Leah Canel

Honors Project: 

Researching, writing and performing a piece of original theatre based on Charlotte Salomon’s masterpiece work.
Major: Theatre Studies, Focus: Theatre for Social Change
I wandered into Zoellner the first time I visited Lehigh as a high school junior. After a chance meeting with Professor Augustine Ripa lasted over an hour, I toured the building. This would be the roadmap of my future; I was hooked on Lehigh and applied early-decision. Though Chicago is my first home, Lehigh has become my second. The Eckardt program has allowed me to develop my own exciting program of study exploring social change through theatre practice. 
I feel so grateful to have been able to jump into every rabbit hole of study that intrigues me as I evolve into the student I didn’t know I could be pre-college (or pre-yesterday). I am especially passionate about theatre as a means to educate and build communities because entertainment encourages connections between diverse individuals who may not otherwise interact with each
other or the subject matter of the production. Further, all participants in accessible theatre practices are comfortable and validated whether they participate behind, from or facing the stage. Because the Eckardt program celebrates the pursuit of niched interests, and I have fabulous advisors who help me identify and meet every academic and personal goal within logistical barriers, I have been able to study deep within communication and messaging of different humanities in hopes of figuring out what makes messaging accessible and how to enact that type of practice. As an Eckardt scholar, I have been able to piece seemingly unrelated disciplines together to inform my passion. Alongside my Theatre Studies Major curriculum, I have been able to: study History of Architecture in Paris, France and Arts Entrepreneurship in California’s Silicon Valley, be an active participant and pursue a teaching role in Lehigh’s TRAC program, work on a semester long continuation of a Summer MountainTop Project, act, direct and now, even spearhead a theatre production featured in the Lehigh Department of Theatre’s main season as my thesis this year.
In 1941, 24 year old German-born artist Charlotte Salomon hid from the Nazis in the South of France. For the two years before she was deported to Auschwitz (where she was killed), Charlotte created a series of 769 individual paintings which depicted the then-current political climate and her life. Accompanied by music she selected and a script of poetic prose written on transparencies linking her paintings into a complete autobiography, this book of work, titled Life? or Theatre?” was passed to a trusted friend just prior to her captivity and murder.
For my thesis, I will be researching, writing and performing a piece of original theatre based Salomon’s masterpiece work. I selected this project when my original plans to direct a mainstage Lehigh production were derailed by COVID, because one of the lessons I have learned from the pandemic and artists I study is how to pivot, and to use available tools and skills to innovate and
communicate. I believe that theatre artists are uniquely well equipped to meet the challenges of communicating and storytelling, because we understand the importance of connecting with people quickly and creatively, and doing so in a way that is appealing and impactful to an audience.
By writing and producing this play, I will demonstrate the power of education packaged within entertainment; I believe that theatre, in a time like the current pandemic, is a way to provoke awareness (and ultimately the most inclusive conversation possible) about important social issues within our communities. I hope this project will deepen my knowledge and facility with dramatic literature and art, while I learn to hone and convey messages for my contemporary audience in a way that builds my community. Additionally, I’ll get to develop my theatre and arts management skills through exposure to new areas of production and partnerships with other experts.
Most importantly, I hope this project will marry my interests and experience in theatre and education to the Lehigh stage. I seek to create a work that, like “Life? or Theatre?” manifests artistic witness, and that witness will inspire people to talk and think about what they have seen on stage (or in this case, on Zoom).
I am amazed and inspired by Salomon’s timely employment of artistic practice to depict her story, and can’t wait to bring it alive on the Lehigh stage alongside my own life, story and contemporary context. Salomon’s masterpiece is a time capsule of one young person’s perception of her world, but is, moreover, a model example of how art can and should be used as a vehicle for community education and empathy.
Hometown: Highland Park, IL