Go Deeper

Who Will Carry The Word?: Jess Searight Q&A

Posted July 30th, 2009

Playing Regine in Charlotte Delbo‘s play Who Will Carry the Word?, Jess Searight must tap into the frightening legacy and difficult psychology of the Holocaust. This isn’t the first time Jess has been involved with Live Arts and Fringe. She participated in a workshop with Rotozaza in 2008, and appeared in the 2007 Fringe one-act Distortion of Reality is a Necessity to Live. She’s entering her last year of acting studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, where Who Will Carry the Word? premiered last fall. I recently talked to Jess about acting in the adaptation of Who Will Carry the Word?

How does this show vary from the original text?
The [script] is about a group of women in the camp who are part of the French resistance. Our show is not about the resistance. Ours centers on the 20 women in the camp. It’s a little shorter, and a couple of the scenes are cut out because we have three fewer characters.

What happens to the play when you remove the French resistance?
With the original script, the whole thing was mainly the women trying to get that one person to stay alive, one person able to tell the story. In our play, it’s the whole group of women trying to survive together and grouping up together.

Most of the characters still die. In both versions there are only two survivors. In our version, because we cut it down, we have more dialogue at the end by one person who lists how everybody dies, where the original script shows the actual deaths.

How does your character die?
It’s a secret how I die [well, Jess wouldn’t tell me, anyway – NG], but I have the funniest death, a very funny death.

How did you get to the mental space you needed to for this show?
As a group, we watched a whole bunch of Holocaust movies together. The first rehearsal was just watching Schindler’s List. The Gray Zone, and documentaries. We spent one rehearsal just watching a whole bunch of docs our director found.

We’d play a version of Red Light Green Light with the director’s wife as a Nazi guard. Instead of going back, some of us would die, some of us would have to go back and crawl, to get the feel of having German Gestapo and officers address you, to get that random don’t-know-what’s-next sense.

We met [a Holocaust survivor] one day early in the process. She went through eight different camps in seven years, and she was one of the only ones in her family to survive. We didn’t actually work with her for the show, just heard her story, and the next time we saw her was her opening night. She talked afterwards about how she thought it was the truest and most real interpretation of the Holocaust she’d ever seen.

Who Will Carry the Word? has a run of 11 performances at this fall’s Philly Fringe; all shows at 2nd Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia.

–Nicholas Gilewicz