Cal State Fullerton student, Ingrid Garner is preparing to take her grandmother’s struggle to the stage in a captivating show about an American girl and her family’s determination to survive in Nazi Germany during World War II.
Garner, 21, a theatre arts major, is adapting her grandmother Eleanor Ramrath Garner’s book, into a one-woman play.
Written as a memoir in a non-fiction book, Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany, is about Eleanor’s life as an American girl surviving in Hitler’s regime.
The adaptation, which is still in the writing process, is being drafted almost exclusively by Garner. Not only is she writing the play, but she is also acting each role.
At 9 years old, Eleanor and her family moved from the United States to Germany during the Great Depression. She hoped for an Allied victory, yet for years was forced to survive under the Allied bombs shattering her neighborhood. Her family dealt with separations, starvation, the fierce battle for Berlin and the terrors of Soviet occupancy, according to the inside panel of the book jacket.
Producing a monodrama, can be difficult, but Garner is looking forward to portraying her grandmother. She has the unique challenge of playing her father, mother, brother and various other people her grandmother interacted with.
“It’s extremely intimidating to be the only person on stage and talk for an hour,” Garner said. “But it’s just kind of the way it has to be in this theater festival format.”
Of all the characters Garner will be taking on, she said her grandmother in her youth will be the most important and most challenging.
“Particularly about Eleanor’s character, it’s portraying a person who is really damaged. She’s just gone through the formative years of her life in a war; seeing death, seeing all her friends die, becoming very close to death, rape and other serious tragedies,” Garner said.
Having varied emotions is important to keep the flow of the play going without becoming too dramatic. There is a positive and entertaining aspect to Eleanor’s character that has to be portrayed among all the seriousness.
“The way that the book is written is kind of magical. It’s a very interesting perspective because it’s through a 9 to 15-year-old’s eye and there’s a naivete and a charm to that,” Garner said. “So even though it’s very tragic material, there’s a distance or a light-heartedness.”
Eleanor’s book tells the story of Hitler’s Germany through a new and unique perspective.
“You do not often hear the first-hand experience of someone living in Germany during the war. The eyes of a nine-year-old girl during war time in Berlin (is) unique, heartfelt and memorable,” said Craig Tyrl, the play’s director.
Garner was motivated to adapt her grandmother’s memoir into a play by her love for telling stories. She developed this passion from her grandmother, who she describes as a brilliant storyteller.
“I’m a story teller. I feel like above everything else, that’s my biggest passion,” Garner said. “And I think this is like the most epic story. And it’s a story that belongs to me.”
Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany will premiere at CSUF as part of the Fringe Festival at the end of the spring semester and will continue its journey to other Fringe and theater festivals around the world.
Garner will premiere the one-hour play at CSUF during the final week of the semester. She will then travel to Canada where she will present the play at a small theater festival.
She hopes to eventually take her show to Edinburgh, Scotland, Perth and Adelaide Australia and perhaps Berlin.
Eleanor will be in Fullerton on March 22 to speak about her experience living in Nazi Germany. The event will take place at 2 p.m. at the Fullerton Museum Center.
Ingrid Garner will perform her original adapted play at CSUF on May 9 at 7 p.m. and May 10 at 3 p.m. in the Arena Theater. Admission is free to the public.
Mia McCormick contributed to this report.