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Christina Rausa on creativity, crisis and the art of becoming 'Rose'

Fredonia-based actor Christina Rausa has a knack for taking on strong women.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that she is one.

In 1993, it was the iron-willed Hedda Gabler. In 2008, it was Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier. And now, for the second time in a decade, it's a fictional Holocaust survivor whose deep intelligence and inner strength led her from a Russian shtetl to the Warsaw Ghetto and finally to a new life in America.

Rausa, who performs the title role in Martin Sherman's "Rose" opening Feb. 1 in the Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre, talked about her take on the character, a new approach to an old piece of material and how her own struggles informed her performance.

Question: Who is Rose?

Answer: Well, she's a fictitious character. We see her from her life in a shtetl in Russia to Warsaw, which at the time was the Paris of Poland. She meets the love of her life, and then the Nazis occupy Warsaw. Then she is forced by her circumstances to survive all that, and ends up being a refugee.

I see her as a survivor and someone who, in their life, took advantage of opportunities to survive and to get her out of darkness. And she ended up in Florida owning a hotel. I see her as one of those everyday people that have such a rich and cluttered history, but she doesn't wear it on her sleeve. To me, she's a heroine, but she doesn’t live for that.

Q: How did you get yourself into the mindframe of the character?

A: What really helped me was to watch interviews on YouTube with Holocaust survivors and people who escaped Nazi Russia. It really helped me to identify, by visualizing these people.

I also do a lot of looking at photographs of the Warsaw Ghetto, which helps me to visualize where she is when she's talking about something. As far as the accent goes, I was concerned about that. I noticed that many people have a very slight accent, it's hardly detectable at this point in their lives when they have been in America for a long time.

I think the strongest thing I do is visualize. I try to look at every picture or circumstance that I can possibly get into my head that she would be seeing, and then how the light in that picture or that circumstance is, and the emotion that that light could evoke inside of me.

Q: What would you say was the biggest challenge of playing Rose the first time around. Is the challenge different this time?

A: To tell you the truth, I can't even imagine that I did this 10 years ago. I don't even see how. With my life experience in the last 10 years, I've learned a lot about living, about surviving crises, just about life and the things we go through. So now I see her in such a different light. I think I understand her more viscerally. Now, it's really exciting that I've gotten the opportunity to do this again. Because I see her in a brighter light, I feel her more.

Theater Preview

"Rose" runs Feb. 1 to 25 in the Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre, 2640 North Forest Road, Amherst). Tickets are $10 to $38. Call 650-7626 or visit jewishrepertorytheatre.com.

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