The Escape Act – A Holocaust Memoir is a one-woman show written and performed by Stav Meishar. Part of a larger project researching the life of Jewish circus performers under the Nazi regime, The Escape Act is the culmination of seven years of ongoing research into this niche of Jewish history.
Meishar brings the story of Irene to life through the performance, telling her tale across performance venues but also in schools, synagogues, and community centres.
The show tells the true story of Irene Danner-Storm, a young Jewish woman working as a circus performer in Nazi Germany. Although focused on Irene and her struggles, Meishar continuously breaks up Irene’s story to tell pieces of her own. This contrast between the past and present is jarring at first but, as the narrative comes together, the end of the performance becomes all the more poignant.
The Escape Act uses elements of circus to tell its story. A circus performer and acrobat in real-life, Meishar enters the stage doing cartwheels across the floor, as a trapeze hangs from the ceiling, capturing the audience’s attention from the beginning. The story of Irene Danner-Storm is told through puppetry, projection, and acrobatic stunts. A mini circus tent full of seemingly unending props sits centre-stage, with Meishar running in and out to exchange props throughout the performance.
The reliance on props (including puppets of all shapes and sizes) takes the play back to a traditional storytelling mode, and the effect of this is clear. It also allows Meishar to show off her skills as a performer; having a cast of so many characters and only one person to play them all wouldn’t be possible without the myriad of props and puppets.
Some scenes of the performance have up to four characters interacting with each other at once – it is these scenes where Meishar’s performance really shone. Meishar demonstrates her skill as a performer as she switches between characters at a lightning pace, whilst still maintaining differentiation between them.
The more emotional aspects of Irene’s story are told with the aid of the trapeze; Meishar takes to the ceiling as tensions arise, performing stunts and tricks whilst narrating the turn of events that raised the stakes for Irene. The daredevil-like performances on the trapeze represent the real-life dangers that Irene faced at these points in the narrative.
As Irene’s story is told, Meishar regularly interrupts to provide more context into Irene’s background, explaining why she made the choices she did regarding the performance, and to tell her own story in relation to Irene’s. Far from breaking up the flow of the performance, these disruptions enrich both Irene’s story and the wider context of Jewish persecution under Nazi Germany. It also serves as a poignant reminder that the past is still relevant; most of the tales recounted within this performance happened within living memory.
The Escape Act is an emotional and deeply necessary performance that goes beyond the stage and into the community. Irene’s story is inspiring, and Meishar’s performance is a reclamation of a part of history that almost slipped by unnoticed.
To read about Irene’s story and the Circus Jew Under National Socialism project go to TheEscapeActShow.