You’ve had a lengthy and successful career as a trial lawyer, how did you become involved in theater and when?
Theatre has always been my passion, my first love. I started performing as a kid. My parents tell me that I was “directing” – – at least attempting to direct — friends in the neighborhood and community center plays before my teens, not to the delight of the other kids. I performed in summer stock and in theatre as a youngster through high school, heading to college with the firm intention of going after an acting career. But my late father, a child of the Great Depression, was a realist. “What’s your back-up — you can’t even screw in a light bulb!”
He was right. So I “deferred” acting until after law school. Then I needed some experience as a lawyer. I knew it would be litigation– the closest thing to being on stage in the legal profession. In many ways, a litigator is an actor who makes a living. I was hired by one of the best litigation firms in the nation, and ambition soon overtook earlier plans. I made partner, developed a national reputation, tried cases and argued appeals throughout the country, and handled many high profile cases. Not a modest summary, but it explains why my “intermission” lasted decades.
About six years ago, my original hunger — which had never really gone away — came back strong. Now or never? Now won, and I returned to theatre. I immersed myself in acting study at The William Esper Studio and with a number of acting coaches. I began auditioning, experiencing the “thrill” of rejections until I finally started to land roles in NY, where I was then living full time, and then in LA, which became the start of my bi-coastal life. It’s been hard, bumpy, frustrating — but exhilirating. And so far, so good
What is the genesis of Wasatch Theatrical Ventures and what shows has Wasatch produced (and when)?
Wasatch Theatrical Ventures (WTV) was established in 2010 fueled by a passion to produce great American plays, exclusively penned by established American Playwrights and to present those plays in intimate theatres, where the dynamic between audience and actor is unique. WTV takes pride in presenting intimate theater with the highest level of production values while making the plays available to the public at low ticket prices. WTV’s ultimate goal is to make all of this possible, and to support the creative theater community that brings it to life.
Wasatch Theatrical Ventures has produced three major productions in Los Angeles since its inception: Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, The Prisoner of Second Avenue by Neil Simon, and the West Coast Premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s Our House. All of the productions have received critical acclaim and were well-received by audience members alike.
What drew you to choose the newly adapted version of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK by Wendy Kesselman to be your next production? How did her version differ from the original?
Wendy Kesselman’s new adaptation is both truest to Anne’s diary — including portions which were omitted from the play as originally written because of perceived audience sensibilities at the time — and it is also the most riveting. It received universal critical and audience acclaim on Broadway. It brings Anne’s world to life as no other version. This is the one to see. So this is the one we chose to present.
You have produced and performed in previous Wasatch productions. What made you decide to direct this particular play?
As a teen, I played Anne’s Annex love interest, Peter Van Daan, in a production of the original DIARY at Carnegie Mellon. I have been haunted by the play ever since, as I have by the Holocaust. I made a silent pledge at Carnegie Mellon to present DIARY when I “grew up.” It’s taken awhile, but when the time came — now — I wanted to embrace the whole of it, all of the characters, all of the turbulent emotions. That led me to agree to direct it, which is a great gift. We have an extraordinarily talented cast. Working with them is a privilege.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in directing this production?
Biggest challenge? Staying out of the way of my great cast! And keeping my eyes dry. Letting the iconic – but true story be told as Anne wrote it, which is just what Kesselman’s adaption does. And bearing in mind that each production of DIARY adds to the Legacy.
What projects might you be working on in the future?
Future projects? Most importantly, welcoming our third grandchild this fall! Right now, however, the present and future are this production of DIARY. Apart from family, it is my sole focus.
Is there anything else about this production that we haven’t addressed?
Anything we haven’t addressed? How hard the cast worked before we got on our feet. Extensive research by each cast member about their characters and Anne’s history, and of course, about the worst Evil the world has ever known. A full day of private viewing at the LA Museum of the Holocaust, where the cast heard from and had discussions with two Survivors from the Netherlands — where the Franks and Van Daans hid. One of the survivors was Anne’s age when she hid in a Convent (this 13 year old Jewish girl) across a narrow street from Gestapo Headquarters. So by the time we started actual rehearsals, the cast had already worked harder and more intensively than most.
We need to retell Anne’s story always. The time is always right to remind us that the irrepressible human spirit — represented by the very real Anne Frank and her Annex family — does, can, may and will triumph over Evil. So long as good people do something. Too many did nothing during the Holocaust. Never again. That is the message of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.
Mark Belnick (Director) performing/directing since childhood and although theatre has always been his first love, it is his second career. After law school, Mark rose to senior litigation partner in one of the nation’s pre-eminent law firms (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison). In 1987, Mark served as Deputy Chief Counsel to the US Senate Iran/Contra Investigation, appearing frequently in nationally televised hearings. He returned to theatre several years ago. He is a member of the Broadway partnerships that co- produced the Tony Award winners THE PRODUCERS, GYPSY (rev.), and A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (rev.). Major NY and LA Theatre Credits: OUR HOUSE, ALL MY SONS, A FEW GOOD MEN, THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE, CONFUSIONS OF TORLESS, A SHOW ABOUT NOTHING,THE LOBOS, SHAKESPEARE IN CONCERT, CARAPACE ISLE, OOH VICAR, WHERE’S YOUR TROUSERS, HENRY VI,PT.1. Films: “Lucretia” (HBO Latino Film Festival Selection), “Edgar & Edna”, “Buttterfingers”. Mark is a University Lecturer at Princeton, Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers, and just completed a Visiting Professorship at Pepperdine Law School. Training: Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Columbia Law School, The William Esper Studio, Alaine Alldaffer, and Deb Jaeckel.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK August 3 – August 25
Wasatch Theatrical Ventures presents THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman, directed by Mark Belnick, a powerful, chillingly honest and stirring version of the iconic and impassioned story of Dutch Jews- including the incomparable Anne, previews: Friday, August 2 at 8pm. Runs: August 3 – August 25. Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Sunday, August 4 at 2pm is Sold Out! Additional show added: Aug. 4 at 7pm. Tickets: $25. Buy Tix/info: www.plays411.com or (323) 960-7788. NoHo Arts Center. 11136 Magnolia Blvd, NoHo 91601.