A Pittsburgh-based theater company was awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which it will use to stage the world premiere of a Holocaust narrative.
Prime Stage Theatre is one of 1,251 recipients of Grants for Arts Projects awards, which total nearly $29 million.
The grant supports the stage adaptation of “Perseverance,” which is adapted from the book “Perseverance: A Holocaust Survivor’s Journey from Poland to America.” The book is co-written by Melvin Goldman and his daughter Lee Goldman Kikel, and is written from audio recordings Melvin Goldman made decades after World War II and accented by his daughter’s memories of Pittsburgh.
“I am honored to have the support of the NEA as we bring this important true story of a local Holocaust survivor who persevered and inspired many people to life on stage,” said Wayne Brinda, producing artist director of Prime Stage Theatre. “Through this play, he will continue to inspire many others.”
Goldman, who lived in Squirrel Hill, appeared to have a typical, post-war life. But the real story is another thing entirely.
Goldman saw his home destroyed, his family torn apart, his health ruined and nearly everyone he had known murdered in the death camps of the Third Reich, according to a statement from Prime Stage Theatre. Throughout his trials, he refused to let his experience destroy his faith in God or his love for humanity.
“From hearing my father’s voice, and realizing his intent to tell his story to the world, to completing the book, and now seeing this remarkable story come to life on stage, I hope this testimony of hope inspires a global audience,” said Lee Goldman Kikel.
Jason Kikel described listening to cassette tapes recorded by his grandfather, Melvin Goldman.
“Hearing this recollection, I imagined Melvin in his office, sitting in front of a tape recorder, recounting many emotions — love, nostalgia, despair and hope,” Jason Kikel said. “To see this manifest on stage at Prime Stage Theatre is a true gift. A Pittsburgh premiere is a tribute to the city he called home for over 45 years.”
L.E. McCullough wrote the play and is pleased that Prime Stage “specializes in plays that let audiences see world events through the eyes of an individual and connect with people we might think are totally remote to us,” he said.
“Watching the story of Melvin Goldman and the Goldman family, we realize it’s our story, too,” McCullough said.
“Melvin Goldman was a natural storyteller and very astute observer of human behavior,” McCullough added. “The play is structured around his insights into not just surviving the terror of Nazism but what it took for him to rebuild his life in Pittsburgh, which ended up focusing on his artistry as a skilled jewelry designer. We see the who of Melvin Goldman unfold through the play. Each scene reveals at least one of his essential character traits, and it gives us a full picture of his extraordinary journey to heal and become the person the war had interrupted. Revealing those traits is the structure of the play.”
The premiere, for which Prime Stage is collaborating with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, is set for April. There will be two live performances at the New Hazlett Theater and then it will be streamed locally and worldwide in May with closed captioning and audio description, theater officials said.
The NEA said it is proud to support arts projects in communities nationwide.
“Projects such as this one with Prime Stage Theatre strengthen arts and cultural ecosystems, provide equitable opportunities for arts participation and practice, and contribute to the health of our communities and our economy,” NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson said. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.