Swing Kids’ play heavy, but also fun
“Swing Kids” deals with heavy issues, but that hasn’t discouraged Yuba River Charter School students from having fun with the play that premieres Monday.
The play is based on real-life Hamburg, Germany, teen-agers who, in 1939, opposed Adolph Hitler’s ban on music by blacks and Jews.
In “Swing Kids,” the teens rebel against their government’s policy, smuggle the forbidden music into Germany, dress like the banned swing musicians, and attend secret dance clubs. Some of the teens later helped Jews escape Nazi Germany during World War II.
Twenty-four eighth graders will present their teacher’s screenplay adaptation of the 1993 film “Swing Kids” Monday and Tuesday.
When asked what impressed them most about the play, the three students gave mixed reactions.
James Hernandez, 14, already knew about Nazi Germany.
“I think it’s kind of interesting that Hitler could have so much power,” he said, “that he could say stuff and blind people because he could speak so well.”
The 14-year-old was fascinated that teens in the play promoted their principles through music, even at high peril to themselves.
“Music is such a small subject, but they based their statements, their lives, their language on it,” Hernandez said. “Many of them were sent to work camps or recruited for war in the most dangerous positions where they would die.”
“Swing kids didn’t think it was right not to be able to listen to music. A lot of them helped the Resistance (against the Nazis) in France later on,” Hernandez added.
But Hernandez doesn’t want Monday’s and Tuesday’s performances to come off as a Holocaust history lesson. He said he wants the audience to be entertained instead.
Caitlin Langston, 13, was already familiar with the Holocaust.
Her great-grandfather was Jewish, and she watched “Shindler’s List” with her parents five or six years ago.
“It’s really kind of bizarre how people would kill people because of music, religion or hair color (Hitler wanted blond hair),” Langston said. “The play’s making me appreciate more things like religion, my life, freedom. The play makes me more cautious about abusing my privileges or having people abuse my privileges.”
Her favorite part of the play wasn’t reflecting on history, however, but learning how to swing dance.
“I never got into dancing much, just a few ballet classes. Swing is a lot funner. It’s as hard as it looks,” said Langston, who wants to attend a swing dance camp this summer.
Students worked on the play for a month. A dance teacher was hired to give them about 10 lessons.
Aaron Jahoda, 14 and Jewish, had heard a lot about the Holocaust from his mother for years.
“The play is very cool, focusing on one of the lesser things known about the war, that swing dancing was illegal and that Germans prosecuted people for doing it,” he said. “It was kind of interesting how they forbade black and Jewish artists.”
Even though the play made Jahoda remember the past, his favorite part of the play was also trying swing dancing.
“At first, the dancing was challenging. Now it’s fun. It didn’t take long to learn,” he said.
Every year, eighth-grade teacher Patricia Montijo – who has been with the same class since third grade – integrates a play into her curriculum.
“I want students to live a little bit of history,” Montijo said. She has seen students in previous years act out their character roles during recess and class discussions.
“The immersion in the story as they say their lines over and over helps them feel what it was like to be a German boy so pressured that he turns in his father,” Montijo said. “Whether the students are willing to admit they’re taking more in is individual.”
Lieba Geft, director of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s museum of tolerance, which is an educational division of the center in Los Angeles, said the play could encourage students to question their own assumptions, beliefs and values through music, dance and entertainment.
Since 1977, the international center has preserved the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement, educational outreach and social action.
“The actors in ‘Swing Kids’ have an opportunity to question themselves, to walk in the characters’ footsteps,” Geft said, “and ask ‘Do these challenges still confront us today and would we have the courage to defend these positions today?'”
Geft noted that it’s everyone’s personal responsibility and civic duty to understand why the “swing kids” made the choices they did 63 years ago.
Montijo agrees with Geft.
“The children, when they experience that German boy with his father, that’s the same sentiment,” Montijo said. “From the kids’ perspective, they don’t want a boring old history lesson. They want the play to be fun for the audience. For me, the play is a way to teach history – they’re living it.”
WHAT: “Swing Kids”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
WHERE: Building 2 of Yuba River Charter School, 13026 Bitney Springs Road
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