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Rosebud Theatre produces true story of Lilia

Rosebud Theatre produces true story of Lilia

by Laureen F. Guenther


Lilia, a play by a granddaughter about her own larger-than-life grandmother, will be performed on Rosebud Theatre’s BMO Studio Stage from July 5 to August 31.

Lilia Skala fled the Nazi regime in her homeland of Austria, and fled with her young sons to New York as refugees. Trained as an architect and with acting experience on the Austrian stage, Lilia’s first job in New York was at a zipper factory. Soon she was working as an actress on Broadway and in films, and later received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Lilies of the Field with Sidney Poitier.

Lilia’s granddaughter Libby Skala, also an actress, wrote her grandmother’s story as she saw it. In Rosebud Theatre’s production, Cassia Schmidt of Rosebud will perform the role of granddaughter Libby, and Elinor Holt of Calgary will perform the role of Lilia. Sarah Rodgers of Vancouver will direct.

In the play, Libby and her grandmother get to know each other as she grows up, from a preschooler to a young woman, Schmidt says. The play starts in the 1970s and ends in 1994, the year Lilia Skala passed away at the age of 98. The audience hears Lilia’s story as, over the years, she shares it with Libby.

“(Lilia) talks about this journey when she was trying to get the papers and trying to get to New York,” Cassia Schmidt says. “It seemed like it was impossible, and she talks about her praying. … Lilia does talk a lot about her faith and that she prayed, and God saw her through.”

“She talks about turning down roles because of her principles, because of her integrity or even her life experience. … She’s formidable. She’s a force of a human.”

”There’s a speech of Lilia at some point in her life being a refugee in the States, in New York, getting a phone call from a producer … interspersed with these kinds of conversations that she’s mentoring her granddaughter. They talk about acting a lot. … She gives her some marriage advice. She gives her advice on her fashion … but largely what they share is a love of story and theatre.”

But it seems to Libby that Lilia is not always kind to her granddaughter.

“There’s lovely reparation throughout the story,” Schmidt says, “for those moments when she doesn’t feel as kind. … I think that’s refreshing… . We’re not just looking at a museum, a relic of a person, and (not) just looking at how she was great. We’re looking at a relationship and how they deal with their life together and discovered each other.”

The play has something to say to modern culture, Schmidt says. “Culturally, we don’t have a lot of time for our elders. And I think that’s a big loss. …. The prejudice forgets that an elder has been young and has been a rebel and has made strong choices in their life and been athletic or whatever it was that they did in their life, before they were quiet and frail and wise.”

Schmidt says Lilia, which is playing on Rosebud Theatre’s smaller BMO Studio Stage, pairs well with The Kite, another play about a “formidable” elderly person, which is playing on Rosebud Theatre’s mainstage at the same time.

“Wouldn’t it be lovely if grandmothers and granddaughters could come (see Lilia) together?” she says. “I think it’s going to be lovely and entertaining and heartwarming for anyone who has mentors in their lives, people that they look up to, people that they watch grow old. … These are formidable huge human beings that have more inside them than you expect.”

For tickets and more information, go to or call 1-800-267-7553. Tickets for some shows can be purchased with a meal.