Russell Kaback (writer, composer, performer) is a musician and educator based in South Portland, Maine. He teaches in K-12 classrooms, and writes, produces and performs original music. He received the 2016 Joel and Linda Abromson Award and the 2018 Maine Arts Commission Project Grant in support of bringing his musical story, based on his grandfather’s experience during the Holocaust, into schools in Maine. This work has been performed in venues in Maine and Massachusetts since 2014, at the PortFringe festival in Portland, and in his grandfather’s hometown of Bendzin, Poland in 2018. In 2022 he began collaboration with master storyteller Antonio Rocha to create the one-man musical storytelling version of the show, titled “25044”. The performance debuted in Turner, Maine in March 2023.
Antonio Rocha (storytelling coach and creative contributor), originally from Brazil, began his career in the performing arts in 1985. In 1988 he received a Partners of the Americas grant to come to the USA to perform and deepen his mime skills with Mime Master Tony Montanaro. Since then he has earned a Summa Cum Laude Theater BA from University of Southern Maine and studied with Master Marcel Marceau. Mr. Rocha’s unique fusion of mime and spoken word has been performed from Singapore to South Africa and many places in between, including 20 countries on 6 continents and 44 US states.
What students and teachers are saying about Russell Kaback’s “25044”:
“The way you told your grandfather’s story was by far the most meaningful and real story I have seen.”
“Intuitive and raw.”
“I hope that you continue sharing this story because as a society, we mustn't forget the horrors and the humanity of the Holocaust.”
“It felt like I was watching a movie in my head using imagination.”
“What a lovely way to discuss a heart wrenching topic into something suitable for even children.”
"I just wanted to strongly encourage anybody who has the opportunity to sit in on a performance by Russell Kaback, grandson of a Holocaust survivor who tells the story through song and performance, to do so.
This was a strong, emotional, impactful performance. I wish that all of us, both staff and students, could have the opportunity to experience this sharing of such an important part of history.
It is so necessary for all of us to do all we can to help keep this knowledge and these stories alive for now and future generations.
Anyway, run, don't walk, to see him while he's here at Leavitt."
"His style of storytelling through movement, motion, and song was so captivating. He takes on the role of his grandfather as he captures the horrific experiences his grandfather lived through to eventually being saved and sharing his stories. It is a must see performance!"
Reviews from Russell Kaback’s PortFringe 2023 performance of “25044”:
‘25044’ is a must see. Brilliantly written and vocalized, writer and actor Russell Kaback jumps through a multitude of characters in this story about Russell’s grandfather’s encampment in work and concentration camps during the Holocaust.
With rock ballads and emotive chords as a story enhancement, Russell takes audience members on an expressive journey and several years of life in war torn Europe. An incredible use of the short play format, I was intrigued but Russell’s non stop energy and captivating storytelling skills. This is definitely something I would recommend for the whole family.
- Christina W. Richardson, PF23 Independent Review Team
In this latest iteration of his grandfather’s story, Russell Kaback takes us on a tour of one teen’s journey from carefree village life in WWII-era Poland to work camp, to concentration camp, to eventual liberation (that’s not really a spoiler since Kaback is already proof that his grandfather survived…). Kaback does not shy away from the atrocities his grandfather, Szyjek Magier, lived through during the Holocaust, but neither does he dwell in them or exploit them. He’s not out to shock the audience with ancestral trauma. His message is uplifting — an invitation, even.
Kaback foregrounds highly physicalized storytelling interlaced with guitar accents and song, taking on the voices of his grandfather as a child, that child’s own grandfather, an older brother, even Himmler. At times a little more differentiation between those characters’ vocal styles and physicality would help to keep character distinctions clearer, but Kaback’s energy and focus are consistently engaging and his voice is strong and resonant. Guided by seemingly divine instructions at key moments and a promise made to his mother, Szyjek Magier’s story is one of resiliency and triumph.
- Amanda Painter, PF23 Independent Review Team
VIDEO SAMPLE (5 minutes)
PortFringe festival - Portland, Maine. June 2023