Based on true events, a group of conscripted young women put their lives on the line three times a day, every day, for Adolf Hitler. A dark comedy that explores the way girls navigated sexuality, friendship and patriotism during the Third Reich, it also considers how power can corrupt, leaving children in the firing line.
Hi Michelle & Sarah thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
Michelle - All is well, thanks!
Sarah - Hi, everything’s great!
How does it feel to be bringing Hitler’s Tasters to Edinburgh Fringe?
Michelle - It’s thrilling. I was once in Edinburgh for a paltry two hours during Fringe and I swore I’d come back and get the full experience. Going there with Hitler’s Tasters is the best possible way to return.
Sarah - It’s exciting; we have an incredible team of female artists that have rallied together to make this happen. The support from friends, family, and fellow artists (some of which are strangers!) have been overwhelming and we are ready to share this powerful production with an international audience.
Are there any nerves ahead of the festival run?
Michelle - Bringing a production from the U.S. and facing international audiences while competing with four-thousand other shows? What could possibly make me nervous?
Sarah - Oh, yea! We performed the show last October in NYC and the run time was 85 minutes. So now we are in the process of making edits and adjustments to ensure an hour-long run time, which is definitely a challenge. Plus, the daunting scope of Fringe, coupled with travelling abroad…I feel like there is so much to do!
Can you tell me a little bit about Hitler’s Tasters, what can we expect?
Michelle - I can tell you that it’s not a typical World War II story. Even though it takes place in the mid- 1940s, there are anachronisms that make these young women feel very present and familiar. Since this is a dark comedy you may laugh and cry at the same time. We encourage all of the feelings—including the love you will feel for our irresistible, ridiculously talented cast of women. Also, you may find yourself dancing in your seat to Madonna.
Sarah - You can expect a thought-provoking (and funny!!) script, topnotch performances, and a pretty terrific soundtrack!
How did you discover this story?
Michelle - I was at a World War II museum with a friend who said casually, “Did you read that article about the young women who were Adolph Hitler’s food tasters?” He started to walk away but I froze like a character in a cheesy Hollywood movie, struck with inspiration. I said (a little too loudly), “Halt! Turn around! Say it again!” He did. The second time it came out of his mouth, I knew I would write this story.
Sarah - I was asked to direct a staged reading of Hitler’s Tasters for a theater in New Jersey as part of a Female Reading Festival. From there, the play won the Susan Glaspell Award and was offered a production. Michelle kindly requested to work with me again and we’ve made a great team ever since!
"Part of the genius of Michelle’s play is in the anachronisms, blending elements of today’s world in a story set against the backdrop of the 1940s."
What was it about this story that interested you as a playwright?
Michelle - When I heard that Hitler was using young women to test his food for poison, I thought, “Good lord, isn’t adolescence hard enough?” I’ve always been interested in and troubled by the way society treats young women. We’re simultaneously worshipful and dismissive. I couldn’t stop wondering what a group of girls would do with themselves in-between potentially poisoned meals. What would they talk about, how would they distract themselves? What mechanism (Denial? Fear? Belief?) has to kick in for a young woman to survive that experience? Franky, I couldn’t imagine who wouldn’t want to write this story.
What have been the biggest challenges bringing a play to life?
Michelle - With any play, the biggest challenge for me is finding the right people at the right time who really get the work and can make it soar. I hit the jackpot with this cast and crew.
When a production like Hitler’s Tasters is running is it always evolving or are you able to avoid changing too much of it?
Michelle - The play has been evolving since its inception. Every reading, every production has given the play a chance to get deeper, wider, shinier. The New York production landed us in a very solid place, but I fully expect the Fringe audience to teach us even more about the play. We will make adjustments accordingly as long as it won’t drive the actors crazy.
Sarah - This iteration will be new and fresh because we are cutting about 25 minutes from the original production. But, there is something exciting and Fringe about that, so we are embracing the challenge!
What was it about Michelle’s play that connected with you as a director?
Sarah - Not only does Hitler’s Tasters break many “traditional” playwriting rules, but it also challenges the audience to fall in love with four young girls enchanted by arguably one of the most despicable leaders in history. Part of the genius of Michelle’s play is in the anachronisms, blending elements of today’s world in a story set against the backdrop of the 1940s. There is no hiding from the fact that history repeats itself. Our girls are holding cellphones, taking selfies, dancing to Madonna. We recognize these girls from our own lives, struggling to make sense of the world, and regurgitating ideas without understanding them. In no way is the breaking of rules meant to isolate, but rather, the artistic liberties were taken are meant to humanize a time and place that seems so long ago, yet are incredibly urgent and of the moment.
How would you describe Hitler’s Tasters in 3 words?
Michelle - Sexuality, patriotism, poison.
Sarah - Female-centric, patriotism, anachronistic
"Make mistakes! Have the courage to make beautiful, messy, outrageous mistakes."
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Michelle - I always loved going to the theatre, but I came to playwriting late. I was firmly set in a career as a journalist when I finally got the nerve to try playwriting. Then I was hooked.
Sarah - I went to university as an undeclared major and signed up for Intro to Theatre as an art elective. My class was required to see all of the productions, and the first play of the season was Equus. It changed my life. I left the performance that night and declared myself a theatre major the next day! I've seen so many plays, musicals, workshops, readings over the last 20 years, but I have a vivid recollection of that production: the simple theatricality, brave acting, stunning design. I had never experienced anything like it in my life and I was hooked.
Has your style and approach to creating your shows changed much since you started?
Michelle - I hope so! When I started, I created way too many characters and wrote endless set changes. Clearly, I thought people would be throwing buckets of money at my productions. I also thought that everything I wrote would come out on stage exactly the way I heard it in my head. It took a while before I really got the hang of the collaboration involved and a clear understanding of the space restrictions of a theatre. I plunge into writing a play with much more information now. But the messy madness of writing remains the same mysterious process. It’s a great leap of faith, every time.
Sarah - Most definitely. I have a lot more confidence than when I first started out, and I’m much more present and aware of what other artists are offering. When I was younger, I had everything planned out (blocking, research, character analysis) and even though I still do that work, I’m much more interested and open to trusting others ideas – it makes the collaboration richer and much more fun!
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
Michelle - Don’t be too precious about the work. Writing demands a lot of flexibility.
Sarah - Find collaborators you trust and make the process a challenging and rewarding experience. Also, and I kinda love this, don’t work with assholes.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
Michelle - Read and see gobs of theatre. You can learn as much from a bad play as a good play. Although I’d rather sit through a good one.
Sarah - Make mistakes! Have the courage to make beautiful, messy, outrageous mistakes. Just be sure, once you recognize that you’ve made a mistake, you have the confidence to say, “Hey team, I made a mistake. Let’s try something else!” Laugh. Move on. Then make another mistake.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
Michelle - I always hope that the audience will have an emotional experience—that they leave caring about what’s happened to the characters on stage. With Hitler’s Tasters, my most idealistic self also hopes that people will come away with a reminder—a little nudge about the historic dangers of complacency.
Sarah - I hope they will be surprised and moved by the show. Ideally, they will leave the theatre reflecting on complacency and the disturbing notion that history repeats itself.