Benefit preview performances of Why We Laugh:  A Terezín Cabaret

June 2 (St. Paul) and June 5 (Minneapolis), 2011


Step in Time Theater is raising funds to stage the world premiere of Why We Laugh:  A Terezín Cabaret in the Czech Republic!  For further information please see our website:

Please join me in New York for an informal lecture on the story behind the play "Why We Laugh" by Kira Obolensky and the original cabaret written in the Terezín ghetto, "Laugh with Us!" that inspired it -- and for a drink!
Venue:  The Czech Center, 321 East 73rd Street, NY, NY, 10021

Date:  May 5, 2011 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

The series of social evenings at the Czech Center is back!
Doh-bree veh-cherr ("Good evening" in Czech) is a series of encounters with outstanding Czech and American professionals from the field of arts and culture.
Join us for informal discussions on current cultural issues, new arts projects and other exciting happenings. Enjoyable ambiance and a glass of wine or beer guaranteed.

May 5, 2011, at 7 pm:  Lisa Peschel - Why We Laugh: A Terezin Cabaret

In the World War II Jewish Ghetto at Terezín (in German, Theresienstadt), four young Czech Jews created an escape from the ghetto while never leaving its walls. By setting their cabaret, "Laugh with Us," in postwar Prague--a Prague identical to the one they remembered from the late 1930s--the performers simultaneously returned to the world they missed and expressed their hopes for a postwar future. They also engaged with the ghetto itself: by "looking back" with humor upon their time in Terezín, they converted the most terrifying events of their present into a source of laughter rather than fear.

"Why We Laugh" combines scenes and songs from the original cabaret with new scenes that reflect upon a scholar's attempts to imagine how that original cabaret might have been performed. As the characters in the cabaret look to the future, and a contemporary scholar looks to the past, each confronts the other with difficult questions--why did the Terezín prisoners laugh, and what does that laughter mean to us today, knowing what we know about their history?

Course cancelled: Harvard Summer Session 2011


UPDATE:   Due to my upcoming move to the UK, the summer course has been cancelled.  More information on the move coming soon!

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Theater During the Holocaust: 
Staging Cabarets and Plays from the Theresienstadt Ghetto
What did theater mean to the prisoners of the Theresienstadt ghetto, and what do their performances mean for us today?  During the Harvard Summer Session I will be teaching a performance-based course on the scripts written in the ghetto, which range from cabarets to puppet plays, from historical dramas to a Purimspiel. Our goal will be to adapt individual scenes from the scripts to perform for an invited audience at the end of the course, while learning about the history of the ghetto itself, the Theresienstadt authors, and the prewar Central European theater traditions that influenced them. No previous theater experience is required. The course will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays, noon-3pm, June 27-August 12. Information on registration (open until May 23) is available at

For more information on the course, please see:

For more information on the English-language anthology of plays to be published in the summer of 2011, Performing Captivity, Performing Escape:  Cabarets and Plays from the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto, please see:

In June of 2011, Step in Time Theater will take "Why We Laugh" -- an original adaptation of "Laugh with Us," a cabaret written in the Terezín Ghetto by Dr. Felix Porges, Vítězslav "Pidla" Horpatzky, Pavel Weisskopf, and Pavel Stránský, by Kira Obolensky -- to the Czech Republic. 

For information on our benefit performances in St. Paul (June 2) and Minneapolis (June 5), please see 

For more information on our peformances in the Czech Republic please see:

Informace v češtině:

If you would like to become a sponsor of "Why We Laugh," please see our fundraising website:


Workshop: "Laugh with Us"


"Laugh with Us" by Kira Obolensky
Workshop presentation:  Monday, December 13, 7 pm
Playwrights' Center, 2301 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis

 For more information:



A page from the original script, preserved by co-author Felix Porges.

On December 13, 2010, actors directed by Haley Finn will present scenes from a script in development:  Kira Obolensky's new adaption of the Terezín cabaret "Laugh with Us." 

In the World War II Jewish Ghetto at Terezín (in German, Theresienstadt), four young Czech Jews wrote a cabaret that expressed the absurdities of their present, their yearning for the world of their past, and above all their hopes for a postwar future in Prague.  Kira Obolensky's  adaptation reveals the dark humor and many inside jokes embedded in the cabaret and brings us face to face with the Terezín performers -- and with "the scholar" who longs to reach them across time and space.

In a five-day workshop supported by Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, Kira, director Haley Finn and I as dramaturg will work with actors Elise Langer, Emily Gunyou Halaas, Sasha Andreev and Pearce Bunting, composer Craig Harris and company manager Ryan Ripley to develop several scenes from the adaptation. On Monday, December 13, we'll present them for your feedback. Please come and share your opinion during the first stage of a project that is already drawing international attention.

VKC poster crop_1_1.jpg 


Poster by Martina Ďurďovičová, courtesy of the Jewish Museum in Prague.


Testimony about the cultural life of the Terezín ghetto circulated publicly in postwar Czechoslovakia in newspaper articles and memoirs, but virtually disappeared during the decade after the Communist rise to power, 1948-1957.  How and why did testimony re-emerge in the late 1950s and early 1960s?  How were the survivors influenced, not only by the general political thaw, but by works of fiction such as Arnošt Lustig's Night and Hope and Jan Otčenášek's Romeo, Juliet and the Darkness?  How did they respond to the reconstruction of an original Terezín play, The Last Cyclist by Karel Švenk, performed at Theater Rokoko in 1961?  How did Czech non-Jews' reception of these works affect the survivors' willingness to speak?

The lecture will be held in Czech at the Education and Culture Centre of the Jewish Museum in Prague, Maiselova 15, Prague 1 on Monday, May 17, 2010, 6 p. m.

Performance: The Death of Orpheus


Morris small2.jpgInvitation to the reading of The Death of Orpheus in Terezín.  From the Morris and Hildegard Henschel Collection, courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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The Department of German, Scandinavian & Dutch (GSD) at the University of Minnesota and the students of German 4040 are pleased to announce their stage production of Der Tod des Orpheus (The Death of Orpheus), written in the Terezín/Theresienstadt ghetto by prisoner Georg Kafka in 1943. Juliette Brungs, Ph.D. candidate in GSD, has directed the play, which will be performed in German by students and staff of the department and presented in the Student Center on the U of MN St. Paul campus. 

Click here for directions:

Show dates and times are:

April 23th at 11:00 am (matinee)
April 24th at 8:00 pm and
April 25th at 7:00 pm.

Admission is $6 ($3 for University of Minnesota students).  

See below for more information about the author.

Click here for the flyer:   Orpheus.pdf

Click here for the program:   Orpheus program.pdf

There has never been a full theatrical production of the play; this April you can see its world premiere in St. Paul. The production has also provided a unique opportunity for collaboration with another relative of the Kafka family. Composer Josef Třeštík, great-grandson of Franz Kafka's sister Ottla (Ottilie), has provided a musical theme for The Death of Orpheus and will come from Prague to attend the performances.

About the author

Georg Kafka, a distant relative of Franz Kafka, was born on February 15, 1921, and was deported with his parents from Prague to Theresienstadt on July 23, 1942.  A staged reading of his dramatic poem The Death of Orpheus took place in October 1943 in the ghetto. In the fall of 1944 Georg Kafka was deported to Auschwitz; he died some months later in the Schwarzheide camp. The text of his play has been preserved in the archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague. 

Performance: Smoke of Home (Dým domova)


The U.S. premiere of the play Smoke of Home, written in the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto by Zdeněk Eliáš and Jiří Stein, translated by Dorothy Eliáš, will take place at American University in Washington, DC, March 19-21.  For information on the performance and related events (lectures, panel discussions, exhibits, etc.), see the website

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Actors reading the script Smoke of Home with Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian, Prague, Czech Republic, spring 2009.  Photo by Anthony Brenneman.




Conference: Jerusalem



The Annual Conference of the Centers for Austrian Studies took place November 22-26, 2009 at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  In my presentation, "Cain and Abel, Romeo and Juliet:  Czech Jews and non-Jews, 1958-1961,"  I addressed the question:  how did the Terezín ghetto again become a topic for public discussion in Czechoslovakia, after several years of almost total silence? 

Reading: Smoke of Home (Dým domova)


Smoke of Home reading, Seattle

On August 2, 2009, several actors and family members gathered at the home of Kate Elias, widow of Terezín author Zdeněk Eliáš, for a working reading of the play Smoke of Home.  Thank you to all for your hard work and patience -- we were able to solve several translation questions to ensure that the script works as spoken text as well as an accurate translation.  A special thanks to Kate for hosting and to Julia for organizing the actors' participation.

Pictured, from left to right:  Travis Michael Anderson (actor), Kathy Elias (daughter of the author), Michael Clarke (actor), Dorothy Elias (daughter of the author, translator), Diana Smith (actor), Kate Elias (widow of the author), Will Ransom (actor), Julia Leichman (actor).