Playing Anne Frank: 'I Feel Her Inside Me'

Christina Rosse, with "Kitty," recites from Anne Frank's diary in a performance at the Anne Frank Museum. Photo by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Once a month at the Anne Frank Museum, actress Christina Rosse, 22, is Anne Frank as she dramatizes excerpts from the young girl's Holocaust diary.

After her performance, Christina Rosse takes questions from the audience, al­ways in character. Many children, she says, feel as if they are really with Anne. Here, Rosse talks about what it’s like to play the famous diarist.

How did you prepare for this role?
There’s a certain responsibility when portraying a real person, especially one who was so influential and whose story is known worldwide. I looked on  the Internet, saw a lot of documentaries and  read a lot of books. I tried to understand  her temperament and why she felt certain ways about certain things. Then you take in all this information and you do your own interpretation, and you just hope it’s the right one. I really wanted to know my stuff, especially for the audience who come with questions. It’s so important to be accurate.

Had you read the diary before?
I read it in the fifth or sixth grade, when we learned about the Holocaust in school. But I couldn’t understand how intellectual she was, because my brain wasn’t there yet. Now I read her writings and I’m amazed how well-written they are and intelligent beyond her years. She puts adults today to shame in her understanding of how humans behave and their interaction with each other and their responsibilities to society.

Has the role changed you?
I was dating a guy for quite a while and I remember thinking, “Why wouldn’t he want to be a better person?” like what Anne wrote about her friend Peter. Not that he was a bad person, but why wouldn’t you want to try new things and grow? And that’s so Anne Frank.
What is it like to portray hope in someone who you know has such a tragic end?
I don’t think she had a choice but to be hopeful. Any piece of information the family would get, that they might hear on the radio, they would hold onto.
Imagine putting the iPhone, iPad and everything else away and just sitting with your thoughts. Mabe that’s why she she was so expressive with her diary.
I’ve also done this in schools, usually middle schools, a few elementary schools. So many of the kids know a lot about her story and feel like they know Anne. When they ask me questions, they really feet like they are talking to Anne. One school wrote a song and sang it for me.

Do you get a better understanding of her as you play her?
It’s not something that I can quite put into words—it’s less of an understanding and more of a connection. The more I play her, the more I feel a connection because she was so open and honest about her deepest feelings. Below the surface we all have a lot of similar emotions and feelings and thought pro­cesses. Also, my mind is taken up more and more by this person and her life, so every performance is more effortless. I feel her inside me. I don't know if that sounds weird, but it’s very real.

Have you ever been stumped by a question?
I was really nervous about that. If I didn’t have the answer to a question.  there was a cue I could use, then the director would step in. I’ve never had to use it. Some kids have really good questions. There was one about Anne’s journey from what she used to think about religion to what she thinks now. I knew generally but not specifically. I thought, ‘Okay let’s just hope for the best,” but I started sweating! And then there was a younger kid who asked about my kiss ,with Peter and I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for third gra­ders. I said, “I don’t want to talk about that. It’s really personal.” And they understood that.

What do people want to know about her?
A lot of people ask about being captured and her time in the concentration camp. I think it’s better that I don’t answer that because they can get those answers in the museum. Plus, I think it creates more of the illusion that she’s really here. People also want to know about the details of their living conditions, and are are taken aback when they hear how small it was and the lack of privacy. It’s overwhelming to think that this is how they lived day in and day out for over two years.

I try to take the audience to a place where they understand her life until the minute that they were captured. To when somebody knocks their door down and the audience realizes at that moment that Anne is in hiding.

The next “Conversations with Anne” is on 12/1, 1 p.m. at the Anne Frank Cen­ter, 44 Park Pl. $8; $5 9–16 and sen­iors; free 8 and under.