Mia Sinclair Jenness has had to learn about the Holocaust for her role in the play And a Child Shall Lead, but the Millburn first-grader — already a passionate theater veteran — declares the experience has been wonderful.
Michael Slade’s play, which opened Oct. 24 at HERE Arts Center in Manhattan and runs through the 27th, uses actual writing and artwork created by children imprisoned in the Terezin concentration camp to tell a story of courage, creativity, and resilience. Mia auditioned in August along with hundreds of other children and was cast in the role of Jana Hellerova.
At six, she is the youngest member of the cast and is in most scenes. That meant attending rehearsals three or four days a week for three weeks before the opening, and working for long hours on her own, but she isn’t complaining.
“I love being in front of the audience on stage,” she said. “A Child Shall Lead is sad, because you kind of know how it ends before it even starts, but doing the show is really fun actually and my character, Jana, doesn’t know that this isn’t a normal childhood. She has her doll, Anna, and her big sister, Eva.
“Acting is really fun for me, even if you are playing a character who is sad, or scared. It’s like playing pretend, but for real. I love it.”
Her “dream role,” she said, is “Jane Banks in Mary Poppins on Broadway. I would love that.”
Mia’s mother, Emily Bauer Jenness, an acting teacher and actor herself, said, “There are many details [about the Holocaust] Mia does not know and doesn’t need to know until she is older. However, the concepts have been introduced in a way she can understand and identify with as a Jewish child, as a human being. To director Laura Luc’s credit, while the show’s subject is heavy, the atmosphere at rehearsals and at the theater is joyful.”
Bauer said having Mia in the Terezin play has been “an incredible teaching and learning opportunity for our family. I explained to Mia that Jewish children were taken away from their parents, their homes, and everything they loved and put in ‘prison camps’ just because they were Jewish.”
Mother and daughter also joined the cast for a guided tour of the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City.
Being on stage is nothing new for Mia, who has taken classes at her mother’s school, Acting With Emily, in Maplewood, and studies voice with Adrienne Mckeown, has already been in four plays. She plays a hasidic child in the upcoming feature film Chinese Puzzle and has appeared on TV and done a number of commercials and voice-overs.
Bauer said, “The experience of being in a show is always so thrilling for Mia. You always want your child to be inspired, to find their ‘thing.’ I feel so lucky and blessed as a parent that my daughter has found her passion at such a young age. I am proud of her; she truly works so hard.”
To learn more about the show, go to ChildShallLead.com.