In Arts & Entertainment

Chicago native Lauren Hirte plays Anne Frank in The Milwaukee Rep's production of "The Diary of Anne Frank."

An interview with Anne Frank

People expect a lot of Anne Frank.

Chicago-based actress Lauren Hirte learned that the hard way. After nabbing the title role in The Milwaukee Rep's production of "The Diary of Anne Frank," she attended a meet-and-greet at the Jewish Museum just before rehearsals began.

"I stood up and said, 'Hi, I'm Lauren Hirte and I'm playing Anne Frank!' and everybody's like whispering and staring at me all of a sudden," she said. "And it's like, 'Ahh! OK, I didn't even think about that part. So I sat right down again."

Some 10 years her senior and a natural blonde, Hirte may not seem to have much in common with Anne Frank. Her forte is circus arts, and she has been performing theatrically since childhood.

After high school, she said, "I decided to take a year off and just see what I could do." As it turns out, she can do a lot – she is currently an Artistic Associate at the Lookingglass Theatre Company and has also performed with the Piven Theatre and The Actors Gymnasium.

She made her Milwaukee debut when "The Diary of Anne Frank" opened on Oct. 26. She sat down with to discuss the process of becoming Anne onstage – a process which includes having her hair dyed darker and learning to manipulate Dan Stevens' compact set (which is the actual size of the annex in which the Frank family and their fellow refugees were hidden).

But for Hirte, it's all worth it.

"You want to do this character so much justice," she said. "Because she was such an extraordinary person." So how old are you, actually?

Lauren Hirte: I'd almost rather not say. (smiles)

OMC: That's fine! But you're not Anne Frank's age.

LH: No, I'm definitely not Anne Frank's age. (laughs)

OMC: So how do you go about getting yourself into that mindset? It's such a weird time of life, being between 13 and 15.

LH: It's such a funny thing because I feel like I've been playing young for so long, in some ways, that I have never grown up. I still see myself as, like, that kind of personality. And it really is a fun thing of kind of just going back to that … it's just kind of taking away some of the restraint that you get when you get older.

OMC: What helps you to take away some of that restraint?

LH: There's a lot of things we have in common. Anne's a younger sister and I have an older brother and any time, even still, when I'm around my older brother I'm like, "Oh, OK, I am acting like a 12-year-old" or at least he makes me feel like I'm acting like a 12-year-old. So I can feel that kind of thing – and her struggles with her mom – I definitely have had struggles with my mom and still do. I'll be calling my mom like "Maybe you can just run lines with me so I can feel how annoyed she is at her mother!"

OMC: You play her as a very mature girl.

LH: The wonderful part about Anne is that she is very adult; she's not 7 or 9. She's 12, but she's going on – she's 12 going on adult; 12 going on 20. She's actually really grown up and really mature and I think that is part of her struggle, is that she feels really mature and adult and trying to get other people to understand that.

OMC: Why does she have that maturity? Is it her circumstances and what's going on around her?

LH: In the beginning of the play when she first goes into hiding, I still feel like she definitely has these very, you know, like, 12-year-old things that she does. Her lifespan took over the time that she did have and so at least by the end of the show, over those two years she does grow up and mature extraordinarily. And maybe if she wasn't in those circumstances she would have had more time to enjoy the childhood and riding her bike and she wouldn't have been so cooped up – I don't know if it's just being so cooped up with your own thoughts, writing all the time, if that makes you – that self-reflection, you know, if that's what does it or not. But she was an extraordinary person.

OMC: Anne Frank is such an icon and such a symbol of hope. How do you even begin to play a role like that? Does it make you learn anything about yourself as a person?

LH: Um, yes and no. (Laughs). Like I said, there are a lot of similarities where I can find and like pull a lot of similarities of, like, not being understood and that kind of stuff. But she's also just kind of this amazing person where she, you know, pardon my language, she doesn't take any crap from anyone. She's just very self-motivated and she definitely is one of the people in the family who's optimistic.

We did a lot of research, listening to interviews of people who knew her … she had a ton of friends and her friends were like, "Yeah, she was one of those people who's, like, loud and outgoing and really has a lot of love for people" and sometimes that personality can be very overbearing, but I think that is also the exact thing that people loved about her. And that was also a wonderful way of her diffusing a lot of situations. I'm sure she was getting a lot of criticism from a lot of different grownups and it was her way of letting it roll off her back …. just to say, "I'm still gonna be a happy person."

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