ST. GEORGE — It was written in the late 1970s, had a proscription placed on it by authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shortly thereafter and was not produced again until 1992, but many are thrilled to see “Huebener” brought back to life, and for the first time in its history, brought to a High School theater stage.
Pine View High School’s production of “Huebener” premiered Wednesday evening and former professor and director of the Brigham Young University Honors Program and nationally-known Mormon playwright, Thomas Rogers, was in the audience to see his work performed.
“Huebener” was inspired by the true story of Helmuth Huebener, a 17-year-old LDS German boy who was beheaded by guillotine at a prison in Berlin for leading a resistance group which distributed flyers throughout Hamburg, Germany, that denounced Hitler and his propaganda machine in October 1942.
It was while serving an LDS mission in northern Germany that Rogers said he first recalls hearing the story of Huebener from a fellow missionary. But it was nearly two decades later, while teaching at BYU, when Rogers’ colleague, Alan Keele, gave a presentation to the college faculty about Helmuth Huebener’s impact on important post-war German authors, that the idea to write “Huebener” first emerged.
“During his presentation, knowing of my interests in writing plays, Alan pointed at me and said, ‘You should write a play on the subject,’” Rogers said. “I had become so immersed in my career discipline, Russian literature, that until that moment, I had almost forgotten I had ever written plays.”
Keele and another one of Rogers’ colleagues were about to publish a book on Huebener at the time and it was their research, which Rogers said they graciously shared, which became the play’s principal source.
The play became an instant sensation – some held the belief that Helmuth Huebener should be a household name for every Mormon – but during a successful run at Brigham Young University, the play had a proscription placed on it by authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“It was for the safety of the church in communist countries, I think that was their legitimate concern,” Rogers said. “As I remember, we had 30,000 members in the church in East Germany at the time and one of the concerns was that it might jeopardize the church in some way if the example of Helmuth were to be emulated by a young member in opposition to totalitarian regime somewhere else in the World, so they were super cautious, and I think if I were in their position, I might have felt that way myself.”
After premier performances, and having read the reviews of this play, Rogers said there were about 10 different people out of state who contacted him about wanting to do the play, yet he had to decline their request.
“I went on and wrote other plays,” Rogers said. “It never bothered me too terribly personally at all, and I felt that I was duty bound, as long as I was going to be working for the church, to go along with that.”
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, a BYU revival of the play took place without any official complaint or censorship, and other productions of the play have followed since. It just seemed to them that it was safe enough to do it again, and there were no repercussions, Rogers said.
“Huebener” makes its way to Pine View High School
It was as an audience member at Dixie State in 2005, that Pine View High School theatre director Ani Rogers recalls having her first experience with “Huebener.”
“As I sat there in the audience watching the play, time stopped, and it stayed with me ever since,” Ani Rogers said of her experience. “The text is so well written and in that moment where he says ‘my time is now but your turn is next,’ I just think that heroism, that going down burning, I was just very, very impressed by that.”
Though some expressed concerns about the play involving Mormonism, Ani Rogers said having done the “King and I” last year, studying Buddhism in depth, and doing “Sound of Music” the year before and studying Catholicism, she feels rooted in her argument that she is trying to provide well-rounded education for her students.
Watching High School students perform such a challenging play, with such heart, commitment and conviction, in the small, intimate setting at Pine View, had most audience members on the edge of their seat and many moved to tears by the end of the show. After the play had ended, a young boy in the audience turned to his mom and said: “I wish I was someone important like that and made a difference.”
The show’s popularity is evident by its ticket sales. Pine View’s production of “Huebener” is completely sold out through the last day of its production on Monday.
“I’m very pleased with how the audience received the show,” Ani Rogers said. “A lot of our ticket sales weren’t just parents. I had to extend seating because I had my leads whose parents hadn’t even bought tickets before it was sold out. So that’s been impressive seeing how there’s been an overwhelming community involvement.”
The next morning after the show opened, Pine View High School students were given a unique opportunity to attend a four-hour workshop with Thomas Rogers and Michael Perry, owner and president of Leicester Bay Theatricals and Zion Theatricals.
The students had the chance to work with and ask the professionals an array of questions ranging from “what is a ‘real’ set like?” to “how was my character supposed to feel when he said ‘Heil Hitler’?”
This fairly large and gracious gesture on Rogers’ part – to travel to St. George and attend opening night of the High School play, agree to a question-and-answer session that lasted until after 11 p.m. the same night, and then provide a workshop for the students the next morning, giving each of the students a copy of his play and then signing and writing a personal message in each one – seemed rather small in comparison to the powerful impact you could see it was already having on each of those students’ lives.
Nearly each student echoed the same sentiment of how much the experience had changed their life and how thankful they were to be a part of it.
“This is the best experience of my life,” one of the students said.
“Saying that any of this is an honor just truly doesn’t do it justice,” Ani Rogers said about the experience as a whole. “When I look back on this moment, this will forever be the biggest feather in my cap.”
At the end, Thomas Rogers said: “I did not really write this play, Helmuth Huebener wrote this play with his own blood.”
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