Hotel Modern’s KAMP at St. Ann’s Warehouse

Just got back from Hotel Modern‘s KAMP at St. Ann’s Warehouse and it was a really moving experience. Here’s a picture I took of some of the figures they used:

Anyone who knows me knows I’m very wary of Holocaust-related work of any kind. Generally speaking I feel that there is no way to adequately capture the horror and pretty much any attempt to depict it, by definition, belittles it. I’ve often said that if you want to do something on the Holocaust you need to cast severely anorexic people as cast members or you need to do something extreme like invite people to bring their pets and then kill the pets. In my opinion, there are very few ways into the subject matter that will make it truly portray the evil and vastness of the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis.

All that being said, Hotel Modern’s KAMP was a surprisingly effective and moving work of object theater that found a new way into the subject matter and made it seem relevant and important. In KAMP, Hotel Modern blends drama, music, film and performance in a vast installation that fills the St. Ann’s Warehouse stage with a scale replica of Auschwitz, including the over-crowded barracks, the haunting railway track, and the famous gateway with the slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei,” through which the prisoners passed every day on their way to “work.” Thousands of three-inch-tall, hand-crafted puppets representing the prisoners and guards, without dialogue, engage in the camp’s day-to-day activities—from sweeping and digging to the equally “routine” operating of the gas chambers and crematoria. Trains arrive, and selections are made. Events are played out in real-time physical manipulations of the tiny puppets and projected onto the set’s rear wall by the live performers, who move through the installation like giant war reporters filming daily camp life with handheld miniature cameras.

The overall effect is like a documentary and the small moments that are portrayed resonate deeply. For some reason I was particularly moved by a sequence with a soldier filling the shower drains with Zyklon B. It was a stirring reminder that the gas chambers, used to annihilate prisoners en masse, were run by people, that they required active participation of the jailers. Another stirring moment was when a worker fell ill and was beaten to death by a guard.

The thousands of miniatures – and the faithfully rendered camp itself – gave a sense of the vastness of the genocide. Hotel Modern doesn’t not using a specific narrative of specific characters, just a pastiche of images, implicating the audience as witness to the unspeakable. The form itself – object theater with obvious human manipulators – is a poignant reminder of the human hand in destroying so much life.

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