College of Humanities & Social Sciences, Theatre

Teaching the Holocaust through history and theater

By Lexi Adamczyk | July 31, 2023
Professor Keating leads students through the experience of being in a confined space through method acting techniques.

Professor Thomas Keating and Dr. John Kuykendall collaboratively taught The Holocaust in History and Theater to provide students with a complete understanding of the tragedy that occurred. Kuykendall, a history professor and dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, lectures on the history of the Holocaust while Keating, a theatre professor and coordinator of the CSU Theatre Program, employs acting and dramatic literary techniques to bring the horrors of the Holocaust to life.

The class read Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood. Kuykendall explained that, in the typical classroom setting, it is difficult to understand the people we learn about in history or read about in books as more than a character. Engaging in collaborative teaching with Keating supplements the historical knowledge provided with a personal connection to the Holocaust survivors discussed in class. 

Creative days led by Keating allow students to immerse themselves in the emotional and physical experiences of the characters in Dry Tears through method acting techniques. The class became acquainted with the freedom of the outdoors, the discomfort of confined spaces, the dread of those in hiding, and the foreboding of the darkness. After each acting activity, the students journaled to reflect on their feelings and draw connections between what they felt and the characters in the book. 

After experiencing the liberty and serenity in being outside, Kuykendall made an impactful observation. “The sky was blue in Auschwitz too,” he said. 

Keating stated that the only difference between us and the people we read about in history is our life experiences. At the end of the day, we’re all human, and we all experience the same emotions on some level. He maintained that we need to tap into those feelings to empathize and understand the experiences of those around us and those who came before us. 

Dr. John Kuykendall and Professor Thomas Keating teach a collaborative learning class on the history of the Holocaust through history and acting.

Keating and Kuykendall’s ultimate goal is to remind students of the horrors of the Holocaust and encourage them to think about the ways they can make a difference in the world today. 

“We all try to think about what we would have done then, but the real question is, what will you do now?” Keating said. 

Kuykendall and Keating have been collaboratively teaching the course roughly every three years since Keating joined the CSU faculty in 2007. Kuykendall initially developed the idea for the course with a former theatre professor, but Keating’s experience with method acting in graduate school at Columbia University rendered him the perfect fit. 

This class provides a deeper understanding of the Holocaust and challenges students to emotionally connect with the survivors who recounted the horrific circumstances. It goes beyond providing a basic understanding from a historical or literary standpoint. Students leave the class with a renewed sense of empathy and increased awareness of the interconnectedness of humanity. 

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