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'F' is for feelings

Evening at the University of Puget Sound seeks to commemorate and educate

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Think about “entertainment” and the visuals that spring to mind.

Jazz hands, punk rock, blues guitar, a chamber quartet, lights and action in a dark movie theatre, or possibly even slapstick antics on a stage might have popped into that brain.

Think about “entertainer” and different, possibly related images might pop up. Maybe Britney Spears in schoolgirl persona or possibly as a mother shamed. Possibly, you might visualize Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago,” or even Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge,” both showing that there are film actresses who can do more than look pretty while reading lines.

Coming to the University of Puget Sound Kilworth Memorial Chapel Thursday, Nov. 8 at 7:0 p.m., an entertainer will show a completely different side of entertainment than pretty much everything mentioned above.

Claudia Stevens, visiting scholar in music at the College of William and Mary, who has performed the piece as the centerpiece of Holocaust and Kristallnacht observances in more than 100 communities across the country, will perform her original work “An Evening with Madame F.” The event is scheduled to commemorate Kristallnacht, a night of violence and destruction that marked the tipping point in the violence against Jews in Germany prior to World War II, which culminated in the atrocities of concentration camps.

“An Evening with Madame F” combines Stevens’ vocal, instrumental, writing, and acting skills; the one-woman piece is a reflection through the eyes of a conflicted Holocaust survivor who was, herself, an entertainer.

Fania Fenelon, daughter of a Jewish father and Catholic mother, was a cabaret singer in Paris. As a supporter of the French Resistance, she was arrested and tortured. In Auschwitz, she was a member of the girl orchestra, and her very survival depended on her being entertaining.

Even while she had the seemingly frivolous job of delighting the Nazis, she watched prisoners take their last walks to the gas chambers, and endured hurled insults as she fought for her own survival.

The true story sets up an intriguing set of circumstances for Stevens to explore in her piece, as she poses as the elderly Fenelon contemplating the horror, the guilt and occasionally even the ironies of her time in the orchestra.

While it’s possible you won’t leave Kilworth Chapel feeling light-hearted and full of mirth after the event, you may walk away feeling the strength of human spirit, and thinking twice about what it means to be “entertained.”

[Kilworth Memorial Chapel, Thursday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m., free, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner, Tacoma, 253.879.3419]

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