When I was a freshman, the Performing Arts Department put on Cabaret. This was before Broadway decided to revive the show. Because the production was on the main stage (Edison), it was to be very elaborate. Huge sets, lots of lighting, grand costumes, the works. The director was given carte blanche. Her vision was to have a cluttered stage, and slowly, as the Nazis take over, the stage becomes bare. At the very end there is nothing left, except for one thing: A giant Nazi flag. This flag was the size of the stage: 30 feet high and 50 feet wide. It was hit with a bright light just to remind the audience about the power of the Nazis. In some ways, her idea was quite brilliant. The problem, however, was not when it was on stage, it was when it was made. The play took place at the end of April of 1997. At the same time, Hillel (the Jewish Community Center) was bringing Holocaust survivors to the school to discuss what had happened to them over fifty years ago. Part of their time at the school included a tour of the campus and facilities.
As the survivors were milling about the campus, I was in the scene shop with Drew (who was the foreman at the time), and Caroline (who would later become my wife, but was with someone else at the time). To paint the giant flag, we had to add on to the paint frame to make it longer and slightly wider. For a few hours, we built the frame and then painted it to make it look like a giant flag. As we got to the end, Drew and Caroline were finishing the red, and I was putting the final touches on the Swastika. At that very moment, we heard the tour guide and several members of the Holocaust survivors were led into the Scene Shop. Many of them gasped as they saw a slightly Jewish-looking man and two Aryan-looking (blond and blue-eyed) working on, what in their eyes was, the very definition of evil. The tour guide had no clue what to do. Drew and Caroline looked at each other and slowly moved toward Drew's office, saying "Weeellll. Break time." I, on the other hand, was on a ladder with no place to go. As the survivors continued stare and talk amongst each other, I smiled and waved, saying, "hello," and then returned to painting. After what felt like ten minutes (but was really one minute), the tour guide asked me what I was doing. None, and I do mean NONE, of the Hillel guests moved toward me. I turned on the ladder and explained that we were, "finishing the flag for the upcoming production of Cabaret." Still, none of the survivors moved toward me. The tour guide asked if I could, "make the thing go away." When I replied I could not, she quickly gathered the masses up and moved them out of the Shop and back into Mallinckrodt. As I stood on that ladder, with my face extremely red and burning from embarassment, Drew and Caroline returned to finish the red part of the flag. After a few minutes of awkward silence, we all began to laugh.
The kicker was that a few weeks later, after watching the show, I listened to two people arguing about the flag. One man was saying that the Swastika was facing the wrong way. A woman was arguing that, in fact, it was right. As they argued, one of the Holocaust survivors who lived in the area and had seen the show, approached them. He quietly said, "I saw them painting it. They did it right. Very good. Very authentic." He then walked off. It was nice to know that we had painted the flag correctly, but it was horrifying to frighten that group of people. Every time I saw Drew after that incident, we laughed at the fact that we had been caught, literally, red-handed.