The Final Veil: Interview with Playwright Cassandra Rosebeetle

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The Final Veil
“The Final Veil” is a new show at the Cell Theatre which offers a unique blend of theater, opera and dance whilst focusing on the true story of Franceska Mann, a Polish-Jewish dancer who demonstrated resistance and strength amid the horrors of the Holocaust.



“The Final Veil” is a new show at the Cell Theatre which offers a unique blend of theater, opera and dance whilst focusing on the true story of Franceska Mann, a Polish-Jewish dancer who demonstrated resistance and strength amid the horrors of the Holocaust. Franceska was taken to Auschwitz and sent to the gas chamber. When she was told to remove her clothing, she performed a distracting striptease and managed to grab a gun, shoot, and fatally wound one SS Guard and injure a second, before her own subsequent death.

Franceska had previously worked as a ballerina in occupied Poland and playwrights Cassandra Rosebeetle and JL Marlor were fascinated by her story. The music featured in the piece is a mix of Polish folk songs, German cabaret music, contemporary classical music, underground jazz and 1930’s era Yiddish folksongs.

Recently playwright Cassandra Rosebeetle discussed this play via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your talent for writing and what was it about plays and the theater that most interested you?

Cassandra Rosebeetle (CR): I grew up as a competitive ice skater and from there I pursued a varied career in dance and theater, as well as producing shows and a film. I love bringing together different mediums to tell a story, which is what we’re doing with The Final Veil, equally merging opera and dance.

MM: How did you find out about the story of Franceska Mann and why did you decide to base a play about her?

CR: In 2018 I performed a solo dance piece based on Franceska Mann, and I had invited my friend JL Marlor to come to the show. I was amazed to learn afterwards that she knew who Franceska was and had always wanted to create art based on her story, so our collaboration began there. I had learned about Mann’s story through my Jewish family and JL through her Polish family. It’s been astonishing to discover how few people have heard of her, even at Holocaust museums.

MM: How much research did you do into her life and what most fascinated or surprised you about it?

CR: Franceska is mentioned in some texts, however there has never been a book written about her or even a full chapter. Knowing that factual information was limited to accounts from two eyewitnesses at Auschwitz, I decided to take the approach of reading autobiographies and diaries written by Holocaust survivors and victims, to better understand in their own words what the experience was like of living in Warsaw during that time and the transition to the formation of the Ghetto, as well as experiences at Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. Our libretto is comprised of the direct words of Holocaust survivors and victims that JL and our writer, Kate Mulley, have sourced through archivists at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the United States Holocaust Memorial. It was fascinating to me to find out how many thousands of stories exist of women’s acts of resistance during the Holocaust, and yet the most famous woman from that time is in fact a girl, Anne Frank. Among other methods, Jewish women often used their bodies and sexuality to seduce guards as part of their plots of resistance, and yet those stories aren’t widely told. It was important to us to pick this one story and focus on Franceska Mann, because her strength and empowerment in that moment is a lesson for all of us today.

MM: How much did ballet influence this piece?

CR: Franceska Mann was a ballerina and modern dancer, so it was a priority from the start to represent different aspects of her training and performance. I also wanted to incorporate moments of Polish folk dance, which Franceska likey learned growing up as a dancer, and also Polish folk music is incorporated into JL’s score. I brought in Katherine Crockett to co-choreograph with me, she is a former principal member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, and no doubt Martha Graham was an influence on Franceska, among other luminaries of the dance world at that time.

MM: How did you start working with the cell?

CR: I met Kira Simring, the Artistic Director of Nancy Manocherian’s the cell theatre, in December 2021. She attended a rehearsal and right away we both thought the cell would be a perfect match for the premiere of The Final Veil, as a space to nurture and develop the show.

MM: What’s your favorite part of the play and why?

CR: Balancing directing and dancing in this show means that as soon as the music begins, I have to focus on my role and not lose sight of the performance. My favorite part has been feeling this community of performers around me on stage and really trusting that together as a team we are creating something important and heart-felt. It’s incredible to feel in sync with this team of performers on stage telling this story.

MM: What have your past plays been about?

CR: In the past my shows have ranged quite a bit in subject matter, but I am most attracted to exploring dark themes and emotions that our society tends to shy away from, such as death and grief. I also believe strongly in championing women’s stories and art, and we made the decision early on to have an all women and non-binary cast for The Final Veil, as well as include as many women creatives on the team as possible to tell Franceska’s story.

MM: What other projects are you working on right now and what themes might you like to explore in future works? What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

CR: At the moment I am fully focused on directing and producing The Final Veil, I believe so much in this project and the creative team involved. Our short-term objective is to find a larger venue in NYC to continue production of the show, and long-term is to tour with it. Since we started the project, we have been in communication with the Polin Museum, located on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto where Franceska Mann lived and performed, and the plan is to one day perform there.

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THE FINAL VEIL runs July 14-31 at Nancy Manocherian’s the cell theatre (338 W. 23rd Street, New York, NY. 10011). Tickets are available at www.thecelltheatre.org.