Eleanor’s Story Comes to Chapel off Chapel – an interview with Ingrid Garner

eleanors-story

What was the inspiration behind your show?
Eleanor’s Story is a theatrical adaptation of my grandmother’s best-selling memoir of her youth, growing up as an American caught in World War II Berlin. In 1939, when she was nine, Eleanor’s family moved from the US to Germany, where a great job awaited her father in Berlin. But war broke out when they crossed the Atlantic, and returning to America became impossible. Her family faced hunger, fascist oppression, carpet bombings, the Russian invasion and the terrors of Soviet occupancy.

The idea to adapt Eleanor’s Story into a play was suggested to me by my now producer, Richard Maritzer, when I was running tech on his show at the Winnipeg Fringe in Canada. I was one month away from starting my final year of university as a theatre arts major at California State University, Fullerton. I was becoming worried about the uncertain reality of the entertainment world and how I might find a place in it.

Richard introduced me to the concept of a Fringe Festival and pointed out that I had a pretty impressive connection to one of the most epic stories either of us had heard: Eleanor’s. Not only is the dramatic nature of the story well suited for theatrical interpretation, but the story also has the spectacular novelty of having the actual granddaughter, me, to play the role of the grandmother and relatives.

What was it that made you want to become a performer?
Before I did my first play in high school, I had been studying agriculture for three years and was on my way to becoming a sheep farmer. But when I threw myself into playing a character on stage, everything in my life improved. My grades, with which I had always struggled, shot up. I became more active, less private, and happier. I think it was an excellent example of how valuable the arts can be in a child’s life.

Until I started acting, I had so little confidence in myself, I had always felt stupid because I struggled so much with my education. But throwing myself into a production and a character, I finally found something I was really good at. And the passion that ignited in me enhanced every other aspect of my life.

How do you think the show is relevant in today’s world?
My grandmother and I have regularly been surprised by the universal appeal this story holds to audiences worldwide. I believe this is a testament to the unimaginably unique tale of survival, but also the universality of its material. While my grandmother’s circumstances were entirely individual – an American child growing up in Nazi Berlin during WWII – the things she experienced are the unfortunate consequences of every war. This is a story about citizens in wartime, the victims we seem to hear the least from. Which is why, 70 years later, this play continues to be relevant.

How do you think audiences will respond to the show and its topics?
Everywhere I’ve performed this show, its attended by survivors of WWII, many of whom approach me afterwards in tears, identifying so much with magical young Eleanor and feeling like their own childhood selves have finally been acknowledged. Also, the children and grandchildren of these survivors often tell me how valuable it is to them to know what happened, experiences their relatives are too pained to share.

My hope is that people feel inspired to inquire with their surviving family members about their war stories. Each memory a survivor shares puts a human face on the horrors of war and allows us to see that these were people, not numbers.

What’s it like touring as a solo artist?
For many, it can be lonely and isolating, and I’m sure there are times ahead of me where I will experience that. But so far, I have been so fortunate to have always been on the road with my friends, the ‘Sound & Fury’ boys. They help me out wherever they can and vice versa. It is often intimidating, though, to go to new cities and learn the transportation system or meet the stranger you’ll be staying with. However, every new place I go I have met like-minded artists with my sense of humour who lend their support as instant close friends.

Can you recommend any must-see shows to our readers?
The aforementioned Sound & Fury boys are doing my favorite show of theirs – ‘Hamlet and Juliet’ – right after mine from 19-19 March at 9pm at Chapel off Chapel. It’s a comedic, vaudevillian mash-up of the two Shakespearean tragedies.

Originally published by Maggie Journal

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