"When survival depends on hiding the truth, how does the truth survive? How much are you willing to compromise and how much are you willing to risk?"

"Do you save yourself? Do you work to save other people? Do you go along? Do you not?"

These are some of the questions raised in this new and original production called Signs of Life.

Signs of Life takes place in the fortress town of Terezin, located only 40 miles outside of Prague, CZ. During WWII, the Germans occupied the town and renamed it Theresienstadt.

The Germans sent 144,000 people to Theresienstadt but only 17,000 survived. Signs of Life introduces its audience to these world renowned composers, artists, writers, musicians, and explores the paradox in which their own art is forced to become a tool for their own demise.

When asked for her motivation in commissioning this piece, Virginia S. Criste (Commissioner and Producer of Signs of Life) responds, "There was just something impelling about trying to figure out how they lived and what that experience was like, and the contradictions that it posed because in one way it was a very rich, rich artistic community and then in the other way it was a prison."

And in regards to the universality of this piece, Virginia states, "Anyone can get labeled, I mean, we have characters in this show who did not identify themselves with being Jewish at all, and yet they were discriminated against and they were captured because someone else placed that label on them."

Signs of Life is directed by the head of the MFA directing program at The Theatre School at DePaul University, Lisa Portes. Lisa served as the associate director on the Tony Award-winning musical Tommy and mounted its international productions in Canada, Germany, London, as well as its recent revival at the Stratford Festival Theatre.

When asked about her experience on Signs of Life, Lisa says, "I have never worked on a more challenging or fulfilling musical in my life! Signs of Life is a bold and courageous piece of work that uses the scope and scale musical theatre demands to shine the light into the hidden lives of the artists who were imprisoned in the Terezin Ghetto. These people were trying to cope and make decisions within atrocious circumstances. But they still fell in love. They still made jokes. And most importantly they still sketched and drew and painted and made plays. First, they did so as a way to escape the horrors they saw around them; later, because they were made to by the Nazi Party for propaganda reasons. But finally, they made art to let the world know what was happening. Their art became their revolution."

The writing team is comprised of composer Joel Derfner, lyricist Len Schiff, and bookwriter Peter Ullian. Joel is a professor in the musical theater writing program at New York University, Len is an accomplished lyricist, teacher, and journalist, and Peter, most notably, wrote the libretto for Flight of the Lawnchair Man, which was directed by Hal Prince.

Among the remarkable cast is Jason Collins who plays Kurt. Jason has been with Signs of Life since its first workshop. While the show has been received well in each venue it has been in, Collins tells The Chicago Jewish News, "One of the more difficult things is to get people to believe it is not going to be horribly depressing. It is hard to believe that you will not feel punched in the gut. People go to theater to feel good."

Jason attributes the fact that Signs of Life is not depressing to a first-rate writing team. "My hat is off to them. They have done such a miraculous job of walking a tightrope between being accurate and truthful and not shying away from the horror of the story and yet balancing that so beautifully with real honest characters. Genuine humor comes from those characters, from their situations together, yet it never feels like a punch line. That would be horrendous. It all comes from the heart and it works beautifully," he says.