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Family Adopts 'Peace Child' and Brings It to San Diego

July 22, 1988|NANCY CHURNIN

SAN DIEGO — Most people want world peace. Most people don't think about it much because they don't believe it will happen--not in our lifetimes anyway. David Woollcombe, 37, is not most people. Seven years ago, his mother-in-law talked the former BBC film maker into staging a presentation for the United Nations, even though he told her he had better things to do. Then he adapted Bernard Benson's "The Peace Book," with David Gordon's music, into his first "Peace Child" musical for children 18 and under. He became so sold on what he was selling that, with the encouragement of his wife, he gave up his work as a BBC film maker to produce more than 500 "Peace Child" plays involving about 12,000 children around the world.

Four years later, Woollcombe's Moscow-to-Minnesota "Peace Child" live satellite linkup reunited, for American audiences, the very first Soviet and American cast he had put together earlier that year in Moscow. That space bridge, in turn, led Barbara and Howard Katz and their daughter Lisa, 18, to eventually engineer the San Diego premiere tonight of the play at the Mandeville Auditorium at UC San Diego.

As with Woollcombe, the Katzes, who then lived in Minnesota, were reluctant draftees in the "Peace Child" campaign. They went to see the program because they are fans of John Denver, who was hosting the show. What they weren't prepared for was the way the work would make them feel.

"It was electrifying," Barbara Katz recalled. "When the screen lit up reuniting the American kids with the kids they'd performed with in Moscow, all the kids went wild. There was real feeling between the kids. It was just too real for them to have been coached. They started asking each other questions: 'Do you date?' 'What do you do?' One of the (American) girls was interested in one of the (Soviet) boys in the band. She blew a kiss to the boy and he blew her a kiss."

With the zeal of the newly converted, the Katzes insisted that their children watch the show when it was televised. Lisa, however, laid down the rules.

Lisa "said you can make me sit down but not pay any attention," her mother recalled during an interview in their San Diego home.

Lisa nodded with an embarrassed smile.

"The only thing I remember is that I was angry. I was doing needlepoint. When 'I Have a Vision' came on,' she said of the song, 'I was so peeved that I just started to cry. It looked really neat, but I wasn't going to say anything to her, " Lisa said, pointing to her mother.

Barbara and Howard Katz were so anxious to see a show with Soviet youths in Minneapolis that they wrote to Woollcombe asking if someone was organizing one.

"We were expecting form letters from a big organization," Barbara Katz said. Instead, they received a letter from Woollcombe, who works out of his home, suggesting that the Katzes produce the show. They did. Later, when they moved to San Diego, the scenario repeated itself.

Lisa's involvement began when she let her mother talk her into singing in the "Peace Child" chorus of the Minneapolis-Soviet production.

Lisa was so excited by her Soviet friends she made in doing the show that she continued producing "Peace Child" on her own, with all American casts, after her friends left. When the Katzes moved to San Diego, there was no question in Lisa's mind that she would audition for the San Diego "Peace Child."

Within a year, after the Katzes had organized San Diego's first children's chorus for backing up the Soviet-American cast, Lisa auditioned here for a "Peace Child" director and was selected as the only San Diegan in a cast of 16 Americans, 15 Soviets and one Australian to participate in tonight's show. Erik Anderson, 17, will be the first and only San Diegan to go to the Soviet Union to participate in a production of "Peace Child" later this year.

"Peace Child" plays like a cross between "A Chorus Line" and the Children's Crusade, with each cast member making his own contribution to the simple story. It all begins in the year 2025, long after world peace has been achieved. The children decide to celebrate the anniversary of world peace, called Peace Day, by recalling a time in our present--1988--when a young girl and boy, one from the Soviet Union and one from the United States, got their leaders to agree to lasting peace.

Cast members appear as themselves, writing some of their own dialogue in which they tell how they feel about the possibility of nuclear holocaust.

"If there is one key to 'Peace Child,' it is that of a child walking out on stage before a live audience and looking at life-threatening issues like nuclear war," said Woollcombe in a telephone interview from Virginia.

Anderson, a Bishop's School student who will be attending Harvard in the fall, auditioned because of interests in drama and world affairs.

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