SARATOGA SPRINGS — To hear Grace Zofia Alberti tell a story is to be swept up into the tale with the impassioned breaths of one who knows, of one who believes, of one who wants the listener to feel the psychological depth of the characters inhabiting the world she has created.And for this 16-year-old stage director and playwright, getting to what’s underneath the action is critical.
“I am more interested in the analytic side of character development,” Alberti said in a recent interview at her Saratoga Springs home. “I felt like it was lost in what I had been doing.”
The way Alberti explains it, she believes in completely exploring the character, based on the teachings of Russian Constantin Stanislavski, who developed exercises exploring character motivations.
Inspired by deaf theater, Alberti, a junior at Saratoga Springs High School, incorporates lyrical movements into her work.
“American Sign Language, combined with movement and lyric, is a magical thing,” Alberti said. “It bridges language and therefore communicates emotion much more effectively, all through a very organic and elegant art form. It serves a purpose, which makes it all the more fascinating.”
Involved with local youth theater since 2011, Alberti said she wasn’t really learning anything new and so in 2016, she created the Ad Astra Theatre Troupe, a nonprofit, to give teens new learning opportunities like directing, playwriting, acting, set and costume design and stage management.
“It was a new experience,” she said, admitting she had a strong inner pull to direct stage plays.
And so like many entrepreneurs and creators, Alberti found her path as she went along, exploring, researching, reading and asking. And last May, she successfully staged Jeremy Bloom’s “Peter/Wendy.”
“Grace got her own website, she designed it by herself, she did a GoFundMe, held a pie sale,” her mother, Anntonette Alberti, said, adding that many in the community also donated to the production at Saratoga Springs High School Teaching Auditorium.
In thinking about the theater troupe’s 2018 project, Alberti was drawn to the Warsaw Uprising in Poland in 1944.
“We have always been connected to our Polish roots,” Alberti said, adding that her great grandparents came to America from Poland. “It is really a part of everything.”
Honoring Polish roots
Fascinated by Polish history, Alberti has been a volunteer and performer at the Latham PolishFest for many years and it was there that she met two historians who wrote about the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.
According to Alberti and her mother, German troops massacred more than 200,000 people living in Warsaw.
“Everyone knew the Warsaw Uprising was happening,” said Anntonette. “Everybody knew and nobody helped. They thought the Soviets would come in and save the day.”
Over a five-day period, thousands upon thousands of civilians were exterminated to punish Polish insurgents who had been helping people escape Nazi terror and SS encampments.
And to assure that no one forgets, every year on Aug. 1, Polish people gather to remember and honor those brutally beaten or shot and thrown into mass graves by Nazi troops during the uprising, Anntonette said.
It was this piece of her family’s history that drew Alberti to search for a play related to this gruesome time.
But when she could not find one, fellow troupe member Tess Davidson-Brown’s mother, SUNY Adirondack professor Lâle Davidson, said, “We could write a play.”
Davidson, an award-winning author, agreed to help Alberti and along with Catie LeCours, a senior at Niskayuna High School, the three women began the long and sometimes challenging task of writing a play together.
They read books and detailed personal accounts of life during that time, they watched films and they interviewed people.
“In the beginning it came from a story about two sisters,” said Davidson. And it evolved from there. “I was interested in the story because both my parents were in the Army in WWII and I have a very close connection.”
An evolving collaboration
Two weeks ago, Davidson and Alberti laughed when they talked about how they are working through their writing process. And to make the collaboration easier, the women use Google Docs to see each other’s work.
And they meet once a week to talk things through. Sometimes in a collaboration, it’s hard to find a path everyone agrees upon. But they have worked through the rough spots and are nearing completion of a script.
“I watch them and I see how well they play off each other,” said Anntonette.
At this point, the play tells the story of 17-year-old Halina Dobosz and her 13-year-old sister Elżbieta, who run a small pharmacy in Warsaw’s city center. The sisters lost both their parents and now Halina is considering joining the resistance and risks going to a meeting disguised as a dance past curfew.
“We have had several final drafts,” Alberti said. “And once production starts, there will be more changes and actors can have input.”
The play has already had one read-through with six of Alberti’s friends. “They gave us extensive notes after every scene,” she said.
To assure accuracy, the historians Alberti connected with at PolishFest — Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, author of “Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany, 1939-1945,” and Alina Nowobliska, a Poland-based history blogger — are working with the writers to ensure historical accuracy of the play.
The production is slated for late May and while it has a working title of “Uprising,” that will change, Alberti said.
What has she learned in the past year?
“I learned about communicating with other people my own age,” she said. “And I am building a wealth of resources.”
Auditions for the play were scheduled to be held Saturday, when Alberti said she would be looking for teen actors and crew.