World events taking place thousands of miles away have hit close to home for Midland University Arts students.
Following their recent performances of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” cast and crew members helped raise nearly $6,000 to help displaced families in Ukraine following the Russian invasion in late February. The money is being donated to World Central Kitchen, an organization working to feed Ukrainian families along the Poland border.
“During one of our rehearsals, Brendan Westlake (who portrayed Otto Frank) informed the cast and crew that Russia had just invaded Ukraine,” Lee Meyer, Adjunct Professor of Theatre and director for “The Diary of Anne Frank,” said. “You could tell right away the students were deeply affected. I think the play became very personal after that.”
“The Diary of Anne Frank” focuses on a young girl in hiding for two years during Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. Westlake said the news of Russia’s invasion felt like history repeating itself. “We’re working on this show about a European conflict, and then we all realized it was happening again. I think the realization was overwhelming,” he said.
Meyer recalled World Central Kitchen embarking on Fremont in the spring of 2019 following massive flood damage that left many people homeless. “I knew the cast and crew were thinking about the refugees and injured people from Ukraine, and I immediately thought of the WCK,” Meyer said. “They were on the border of Poland helping the people of Ukraine, so we came up with the idea of taking a collection following each performance to send to the WCK.”
Through the efforts of the cast and crew and the generosity of the Fremont community, they raised nearly $6,000 to help fund WCK’s efforts. Westlake said the emotion of the performance was only topped by the emotional support given by the audience afterward. “As sad as the show itself is, seeing people’s generosity after the show was the part that always got us,” he said. “You saw all this raw emotion when the audience realized they could do something to help.”
As president of the Beta Sigma Psi fraternity, Westlake and fellow members are working to raise even more money for the cause. Beta Sigma Psi will be hosting a barbecue Thursday, March 31, from noon to 3 p.m. in front of Clemmons Hall. The event is open to everyone on campus, and in the Fremont community, with all proceeds going to WCK.
Meyer said the impact the cast and crew made hit home following one of the performances when a man in the audience introduced a foreign exchange student from Ukraine who was staying with his family. “This student was just sobbing, and she couldn’t even speak,” Meyer said. “We know this is just a drop in the bucket, but I know the WCK will use it to feed as many people as they can. I think this experience brought our entire cast and crew closer together. We became a real family while helping others.”