Rural High School, Woman's Voice.
COLORADO From Montrose 81401
Samantha Mitchell Smith, senior, sociology major, daughter of James Mitchell and Christine Boyce, Girl.
MARYLAND From Bethesda 20816
Joe Lilek, freshman, atmospheric science major, son of Michael Lilek and Rosann Wisman, Walt Whitman High School, Man's Voice and Charlie Pierce.
MISSOURI From Blue Springs 64024
Gabriel Goff, junior, theatre major, son of Greg and Val Goff, Blue Springs High School, Floor Attendant.
From Kirkwood 63122
Festus Wade Shaughnessy IV, senior, English and creative writing major, son of Festus and Mary Claire Shaughnessy, Kirkwood High School, Senator William Proxmire.