Signs Of Life Coming to the Victory Gardens Theater this Fall

May 8, 2013
Signs Of Life

SIGNS OF LIFE, A Tale of Terezin, is thrilled to announce its Chicago premiere this fall at the Zacek McVay Theater at Victory Gardens Theater (2433 N Lincoln Ave) for a limited six week engagement Sep. 18 - Oct. 27, 2013 with Press Night on Sep. 25, 2013.

SIGNS OF LIFE, a new drama with music based on the true story of the Czech ghetto Theresienstadt, tells one of the most fascinating and least known stories of the Holocaust.

Originally founded by the Nazis, Theresienstadt was specifically designated for the academic and artistic Jews of Europe.  In an attempt to deceive the Red Cross and sway public perception, the Nazis decided to "beautify" the ghetto and commission a propaganda film.  SIGNS OF LIFE shows the struggles of the captives of Theresienstadt as they try to expose the truth through art and music--and in doing so, discover the humanity they all share.

The inception of the musical began when creator Virginia S. Criste chose to visit the ghetto Theresienstadt, located in what was then Czechoslovakia, to learn more about her grandparents, who spent their last days there. At that time, there was only a small exhibit and a depository of artifacts that they allowed her to view in the company of a Museum official. 

"Spending a day with the remnants of hand-drawn posters announcing show performances, cabaret tickets, albums of dorm life, and so much more was hard to forget," stated Criste.

Leaving Theresienstadt, Criste continued to think about the inhabitants of the ghetto, not just of the horrors they faced, but also about how they strove to keep music and theatre alive as a vital part of their captivity. She commissioned composer Joel Derfner, lyricist Len Schiff and librettist Peter Ullian to come together and shape the musical, with Chicago direction by Lisa Portes and musical direction by Mike Pettry.

Writing a musical about captives living in a ghetto during the Holocaust is not an easy task; the authors had to take a heartbreaking time in world history and turn it into a human story, a story infused with the life, spirit, and even humor of the people who lived these events.  And when people see SIGNS OF LIFE, they see the emotion and humanity of this piece.

As a ghetto filled with artists, musicians and thespians, among others, a great deal of artwork arose from Theresienstadt that still exists today.  SIGNS OF LIFE incorporates a number of pieces from the original artwork. "We want to use the visuals available to us to help tell the story," commented Criste.

SIGNS OF LIFE is a story that must be told, and it's never been told quite this way before.  "It is an important story because it was an event of tremendous importance to Jewish, European, and Western history, and as such, is still important today, in knowing who we are and where we come from," said librettist Peter Ullian.  "That said, living in a time as fraught as ours, a time of peril, violence, authoritarianism, secretarianism and genocide, a story about people trying to hold on to what makes them human, to bear witness to horror, and to struggle to make difficult moral choices, has a strong contemporary resonance."

"It's a story about what it's like to be caught in a web of tyranny and deception, and what people do mentally and emotionally to survive it; we want people to see it not only as a Holocaust story, but as a human story," concluded Criste.