In the fall of 1939, at 9 years old, Eleanor and her family left New York on the SS Hamburg bound for Germany. A new job and a secure financial future awaited her father in Berlin. Half-way across the Atlantic, Hitler declared war on Poland and their return to America became impossible.
This is the true story of Eleanor Ramrath Garner growing up as an American trapped in Nazi Germany during WWII. Adapted for the stage and performed by her granddaughter Ingrid, Eleanor’s award-winning autobiography details her youth struggling to maintain stability, hope, and identity in a world of terror and contrasts. Her family faces hunger, fascist oppression, carpet bombing, the final fierce battle for Berlin, the Russian invasion and the horrors of Soviet occupancy. The play exposes audiences to an entirely unique story about World War II and provides insight into the seldom reported lives of civilians in wartime.
Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany is a one woman, multi-media, hour-long dramatic play by Ingrid Garner, the grand-daughter of Eleanor Ramrath Garner, author of the award-winning 'young adult' autobiography which Ingrid adapted into this show.
Ingrid condenses seven years into a 60 minute show, portraying her grandmother from ages 9-16, her family, neighbors, teachers, and others who contributed to the ordeals young Eleanor endured in war-torn Germany, as an American citizen. It is through Eleanor’s innocent eyes we see her confusion, shock and education of the realities of war, while trying to maintain her identity, dignity, and life. Vivid sound effects and video-screen projection add to the immersive experience, to help transport the audience into an entirely unique experience of World War II.
In the summer of 2013, when I was 20 years old, I accompanied the Vaudeville-Nouveau troupe “Sound and Fury” up to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in Canada where I ran sound and video for their play. It afforded me the incredibly valuable opportunity to see original, beautiful, personal plays written and performed by people with a tremendous passion for theater.
I was one month away from starting the final year of my University education as a Theater Arts Major at California State University, Fullerton. I was beginning to think and worry, as many of my young peers do, about the uncertain reality of the entertainment world and how I might find a place in it. Do I have the spirit, talent, and gumption to pursue potentially endless auditions to maybe work on a project that creates a product I may not be proud of? Until I experienced a Fringe Festival, I thought that was the only path available to invest my time and energy in.
When Sound and Fury’s founder, Richard Maritzer, first introduced the Fringe concept to me, I thought, “This is unfathomable! I can create something to suit my specific strengths or challenge me artistically, I can work on it with people I know and trust, then I can be so generously provided with a platform practically anywhere in the world to perform it and the ability to reach a wealth of audiences willing to try something new!” The Fringe Festivals allow you to self-produce, that means you get full creative control to put on stage exactly what you want and get immediate feedback from the public. This can make the triumph of a good review feel more affirmative and the rejection of a bad review feel more personal.
Never-the-less, sitting in the audience during all the impassioned bursts of creative energy that are “One Person Shows”, I was suddenly able to envision a future for myself. ‘I may just be able to make a living doing what I love.’ And what I love more than anything else is storytelling. But what story can I tell? My short life, though unique, contains few profound moments.
It was then that Richard reminded me that I had access and connection to one of the most epic, true, fascinating stories either of us had ever heard. “Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany”. My grandmother’s award-winning memoir seemed perfectly suited for theatrical adaptation, and I also felt that it would be a spectacular novelty to have the granddaughter of the show’s subject perform this piece. I spent the first semester of my Senior year conceptualizing the play, trying to imagine how I could begin to fit seven years of experiences into a 1-hour play arc (a customary Fringe format).
By the end of the semester, I realized that I really needed a Director to help guide me through my script writing process and find a structure among the stories I had chosen to include. I asked my Voice and Movement professor, Anne James, if she could refer me to someone. Her first thought was the profoundly skilled Craig Tyrl. Conveniently, he was completing his Master of Fine Arts Degree and needed to work with a playwright to develop and put on an original piece for his Advanced Directing class.
Somehow, we managed to maneuver the busiest time of our lives and in a matter of three and a half months, we had not only completed the script, but mounted a full-fledged production with costume, set, props, sound effects, lighting effects, and rear screen projection. This is the show we created and I am so proud to bring the people from my past and their powerful experiences to life for you.
All the best to you and yours,