An Interview with Heather Reinhardt

Photo by Megan Wintory

Photo by Megan Wintory

I am so excited to feature Heather Reinhardt on Strip It Down! Heather’s journey towards self love and Judaism is so extraordinary, it has to be shared. Lucky for you in addition to this interview, you can pick up Heather’s book, Go Love Yourself, available now! Be sure to check out the links at the end of the interview to see everything Heather is up to.

Describe a bit about your background in theater and the performing arts.

I grew up performing in a competitive dance company in Georgia. I also participated in voice lessons and choir in my formative years. My choir sang at Carnegie Hall when I was 15. By far, still one of the coolest experiences of my life. My favorite dances to dance and songs to sing were always musical theatre.

Can you describe your journey to becoming a “Self-Love Aficionado”?

My self-love journey officially started around 2007 when I became fascinated with alternative ways of thinking. I spent a few of those early years reading as many books as I could about the power of the mind and law of attraction. These concepts prompted me forward on the journey to live my best life. When I broke up with a boyfriend in 2014, I went through a period of having to accept my greatness, meaning I knew my purpose was to be a writer and I had to come to terms with it—and muster the courage to actually do it. The more I wrote, the stronger my self-love developed. I was writing about past relationships and really owning up to where I needed to take responsibility for allowing myself to bem treated poorly—and take responsibility for lashing out. I was owning up to everything about my life and all of my choices, finally understanding myself, fully knowing my identity. My definition of self-love is knowing one’s identity, a deep self-awareness—the choices you’ve made in the past, the way you speak to yourself, knowing what you want out of life—this inner knowledge that so many of us never dive deep to figure out. Eventually I realized that it was my soul’s duty to help other people cultivate self-awareness and truly learn to love themselves.

Did theater play a role in that journey?

Oh definitely. My formative years up on stage certainly served as a strong starting point for self-worth and self-love. I often remind myself that the courage that lives within me has been there all along, from that first moment I went on stage when I was five. My years practicing in the studio taught me discipline which has really come in handy with not only writing, but also with creating a business. Numbers take time to perfect, rehearsing over and over till they become part of your blood. Same with writing and creating, it’s a practice that eventually becomes a part of you.

How did the choice to do your mikvah intertwine with your decision to start practicing self-love as a lifestyle? Or did one lead to the other?

My entire adult life, I have considered myself Jewish, even though I wasn’t raised with any particular religion (my family genealogy roots my father’s side to Judaism but over many generations back). I’d been surrounded by Jewish friends and boyfriends, I’d celebrated all the holidays, I’d hung mezuzahs on my doorframes… I was accustomed to the tradition and living a Jewish life. When a boyfriend and I broke up, I had a little conniption about where I was going to spend the High Holidays since I was no longer with him/his family. A friend of mine said, “You know you’re not actually Jewish, right?” It hadn’t actually dawned on me that I wasn’t. I started to think about converting and had kind of placed it on the future to-do list, thinking I’d one day marry a Jewish man and deal with it then. About two years ago, as I began to write my book Go Love Yourself, I woke up one morning with a deep knowing that it was time to convert. I was writing about identity and knowing one’s self. I could no longer live in a falsehood of living a Jewish life but not actually being Jewish. I needed to match my outer world with my inner world, living in integrity. So off I went to the mikvah.

Were their specific parts of the Jewish religion or culture that spoke to you and helped you find your way to self-love? What were they?

I believe that you must believe in something—God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it—to ultimately believe in yourself. When you have faith in a higher power, it’s far easier to have faith in yourself and understand that you have a purpose for being alive. The way that Jews converse so openly and almost argumentatively about God has always fascinated me. I like that we’re encouraged to question everything and dig deep. That’s how the journey to self-love starts, by questioning everything and digging deep. One thing my Rabbi said as a suggestive thought that will forever stick with me was something along the lines of maybe God doesn’t have all the answers and continues to grow as we grow. That’s a great metaphor for anyone starting a self-love journey. You don’t have to know all the answers. Just keep growing.

What is it like to be a Jewish woman building a brand that is so dependent on the, now somewhat socially accepted, idea of women loving themselves?

Speaking as a woman in general, there’s never been a better time to come forward with an idea and go for it. There are more female investors putting money into female owned businesses, and there are more grants and loans available for female owned businesses. I was raised with no limits on my dreams, that I could do whatever I put my mind and energy towards. So being a woman hasn’t ever stopped me from doing anything, especially creating. Speaking as a Jewish woman, the Jewish community of Los Angeles has been amazing, something I would have never become involved with if I hadn’t done my mikvah. I’ll be doing a few events with some Jewish organizations with my book and candle launch soon. They’ve been nothing but welcoming and supportive. The world has got to have more balance between the masculine and the feminine. With more women stepping into self-love (and more men stepping into self-worth), I think it’ll help, as it certainly won’t hurt.

What do you believe are the most important steps towards self-love during a time where we can so easily turn to anger and self-loathing?

Self-compassion. Not beating up on yourself. Being kind to yourself when you fuck up. Acknowledge when you’re having a rough moment or bad day (it’s bound to happen, we’re human) and just allow it to be. But you know what else? It’s also bound to pass. It’s just a moment, a day, a very brief segment of life. Trust that things will always change and nothing gets stuck forever. Look to the sun and the moon and the change of seasons for proof. You’re having a rough day? Go to bed and try again tomorrow. I think it’s also important to prioritize your food, hydration, sleep, and exercise routine. I know life from both ends of the scale (literally, I’ve lost 60 pounds in the last 10 years) and I know for a fact that my entire body—including my mental health, how I speak to myself—thrives best when I’m taking care of myself and being kind to this body that houses my soul.

What is a piece of theater that connects you to your Jewish identity?

This is super cliché but obviously Fiddler on the Roof. Let’s just say now I understand why I used to choose “To Life” to warm up in voice lessons and choir as a kid. Little me knew I was Jewish long before I did my mikvah!

If you had to choose a mantra to live by, what would it be?

“How you do one thing is how you do everything.”

Everything you do in your life is a choice. Understanding your choices empowers you. When you are in charge of your choices, you are empowered. When you are empowered, you love yourself.

See more from Heather!

Amazon link for Go Love Yourself – book is available hardback, paperback, ebook, & audio.

https://www.amazon.com/Heather-Colleen-Reinhardt/e/B07QJYKX9H/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Follow Heather on social media –

www.instagram.com/heathereinhardt

www.instagram.com/affirmationcandle

Website –www.heather-reinhardt.com

Affirmation candles are available now at - www.affirmationcandles.com

An Interview with Esther M. Cohen

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Director/dramaturg Esther M. Cohen is the cool older sister you’ve always wanted. I’m so glad I got to chat with Esther about theater, our place as Jewish women, and just life in general. She’s someone you should pay close attention to.

What has your life in theater been like? What are some memorable moments you’ve had thus far?

My life in theater started at summer camp, as I think it does for a lot of people. At around 8 years old, I auditioned for The Wizard of Oz and was cast as Munchkin number 800-something in a production where everyone got a role. That was my first time getting a bite from the theatre bug. Around the same time, my next door neighborhood sat me down and played the song What You Own from Rent for me. She told me all about Rent and I thought, “This isn’t what musicals sound like! What the hell is this?” That was when I became utterly transfixed by musical theater. I started acting in every musical at summer camp and in middle school and started listening to musical theater absolutely incessantly. Essentially all I did between the ages of 10 and 15 was sit in my bedroom and listen to musical theater soundtracks - it was a truly exciting adolescence!

When I was 15 I went to boarding school at Andover. Because it was a boarding school, it had a theatre landscape that was more like college theatre, in that it was largely student-led. But I was still frustrated by the fact that I was not being cast in the roles that I wanted. I never looked like your traditional “leading lady.” I remember being repeatedly cast in Shakespeare plays as the Shrew-ish character, like Kate in Taming of the Shrew and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Of course, now I take that as a compliment, but back in high school all I wanted was to play the romantic leads I adored so much and no one wanted to cast me in those roles. So I wondered, what else can I do in this field that I love so much?

I decided to try directing for The Drama Labs, which were 10-minute plays presented every Friday night. I finished my first rehearsal and I thought, “Why did I ever do anything but this? Why did no one tell me this was an option, instead of the pain and humiliation of auditioning and auditioning and never being able to participate in the way that I want to?” That’s how I started directing, and I have never looked back.

Another memorable moment was the summer after my freshman year of college, when I interned at Signature Theatre in New York. Signature is completely unique because they have playwrights-in-residence over the course of 3 or 5 years who are guaranteed a certain number of world premieres during that residency. The playwrights get paid, they get health insurance, they get a space to work, and they get dramaturgical support. It’s a uniquely playwright-centered company that completely puts their money where their mouth is. Being in that environment and watching new American plays get created every day, having world-class playwrights around the office, and seeing what it meant for a theater to value playwrights and understand how important it is to support new work - that had a profound effect on me. That internship is the reason that I’m a new play director.

You touched on this a bit already, but how did you first know you wanted to professionally pursue directing?

As I said, I started directing in high school, which is relatively early. When I started directing, it was simply an extension of my love for theatre as a hobby. I was told over and over again, by so many sources, that working in theater is not a realistic thing to do. I come from a family where everyone is a doctor - MD, JD, or PhD, it doesn’t matter, but you become a doctor. When I brought up the idea of pursuing theater, my parents said, “Absolutely not. It’s foolish.”

My senior year of high school, when I was producing the Drama Labs, I begged Andover to let me do a senior project, and they did. They gave me the tiniest budget of all time and they gave me access to space and were like, go crazy! I directed The Last Five Years which, looking back on it now, is hilarious. It’s so exemplary of 17 year-old Esther to think that I could handle that show as my full-length directing debut; like, I knew everything there was to know about life, love, and theater and could do that piece justice. But it was my favorite musical, so I was going to direct it! I put everything I had into that show. I remember I single-handedly spent 14 hours on my hands and knees painting the floor of our performance space so that it would be the right color. When that show went up, I saw what it meant to share a story that had such a profound, cathartic impact on me with other people and to be able to decide how they were going to view that story. It went up a month before graduation and I thought, “Shit. I need to become a director.”

How do you approach directing a full length piece like The Wolves?

My approach starts and ends with the text. I tend to choose plays that are textually rich, and I especially like hyper-naturalistic plays that are written exactly as people speak, where one could say nothing happens but a lot is discussed. Because of that, my favorite part of any process is tablework.

When I did The Wolves, I had a blessedly long rehearsal process that you can only get in a college environment, so I was able to spend a solid month of rehearsals just on table work - just picking apart that seemingly simple text and understanding and conducting the chorus of voices that define that piece. I always say that when we get on our feet is when I start to feel anxious, whereas when I’m digging into a text, that’s when I feel like I’m in my element.

Beyond text work, my directing approach is essentially just to enter any rehearsal room extremely prepared. I know the text really well, I’ve done all of my research, and because I consider myself a director-dramaturg, I take it upon myself to make sure everyone on the production has all the resources we need to execute this story. I think great preparation primarily helps me ask the right questions and, sometimes, have the right answers.

I also work from a belief that a director’s main job is to not fuck up the play. I think there’s a pervasive belief, especially among young new play directors, that directors need to “fix” the play. If I ever read a play that I think needs fixing, I know that is a play I should never direct. The play, as the playwright has created it, is good and it’s the right story. My only job is to read that story well enough that I can execute it honestly. There’s a quote by William Ball from his book, A Sense of Direction, that essentially says “A director in rehearsal is like a midwife at a birth.” The play has everything it needs be birthed and the director is just there to facilitate it.

How do you find directing pieces written by women, for women, to be a different experience than directing a more male centered play?

In all fairness, I can’t really answer this question because I’ve never directed a male-centered play. Of the full-lengths I’ve directed, I think The Last Five Years is the most male-centered out of all of them. Although, in my interpretation of it, it was definitely Kathy’s story rather than Jamie’s. The other three full length plays I’ve directed have been by women. From Up Here by Liz Flahive had a male protagonist, but it was really a play about how women take on the burdens of their family members, and especially the young men in their families. The other two were Dry Land and The Wolves, which are decidedly plays by and about women.

I can tell you why I really enjoy working in rooms with a lot of women. I’ll note that it doesn’t have to be a room of all women; the play I’m developing right now about an all-female reboot of The Power Rangers has a cast of all women, but the playwright is non-binary, and I’m also developing a musical written by a male composer that centers the stories of working-class, older women. I like those rooms because I have found that women make wonderful collaborators and really embody the collaborative spirit of theater. Individuals raised and socialized as women are taught to listen more than we speak and are taught to be skeptical of our own convictions. Strangely, I think those negative norms make for great collaborators, listeners, and question-askers; they make people think twice in a productive way, rather than a self destructive way. That’s why I’m going to keep building teams and rooms full of women.

Is there a way you see your Jewish identity and your identity as a director intersecting in your work?

As a Jewish woman, I approach my work in theatre today through the lens of Jews as the original model minority. Jews were relatively late immigrants to the United States, but they were able, and more importantly willing, to assimilate quickly - they were accepted as white, they were well-educated, they had financial power, so even though they remain in the vast religious minority even today, they quickly ascended to a privileged social position. In my experience, this experience as a “model minority” has led to a destructive, dismissive sense of elitism among Jews - there’s a sense of, “if we were able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, why can’t other people?”

I bring that distorted lens into my directing work as an impetus to search for more empathy and more human connection with people who are unlike me. I always say that I do work about the people you’d rather not hear from - I want to ask, “what are your unique struggles and burdens?” rather than just saying “we did it, why can’t you?”

What is a piece of theater that speaks to you as a Jewish woman?

Indecent, which is what everyone says. I saw that play on Broadway and I felt like I was “in on the joke.” Fiddler on the Roof exists, but that piece trades in some outdated tropes. While Indecent is set around the time of the Holocaust, it was written recently, so it feels more of-the-moment and of my personal Jewish vernacular. I remember hearing one line towards the beginning of the play - “What’s a minyan? It’s 10 Jews in a circle accusing each other of anti-semitism” - and laughing so hard when so many people in the audience did not. Indecent was just one of those plays that made me feel very seen, in ways big and small, which is of course the entire point of theatre.

The other play that I love is Trayf by Lindsay Joelle. I read it when I was an intern at Second Stage and brought it to my boss and said, “I need you to read this play and I need you to know that, when you read it, you’re not going to understand it, because you’re not Jewish. But, everyone in the audience who’s Jewish will understand it. Just trust me!” That play also has a completely uniquely empathetic view of Chabad Jews. We don’t get to see black-hat Jews in media basically ever, but when we do, they tend to be very othering depictions. Lindsay’s very human take on them hit me right in my heart. It’s a play that I have adored for years and I wish that more theatres were doing it.

How do you think your voice as a Jewish woman can impact the theater industry, or tell a different story?

I actually don’t think that my perspective, through the lens of being a Jewish woman, is particularly helpful right now. The best thing I can do as a director today is I search for stories that are extremely undertold and use the privilege and resources that I have to bring those stories to the stage. I don’t think people actually need to hear from me right now, so I should make myself useful by helping other people be heard.

Is there anything you’d want to say to other young directors?

I had two particularly striking conversations with directors I admire in the past few months. In one of them, the director told me that her first year out of college trying to be a freelance director in New York was literally the worst year of her life, and that the only place to go from there is up. In the second one, I was told that a career in theatre is a marathon, not a sprint, and that “we’re all just looking around searching for running partners.” We might have someone who runs next to us for 3 months on one production, we might have someone who we meet our first year and we don’t see them again for 10 years, but then they run with us for another 15. As a person currently muddling through my first year in the real world, I’d love to offer those things: it’s a marathon, not a sprint, keep looking for running partners, and don’t get depressed, because it will get better!

An Interview with Ruthie Fierberg

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I am so thrilled to share the latest interview for Strip It Down, featuring Senior Features Editor at Playbill, Ruthie Fierberg. Ruthie’s passion for cultivating conversation and widening theatre’s accessibility is not only admirable, but also infectious. After speaking with Ruthie, I was rejuvenated, more motivated than ever to contribute to this industry, ask my questions, and demand the answers. Ruthie is no ordinary theatre journalist— get to know more about her in the interview below!

What is it like to be the Senior Features Editor for one of the largest theatre publications in the country?

Oh gosh (laughs). I’d say every day is different and the same. There is a definite rhythm to the theatrical schedule and to what happens in that lifecycle of a production from a publication point of view. The day usually starts [like this]: I come in and have certain news beats—I’m a news writer as well as the features editor, so there are certain stories I have to report on. Then the day can spiral off into anything [...] yesterday I had the press day for Choir Boy that’s coming to Manhattan Theatre Club. That’s where we do interviews with the cast and creative team before they make it to Broadway, so we can get those videos and photos for articles about what to expect. Then I come back [to the office] and there’s a lot of emailing involved—that’s the editor part of things, the management and coordination, and then the actual editing. I’m responsible for everything that Features publishes. Anything that’s not news comes through me. If it’s a feature that’s in the print magazine, I don’t assign that—my editor in chief assigns that—but when it goes into a digital form, I’m responsible for putting that online. With the exception of those, say, five articles a month, those one to three features you see every single day on Playbill.com/features have to go through me. It’s either an idea that I had, an idea that I approved by one of my writers, a video that I worked on with our video content manager, or a photo essay I worked on with our staff photographer—my brain is constantly whirring and spinning ideas of all the different ways to talk about theatre. And that’s not just Broadway; it’s Off-Broadway, off-off Broadway, regional theatre, one-night-only concerts, theatre people on the small screen and big screen. The middle chunk of my day could be coordinating a photo shoot with a show because of a feature we’re running. It could also be a meeting with an organization. Yesterday afternoon, I did a video shoot where we learned choreography to promote a dance show. Then there’s also the writing part: I have a small staff of writers whom I absolutely depend on, but they’re split between News and Features. So, if I had to estimate, I write, like, 85% of features that you see on the website. I’m always getting inside of the reader’s head, but it’s kind of like getting inside my head because I’ve been a fan of Playbill since I was a young kid. These are the thoughts and ideas that naturally excite me.

What has been the most memorable moment in your career thus far?

It’s funny to be on this end of things, because I ask people questions like this all the time and they pause and try to figure out how to pick just one, and you start going through the Rolodex of your memories. The Tony Awards, and working the Tony Awards—it’s the only way I want to experience that night. It’s an incredibly humbling experience to walk onto that carpet and to feel,  in some small way, like you have laid a single brick in the thousands of bricks that lead to that night and that create this community and this business. The whole night, you are watching, in some cases, friends achieve their goals. In other cases, people you’ve admired for so long win for a show that you wrote something about. It’s very strange to have touched it in any way. The really special thing is, now that we do these opening nights, by the time we hit the Tony Awards red carpet, I have spoken to these people probably a minimum of six times, but sometimes it can be up to eight or eleven times. I speak to you on your press day before your opening, I speak to you for the interview that I do, whether its online or in print, I speak to you on opening night, again as we‘re ramping up for Tony Award nominations, again when you are nominated, then we have award season. I speak to these people so many times and the fact that I get to witness a fraction of their joy is incredible. I find it a true privilege to be the person with the microphone, that I get to ask my question. That feels amazing, especially on Tony night. Then, you know, you get to go to the party at the Plaza and I was in a really fancy dress, and there’s nothing like getting dressed up—I love it. The Tonys, particularly the 2017 Tonys, the year of Dear Evan Hansen, was really special.

Another really, really memorable moment was the first “In the Studio” choreography video that I did with Andy Blankenbuehler. He invited us to his home studio and taught me some of the choreography to Bandstand which is one of my favorite shows. The fact that I feel comfortable calling Andy Blankenbuehler a friend of mine, not a close friend, like we’re not hanging out all the time, but if I bump into him at a bar or at the theatre, it’s more than just a hello—it’s the most humbling experience.

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What was it like to lead a panel discussion at BroadwayCon?

My favorite thing in life is a panel. I love a panel discussion. I live for the conversation. As much as I love to write, the unedited, raw conversation and the immediacy and the impromptu batting back and forth of ideas is the most exciting for me. At the same time, every one of my panels is very well researched and well crafted. The best interviews are where, whether it’s a group of people or a single person, the questions are guiding a story, they’re progressing. Those panels, I just get in a zone. I don’t feel starstruck, I don’t feel odd, I don’t feel out-of-body, I feel incredibly in the moment and just driven. I am obsessed with getting the answer and I am excited by the opportunity to get that answer…then after an interview or a panel is when I’ll go, “wow, that was amazing.” When my question leads to something that, perhaps, someone else’s discussion might not have, it feels like a “get” to me.

How do you believe you can impact the theatre community?

My goal is always to give the most comprehensive view of theatre as I possibly can, to both people in the industry and to lovers of the art form. That also covers a mass age demographic, so I want every eight-year old out there to know that they can grow up to be an actor, but they can also grow up to be a set designer, or a lighting designer, or stage manager. I want the 20-year-old who loves to write to know that they can be a theatre journalist or a press representative. And then, of course, there are people in their 70s, 80s, 90s—people who saw original productions of classic musicals and more—who read us. This industry is so much larger than what happens physically on the stage, or even within the four walls of the theatre. I am constantly laboring—with love! I’m not Jean Val Jean on the railway tracks, here—and being cognizant of all the avenues of our business and the unsung heroes of the people that do work. I’ve done a lot of work with TDF, and they have a costume collection that rents out to anywhere you can ship mail, their general goal being accessibility of the performing arts. It’s charities and organizations, there’s so much to know.

What is a piece of theatre that speaks to you specifically as a Jewish woman?

The very first thing that comes to mind, just because it’s at the top of my mind, is my very different experience seeing The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. Seeing this production in Yiddish just tore my heart out. I was sobbing at intermission. The way they stage the pogrom is incredibly jarring in the best theatrical way. It’s also a product of the times. I’m feeling [anti-Semitism] in a way I haven’t really felt it before. It feels very present rather than a lesson to be learned in the not-so-distant past; it feels like I’m living it. I think it was a cathartic sob that [Fiddler on the Roof] gave me.

I also kind of want to answer this question with a show that’s not about Judaism. Truly, I think the real answer is West Side Story. Not because West Side Story was famously going to be about Jews vs. Irish Catholics, but because it’s this type of Romeo and Juliet story that affects me and my Judaism. It’s about people from two different worlds—my boyfriends in high school and college were not Jewish. If my extended family reads this interview this will be news to them (laughs), but that whole experience of ‘one of your own kind, stick to your own kind’, it tears me up inside. I understand it, and the idea of identity and heritage, those ideals that are drilled into us as Jews, but I also believe in open-mindedness, and cultural exchange, and the power of human connection. When I watch Tony die, I always think to myself, “Is this really better? Is this what you would rather have than to accept something like intermarriage?” That personally affects me and calls to how I grapple with my Judaism.

How do you think your Jewish heritage and your passion for theatre intertwine or influence each other?

My love for theatre starts from my parents. My parents are the ones who played cast albums from the moment I was born, even from before that. My mother did community theatre and was Tzeitel in a production of Fiddler on the Roof when she was pregnant with me. I mean, this was happening in utero. I think it connects Jewishly because my parents are Jewish and I come from a Jewish household. Love of art, I think, is embedded in the Jewish value system. You think about Kabbalah [an esoteric theoretical apparatus within Judaism for understanding the Torah, the cosmos, God, humanity, etc. which teaches the individual and the world as a whole how we can improve our lives], like true symbolism of Hebrew letters that have numerical values which tie to the meaning of principles—like, what else is theatre but symbolism? And, of course, storytelling. I mean, we are one of the oldest religions in the world, we are people of the book and very tied to text. Judaism is also a very musical culture. We sing prayer; the only spoken part of a Jewish service is the sermon, everything else is sung. Like I said, we are a people of the book, and as a theatre journalist, I’m dedicated to getting the story true, making sure people feel like their stories are true to what they are telling me.

In what ways do you believe Jewish women in theatre can begin to change the culture surrounding our heritage?

I think it’s about being visible. Unlike other communities, where there are always assumptions about people’s backgrounds, you can’t really look at someone and know whether they are Jewish or not. Someone has to declare it. That’s not saying everyone is obligated to do that, but I feel a duty to do that. It’s part of the reason why I wear my star. I was given my star as a bat mitzvah gift and I’ve worn it pretty much every day of my life since then, but I am cognizant of wearing it now—in a way that I wasn’t when I was younger. I am a representative of myself and of the Playbill brand whenever I walk into a room and especially when I’m on camera. There are sometimes I choose not to wear my star, for whatever reason, it could just be that another necklace goes better with my outfit, but I make that choice sparingly. I want people to look and see that this is a smart, articulate, poised woman who is Jewish. It means something to me to be a representative and to show that we can. I think it’s also really important to explain the flexibility of Judaism, I’m not about telling anyone that they’re not a ‘real Jew’ because they eat pork or something. To me, the defining principle of Judaism is how you treat people. Are you treating other people with kindness, humanity, and open-heartedness? Because if you eat pork, does that change my life? No. If you start bad-mouthing me, then that affects me and I have a problem with it. I think for Jewish women in the industry it’s about exposure, it’s about representing, and it’s about educating. I went to an event during the week of Passover and someone offered to make me a drink and I said “thank you so much, but I’m just having water because it’s Passover” and he said “Oh! what does that mean?”.  I think it’s our responsibility to know what it means, to know what the holidays are and what we are observing and why. Being emotionally and intellectually available to help people understand and educate, I think it’s what it’s all about—theatre, Judaism, whatever you might be in.

How do you find the inspiration to continue writing and discovering within theatre?

I prioritize as much as possible tailoring coverage to what I’m covering. My ideas come from the theatre that I witness, the experience that I have, and the experience that I think other people are having. No two productions or performances are the same, so there’s always room for innovation. That being said, there’s not always time. With the volume of things we have to cover, there is a reality that you don’t just get to sit and brainstorm about every single show you see, so there are templates that can be used and then it’s about finding the fresh perspective or exciting quote within that. We started covering costume designers in a way where we did a photo feature of the sketch next to the production photo of the costume and asking the designer about their process and what is behind their decisions. Then that turned into something we do often with costumer designers—just trying to find the new answer from your interview subject. I think it’s also really important to consume things outside of theatre, and this is something I often fall short of. But theatre is about connecting to the rest of the world, so when I am engaged in reading other publications, or engaged in watching a ton of different television shows and movies, going to different museums, watching the news, listening to people’s conversations on the subway, and looking at advertisements around New York, seeing what people are talking about, looking at fashion, that’s when you have the dots to draw lines between. If you’re not populating your periphery with dots, you can’t draw the lines.

An Interview With Caroline Rothstein

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Poet, activist, writer, performer, Caroline Rothstein is a woman you want to get to know. Her work as an educator for Jewish, and non-Jewish, communities is inspiring; And her passion for the work she does and the Jewish tradition of “the mouth speaks” (more on that later) is breathtaking. I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to speak with Caroline and I encourage everyone to expose themselves to her writings. Learn more about Caroline’s work here.

If you were to describe or explain your identity, how would you do so?

I am a white, ashkenazi Jew, cis-gender female from the North suburbs of Chicago. I am a writer, poet, and performer living in New York City.

What has your career and background been like with performing? What led you to where you are now?

I grew up doing musical theatre. I was singer, actress, and dancer. I did ballet, modern, hip hop, and I was in choirs. My plan was to be the next Bette Midler. Simultaneously, I was also a poet and a nonfiction writer. I also wanted to write non-fiction books and journalism and feature writing. When I got to college, I discovered spoken word poetry. Then I realized I could merge all of the things that I did as an artist into one art form. Suddenly I could perform the poetry I was writing and address various issues and socio-political things that mattered deeply to me. It became this way that I could merge the holy trinity of my work as a writer, performer, activist. Then that took flight. So instead of joining an acapella, theatre, or dance group, I joined the newly formed spoken word poetry group on my campus. That’s where I spent the majority of my artistic time in college. The stage time as an actress morphed into stage time as a poet. In terms of the theatrical productions, I took on the role of producer and director for a production of The Vagina Monologues. That was another way I was still utilizing my theatre background and activism in a new lense. As a writer, I kept writing nonfiction and ended up getting my Masters in journalism at Columbia University and that was the way for me to formalize my nonfiction and my writing. I like to think of things in holy trinities, even though I’m Jewish, and my career has really had three camps: writing, performing, and education. They all really intersect most of the time. I’m doing what I wanted to be doing when I was a little kid, it’s just manifested differently than I thought.

What about your life as a Jewish woman do you think impacted your choice to be a performer?

I feel like my Jewish Identity has more informed my content. The fact that my medium is art is another part of my soul, my neshama, who I am. I happen to have parents who encouraged me to pursue my artistic dreams and goals. I feel like being Jewish has more informed the way my art is inherently political. My work as an activist and organizer has come directly from my Jewish identity and from being socialized in a faith that has simultaneously been marginalized and not marginalized in this wild assimilation experience that white, Ashkenazi Jews have been experiencing in America. And the fact that we have a Social Justice 101 holiday every year during Passover and the fact that we hold ourselves accountable every year on Yom Kippur and that we explore what it means to have world peace every Shabbat has directly informed my mission as an artist. We are also a people of the book and a people of storytelling so I’ve grown up around stories and text which has given me a sense of how powerful a story can be.

What is a piece of theater that spoke to you specifically as a Jewish woman?

Sometimes I feel like I’m a woman first and that being Jewish is next to that. Two of my favorite pieces of theatre are for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf  by Ntozake Shange and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. Again, those are not for Jewish women, but I feel like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead really speaks to me in this sense of the sidelines and people whose stories get overlooked in service of the dominant, white, male character. for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf is such an earth-shattering piece of art that speaks to, again marginalized voices, and even if it’s not for my voice, there’s a connection I feel to that piece in it’s rawness. Also in its use of poetry as a means of storytelling. I often find myself more inspired by work created by someone who doesn’t hold all the same memberships I hold. I think that's how we build connection for dismantling oppression.

How do you believe that spoken word poetry influences, or inspires, young Jewish women, and the Jewish religion in general?

It’s hard to diagnose the impact I’m having on other people. What I can say, anecdotally, though, is that when Jews discover that you are a Jew, the gates open and your name spreads. Going back to our tradition as a people of the book, as a people and storytelling; the word pesach means ‘the mouth speaks’ and I think there’s something in our tradition that demands that the mouth speaks. We are in a very fragile time as Jews in the world and in the United States, where what we are allowed to speak up about, both amongst other Jews and within the context of the world at large, is very fragile. Our perceived power is subject to change and loss at any minute, because there are still white supremacists who are getting very loud and feeling empowered for whom, a Jew is a Jew. Also, what is happening in the Middle East is something deeply challenging for most people to talk about without fearing being called a self-loathing anti-semite the moment they open their mouth to offer their thoughts. It’s a very challenging time to be a Jew, and also a really privileged time to be a Jew. That’s part of the challenge. Jews do have actual privilege and power for a moment in history. I imagine what may be resonant for audiences and workshop participants and students, in the way they’re, very graciously, responding to my work is because of Pesach, the mouth speaks. I am, and have always been, unapologetic. People ask if my work has gotten more Jewish and the answer is no. The mouth speaks. I’ve been speaking my mouth the whole time. There’s a moment where it all comes together where we know we really can speak our truth. It’s an exciting thing to hold onto.

What is a change you hope to bring to the Jewish community?

I hope we can address the issues of patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormativity that are plaguing the Jewish community. Why are we not talking about the fact that Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, and Woody Allen are Jewish men, raised in the same Jewish communities as all of us? It’s on us. We are all responsible. I hope we can address that reality. I also hope that we can talk more openly and confront the way many Jews have experienced, and benefited from, white privilege. There is a toxic amount of racism in the Jewish community towards Jews of color. Especially when white identifying or white presenting Jews have a responsibility in dismantling white supremacy in the United States and racism. I also hope we can start to find ways to have a civil dialogue around the ultimate elephant in the room, Israel and Zionism. We have a lot to do--It’s a really important time to be a Jew.

In your writings, I notice a repeating theme of ‘survival’. How much of that survival strength do you believe comes from growing up with the stories told in the Torah?

I imagine it must have had an impact, I’ve just never thought of it that way before. When I think about my most intense moment of survival it's in college when I decided to stop killing myself and recover wholly from an eating disorder. To confront my traumas of sexual assault and really heal. To me, that survival, that moment of choice to choose to survive was deeply impacted by the stories around me of other poets and activists. I imagine there must have been something in the water I was drinking, metaphorically, growing up where I was constantly being gifted these stories of survival and expectations of perseverance. Especially the way my father talked to me about being Jewish and his demand that we survive as a people. I also think a lot of my resilience for survival came from my friends growing up, of all gender and all social identity backgrounds, really helped too.

What has been an experience you’ve had in your career as a performer that you’ve learned something significant from?

The audience is a gift. It is an extreme luxury and privilege to have people, willingly and consensually, hold space for you as audience members, as readers, as students, and as workshop participants. That is so kind. That is such an incredible display of consent. I cannot believe I am so lucky as to have people gift me that gift.

An Interview with Sarah Rebell

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Sarah Rebell is a woman who wears many hats. Not only is she a musical theatre writer, but she is also the Office Administrator for The Dramatists Guild of America. She is also pursuing her second Master's Degree, this one in History and Education at Columbia University. Sarah is a writer for The Interval (a favorite here on Strip It Down), you can read her past articles here. Get to know Sarah a bit more through her interview, and check out her website if you are dying for more. 

How would you describe your identity?

I would certainly say that being Jewish is part of it. I would also say I’m a New Yorker. And I’m a writer. Those are probably three of the descriptions that come to mind most readily.

How did you find yourself wanting to become a writer for musical theater?

I was in high school and I encountered Ragtime for the first time. And that story, particularly the way in which that story was told for the stage just completely blew me away. I don’t think I’d realized stories like that could be told and I certainly hadn’t thought that stories like that could be told by women. Lynn Ahrens was a huge role model and had a big influence on me. I actually wrote to her when I was 15 and asked her for advice about becoming a writer for the theater. She wrote back a really lovely note, just very encouraging. I had always been enthralled by theatre, but I think from then on it was much more about the writing for me.

What is it like to watch your writing be performed in places like 54 Below and Playwrights Horizons?

I think its a combination of being exhilarating and aggravating. But what ultimately makes the process more enjoyable than terrifying is the intense joy and creativity and energy of collaborating in a rehearsal room. That is something I think is so special to the theatre and especially with musical theatre writing because you have even more collaborators in that room. I recently interviewed two playwrights and it was interesting to hear about their experiences which, at least in the beginning, can be more isolating. I think even with playwriting, though, there is something so joyous when you get to the room and there’s the director and the other actors and it fosters that sense of community.

Which of your musicals do you feel the deepest connection to? How so?

For me, they represent the times in my life when I wrote them. I think I feel connected to all of them in different ways. It represented the way I was and the way I saw the world back in that time. There’s something really special to me about the first performance of a musical I wrote. It was a musical I did in college, at Vassar, with a student theatre group. I had no idea what I was doing, I hadn’t been to grad school yet so I didn’t know anything about the professional form or structure, but I just had so much heart and determination. That’s definitely harder to capture as I get older and understand more rules. There was something very invigorating and exciting about the first time I ever heard my songs performed.

What role do you believe your Jewish heritage has played in your writing?

It’s something I really wrestled with when I was growing up. I grew up in the conservative movement; I went to a fairly traditional, conservative synagogue, I went to a Jewish day school through 8th grade, I went to a Jewish summer camp for about five years. I often sensed that there was a lack of cohesion between my passion for writing and the expectations of my Jewish community. A really vivid example of this, at the risk of oversimplifying, is that at summer camp, it was really hard not to be able to write on Saturdays. I understand the idea of wanting to respect Shabbat and not do work on Shabbat, but it felt very confusing to me. If writing is something that I do for fun and how I relax, it didn’t make sense to me that it was categorized as work. Whereas somebody who wanted to play basketball could do their hobby on Saturday afternoons and I couldn’t. There were a lot of internal conflicts and questioning over my writing and my Judaism. It really wasn’t until last year that I wrote a musical that had overtly Jewish themes and characters. There was a long time where, unconsciously, I separated my two identities of writer and Jew. In retrospect, it seems absurd because one of my first experiences with writing musicals was with Liz Swados. I think she actually found a really brilliant way of asserting her identity as a Jewish woman, writer, director, and composer. I wish that when I was growing up I had considered her example more pertinently and had decided to take comfort and inspiration in it.

What is a piece of theatre that speaks to you specifically as a Jewish woman?

When I was in middle school, I had the opportunity to work with Liz Swados on the new musical she was doing with the JCC of the Upper West Side in Manhattan. She basically interviewed a bunch of Jewish teenage girls about their lives, wrote a bunch of songs, and turned it into this sort of non-linear, kind of experimental music theatre piece. I think Liz’s writing was a major influence and inspiration in that context especially. She had so much fire to her. More recently, when I saw Come From Away, which, by the way, was written by two Jews, I teared up during the song called Prayer. It was really poignant and beautiful.

What have you learned since writing your first musical and beginning in the theatre industry?

I think I’m more aware of the role of women in theatre and the impact women can make in history. They’ve often been marginalized and I’ve realized how important it is for stories by women and about women to be told. I think I was very sheltered in college, I went to a school that was originally an all-girls school, so there was a lot of feminism around me. I don’t think I was aware as much until I graduated of the inequity that was in the arts and certainly in theatre. I don’t think I quite understood the depth and the intricacy of the inequity issue until later on. Now when I’m writing, whether it’s a musical or journalism, I hope that I can be mindful of that conversation and contribute to it in a useful and productive way.

The Interval is one of my favorite publications. I recently interviewed Victoria Myers, their Editor-In-Chief, for Strip It Down. What has been the most exciting or impactful piece you've written for them?

The piece that really stuck out for me was one of the first pieces I wrote for them. It was shortly after Trump was elected and I interviewed a bunch of college students who were doing productions of The Vagina Monologues. The article was really about the ways in which women in the academic community were taking the words of The Vagina Monologues and experiencing, in some pieces, a form of resistance, and others a form of empowerment and self-actualization. This was how they were channeling their emotions about what was happening in the country. Obviously, writing isn’t enough. It’s important to go out and protest and vote but, for me, it felt like I was discovering something worthwhile and able to contribute to an important cultural conversation. It was really eye-opening for me to see what writing can really do in this medium today. Something that’s come out in a lot of interviews I’ve done with women from The Interval is about how much art and empathy are interconnected and how crucial that is.

An Interview with L Feldman

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L Feldman is a teacher, playwright, and circus and theatre artist. Her plays explore the human connection and grace us with captivatingly beautiful stories. Currently, L is a playwright at Orbiter 3. You can read more about L and her art here and check out her plays on The New Play Exchange.  Get to know L by reading her thought provoking interview! 

What has your path in the theatre industry looked like? How did you get to where you are now?

I thought I wanted to be an actor for a while, like probably most playwrights. So I dabbled in that for a bit in college, but was also interested in writing and was shopping around a bunch of different genres trying to see where I fit. I had a mentor that said playwriting would probably be a really good fit for me. Subtextually, she was probably saying I’m not that great of an actor (laughs). She was super lit up by something in my writing so she mentioned playwriting, which was kind of nerdy at the time. Then I had this amazing playwriting professor who absolutely changed my life and I realized it was actually a really good fit for me. I knew I really wanted to get good at something and work towards a craft mastery. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be acting or another form of writing. But I feel like there’s something about authorship in theatre that gives me a freedom for self-expression. I feel my voice is different from other people’s voices, not because I’m special just because everybody’s voices are different from each other; I just know there’s a uniqueness to my voice and a possibility for impact and I really hungered to feel like I mattered in some way, so playwriting felt like something that would be worthwhile.

I saw you are a huge proponent for the hybrid art form of theatre and circus. How did you even find that connection and begin practicing it?

It was kind of an accident. When I was in grad school I saw this feminist, mostly queer, acrobatic, dance, circus company called Lava. I saw one of their shows and I was like “Oh! They’re calling this acrobatic dance, but this is theatre”. It’s super feminist. There are all these women on stage who are just being extraordinary, physically and relationally. There’s such intimacy and connection that you’re watching and it’s really striking and totally blew my mind. I started taking classes at that studio and fell in love. Then I fell in love with a woman there and she decided to go to a full time, professional circus training program and I decided to follow her! Then I had a crisis of identity, like why would a playwright be going to the circus? So I decided to just do it kind of undercover and then write a play about it later--because it would be an amazing play. At the time, I had a hunger for physical experience, because I had spent most of my life not particularly embodied. It was just a massive personal transformation and adventure. Then I realized it was an art form and that I could tell a story through it. Now I both do contemporary circus and playwriting...and some dramaturgy work.

How do you think hybrid art forms like that can advocate for a plays message? Do you think it takes something away from it?

I don’t usually add circus to theater, usually, I add theatre to circus. Mostly I bring a theatrical lense and aesthetic to circus. I think the ways that circus informs my theater work is giving me excitement about non-verbal communication. So the circus doesn’t have to be virtuosic or spectacle based--it can be simple and more pedestrian. There are just these literally embodied characters, they’re up and out in the world and you’re seeing their physical and kinetic experience. I love bringing awareness of the body, and the body in space, to theatre. It makes readings of my plays really hard to do, I’m told (laughs).

In your bio, it says you write plays “usually about outsiders, often about searchers, always about the human connection”. How do you think your exposure and practice in the Jewish religion has impacted your artistic tendencies?

I don’t think I’ve ever consciously connected those things to Judaism, so thank you for pointing that out. I think most of those things come from my being queer and female, but yeah, a lot of that comes from being Jewish, too. I’ve never actually picked this apart before, but I think it has a lot to do with the narrative and identity of the “wanderer” and the “searcher” and kind of the banished, ostracized, and ghettoized. So I’ve grown up with very specific exposure to certain stories. It impacts what stories resonate for me, definitely.

How do you believe your life and career as a queer, Jewish playwright has impacted how you create and develop new characters?

There’s definitely something about being female, queer, and Jewish that spark against each other. The experience of being female in a patriarchal based religion is really marginalizing and disempowering. Especially being queer as well. I struggled a lot within that identity to figure out where my power is and how I connect with a religion that was created by people who were not me, didn’t have my point of view, my identity, or maybe even my best interest at heart. I feel like there was a whole period in my 20’s where I didn’t even know if I wanted to be Jewish. A play I wrote in my late 20’s, called A People, was written in the midst of me trying to figure out my relationship to this fundamental identity that has shaped me, but that I also have a lot of push and pull tension with. However, I also have a lot of yearning, longing, and searching surrounding it. That play asks a lot of those questions. It was my way to publicly ask those questions and figure out what I should do with the religion. I think so much about who wrote the stories that shape us and the laws that govern us. And also, with diaspora and intersectionality, and assimilation, what even connects us anymore? Are we still a people? We used to be, but does it matter now? When I ride the subway in Brooklyn, the Chasidim I encounter, is there something that connects the two of us? All of those questions felt really hot for me at the time. Also wanting to understand the people who came before me. It was like a big, sprawling epic.

Can you tell me a bit more about your play, The People, that you produced with The Jewish Plays Project and what it was like to work on a piece with a Jewish centric theater company?

It was pretty great to work with them. I think that’s the only time I’ve worked with a company that is explicitly Jewish and it’s really nice to walk in and feel like they get you. You just share a really large wealth of common cultural and historical knowledge, vocabulary, and fundamental values. There's a shared value in questioning, exploring, and searching and you don’t have to explain yourself as much. It felt very nice. It’s interesting how little that part of my identity is understood, met, and known when I walk into a rehearsal room most of the time.

What is a piece of theatre that spoke to you specifically as a queer, Jewish woman? Why?

I mean, Indecent, hands down. That show kind of gets at everything--it intersects with every major identity I have, minus the circus. I just yesterday read a play called Everything That Never Happened by Sarah Mantell and I loved it. It’s not queer, but it’s definitely feminist and Jewish. It's like the midrash (the backstory and explanation) of The Merchant of Venice. It’s about assimilation and passing and oppression of the Jews. Also about inherited trauma and legacy. That play was really gorgeous.

An Interview With Lisa Kenner Grissom

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Lisa Kenner Grissom is a fantastic screenwriter and playwright. I loved getting to speak with Lisa and strongly encourage everyone to explore her work here. Read to find out what Lisa thinks about the industry and what it means to tell a Jewish story.

How did you find yourself working in theatre as a playwright?

I came to the theatre in a circuitous way actually. I studied art history at Wesleyan and thought I’d go into the art world - galleries or museums. But I quickly realized that I’m way too much of an extrovert. You have to be quiet in museums! Writing has been in my DNA from an early age, but for whatever reason, I had put it on a shelf. Then I moved to LA and took an acting class (like you do), and that turned out to be my gateway back to writing. I started writing monologues and actors asked to use them for auditions. I thought, ok, I’m onto something here. I want to see where it leads. I didn’t have a theatre background, so I started producing other people’s plays as a way to learn the ins and outs. I kinda created my own theatre school in a sense. Then I dropped the producer hat and focused on creating my own work.  

What about the theatre industry frustrates you as a Jewish, female playwright? What is it that excites you?

I can get frustrated by assumptions people make about “Jewish stories.” I see the eyeballs rolling - oh, here’s another Jewish story. Sure, there are familiar themes that Jewish writers draw upon because we have a shared history. But there are an infinite number of Jewish stories because there are an infinite number of Jewish experiences, magnified by the fact that we are scattered all over the world. A Jewish writer from Australia is going to have a very different take on the world than a Jewish writer from South America. And a writer from Texas is going to have a different take than a writer from New York. I want to hear those stories, too.

I’m excited these days about what seems to be a renewed sense of pride and confidence in being openly Jewish. This blog is a great example! You see more of this in pop culture in general, and it’s spilling over into the theatre world. There are more Jewish female playwrights (and directors) calling attention to their Jewish-ness and writing explicitly about being Jewish in non-stereotypical ways that feels fresh. It’s a cultural shift. We’ve seen it in TV with shows like Transparent, and I love that it’s finding its way into the theatre. Jewish theatre artists are exploring identity in new ways. That’s exciting to me.  

What is a piece of theatre that spoke to you specifically as a Jewish woman?

The kind of theatre that resonates with me are stories that pull me into the emotional depths of the characters, regardless of whether the subject matter is Jewish or not. Oftentimes, I'll see something that moves me and wonder whether the writer is Jewish because there’s a thread of empathy or heart-opening that feels very Jewish to me. One of those plays is Tribes by Nina Raine. It’s about a dysfunctional British-Jewish family with three adult kids living at home, and how they all relate (or not) to each other. The play focuses on Billy, who is deaf, and how his perspective shifts when he meets someone outside his family or “tribe” who changes his worldview. The opening scene is all five characters talking over each other. It’s just so authentically Jewish with everyone interrupting and trying to get a word in. But more than that, the play rips your heart open - in a good way. There's so much raw emotion, which to me feels very Jewish. I don’t cry easily and I was sobbing at the end of that play.

How does your perspective as a Jewish woman impact your work?

I’m obsessed with themes of legacy and identity and families and relationships and secrets and loss and trauma. Choosing these themes is not even conscious, it’s just what I’m drawn to. I think I can safely say that Jewish writers explore this type of subject matter because it’s very much part of our legacy to do so - and there’s so much material there! I grew up Reform in a coastal suburb of Boston where there was a mash-up of immigrants, and that informs my perspective too. I always toggled between two worlds - hanging out with Irish Catholics and Italians and feeling part of their communities (celebrating Christmas at their houses), and then at the same time having a close-knit group of Jewish friends (Bar/Bat Mitzvahs; going to Israel). That sense of being in two places impacts the characters I create and the stories I choose to tell, which typically aren’t overtly Jewish. My characters tend to find themselves caught between worlds in some way, needing to forge a path forward.

Can you talk a little bit about your play, Motherland? In your opinion, what about this play makes it Jewish?

Motherland is the first overtly Jewish play I’ve written, so it’s actually new territory for me! It deals with the immigrant experience and the impact of inherited trauma among the women of a Jewish family. I like to think of it as a multiple mother/daughter story, because there are four generations of women on stage with time jumps and memories coming to life and character doubling. It’s probably the most theatrical play I’ve written.

The play revolves around Lizzie whose life is in crisis. She’s in her late 30’s and totally adrift in all the ways--her career’s a mess, she has no romantic prospects and to top it off, she’s dealing with a mental health situation which she’s keeping under wraps. She returns home to hide from the world but instead of getting some R&R, she’s confronted by her aging Russian grandmother who is intent on rediscovering her past before she dies, so she recruits Lizzie to help her. Meanwhile, Lizzie’s mother is in deep denial about her own past and wants to sit cross-legged and meditate it away. Lizzie gets drawn into her grandmother’s relentless pursuit of the past and becomes obsessed with wanting to know what’s “in her blood.” Ultimately, each character has to reckon with her own past and come to terms with how family secrets have affected them. The play asks, can you reclaim your life without knowing your roots? And my answer is no - you have to get to the truth in order to move forward.

It's very Jewy to investigate one’s history. I think it’s safe to say that Jewish people are fairly obsessed with where we come from, especially because we are scattered all over the world. So many stories have been lost. I was inspired to write this play because I had a few tidbits from family history, and I wanted to fill in the gaps and create a fictional story around it. My grandfather escaped the pogroms, so I’m second generation, but my family knows almost nothing of his life in Russia. My great-grandparents never talked about their experience getting to this country, so the history is basically lost. And not many people know about the pogroms, so I also wanted to bring that history to light and show its relevance today. Leaving one’s country in order to survive is a very real issue right now. Plus, most of us come from immigrant backgrounds, so the themes are inherently universal. We all have an origin story.

What is a principle, or tradition, of Judaism that you find connects to your life in theatre?

I definitely think Tikkun Olam - repairing the world - is a principle that’s at work in my writing. I tend to write about social issues from an intimate perspective, digging into a subject that people don’t want to look at too closely. I like going micro about a macro subject. I think that’s where the healing aspect of a story can emerge. In Motherland, mental illness comes into play as the result of inherited trauma - it’s something that’s been passed down through the generations epigenetically. The truth is, most families have some form of mental illness but no one wants to talk about it. And it’s 2018. Repairing the world starts with us, our relationships, our family units - and then catches fire from there.

What is something about Judaism, women, playwriting, or really anything you’re passionate about, that you wish was more celebrated in the theatre industry?

Diversity, parity and inclusion are essential. I mean, this goes without saying. I see tangible changes in Los Angeles with the LAFPI (Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative) working for 50/50 parity on LA’s stages. And of course, The Kilroys have helped change the conversation on a national level. There’s greater awareness, but we have to keep our feet on the gas for institutional change to take hold. More women artistic directors, more women on theatre boards, more women in positions of power making decisions - not reacting to them.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is the importance of seeing a variety of ages on stage. We live in a youth obsessed culture but it’s so important - and more interesting - to see a range of characters interact. Y’know, like in life. Family plays do this and that’s probably why I love them. I love watching younger and older characters bump up against each other in weird and unexpected ways. It reminds us of our shared humanity.

An Interview with Lindsay Joelle

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After reading her new play, Trayf, I knew I had to interview Lindsay Joelle. Lindsay is an NYC based playwright, librettist, and lyricist. See what she says about powerful women, shomer negiah, and being a person who works in theatre. 

What was the inspiration behind writing Trayf?

One of the first friends I made in New York City is a former Chabad-Lubavitcher from Crown Heights who, in his 20s, left to start a new, secular life. Over the past eighteen years of Sunday brunches, he’s shared stories with me of the times he dipped his toe into the secular world—a covert trip to the video store or sneaking out of his parents’ house Saturday nights to go to a roller disco. TRAYF began as a tribute to his experiences.

Why did you decide to center your play around Jewish men?

I don’t see this story as particularly gendered. As I was writing, I never thought: “Now I’m writing dudes. How would a dude express this?” It’s true that in the Chasidic community, the men are the ones on the streets doing outreach and driving the Mitzvah Tanks. That said, none of the male characters in this play reinforce stereotypical representations of masculinity. There’s a lot of tenderness and intimacy and vulnerability that Zalmy and Shmuely grapple with as they redefine their friendship. TRAYF doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, but it has a lot of feminine energy. And it actually has a feminine structure—it’s circular; it ends where it began, reflecting on the beginning with the wisdom of experience.

As a Jewish woman, how did it feel to immerse yourself in the world of ultra-orthodox Judaism and shomer negiah when writing Trayf?

Everyone I spoke with in Crown Heights was exceptionally kind and respectful. The men looked me in the eye, asked questions about my research, engaged me in debate… The women I met didn’t seem at all disenfranchised. One works for her family business and we talked about the recent (secular) book she read for her book club. I think the impulse is to assume that the community is homogenous and restrictive, but there’s actually a wide range of ways people integrate orthodox traditions with their daily lives.

Can you talk a bit about the character of Leah? She only has one scene in the play, but it is extremely powerful. How did you make the decisions concerning her character?

Ultimately, the key was to make her as active as possible (as opposed to reactive). She comes in with a clear objective and she speaks her truth—namely that she is the expert and authority on her own Jewish experience; she doesn’t need other people to judge its validity. I was lucky to collaborate (for the premiere of TRAYF at Theater J) with an actress who brought a lot of nuance and humanity to the role, so I could allow the character to make strong statements about the ways her Jewish education failed her without worrying that she’d come off as dismissive or disrespectful of Shmuel’s experience. We approached this scene looking for intersection points of real empathy between the two characters, the secular Jew and the Chasidic Jew.

Is there anything from your personal experience as a Jewish person that is reflected in Trayf?

Like Leah, I’ve been to over 100 bar and bat mitzvahs!

How do you believe the innate patriarchal structure of Judaism impacts the stories created and told by Jewish women?

I can’t particularly speak to that. In my own reform Jewish experience, I’ve grown up among some very accomplished, high-powered women. I suppose you can see that influence in TRAYF. Leah shows up midway through this adolescent joyride to drop a truth bomb that puts everything in perspective.

What is a piece of theatre that speaks to you as a Jewish woman?

The first thing that comes to mind is the musical Come from Away, a powerful, warm-hearted story about a small community in Newfoundland that opened its arms to 7,000 strangers during 9/11. I laughed, I cried, it’s truly everything that’s good about the American theatre.

Besides your play, Trayf, which highlights the story of several Jewish characters, what aspects of being a Jewish woman inspire your work as a playwright?

My grandmother was thirteen when she joined Poland’s Underground Jewish Resistance. She gave birth to my uncle in a Russian prison and my mother in Israel, and immigrated to the US in the late 1950s. Her story of rebellion and resilience is a large part of my identity. I’m sure it’s why I’m drawn to stories about otherness and assimilation and survivors of all kinds rebuilding their communities.

Trayf portrays the very universal struggle of people feeling they are “not enough” of something. What made you decide to put this struggle in the context of Judaism?

I didn’t set out to write about Judaism. This was the story that found me, and I followed it through.

What is something you’ve come to understand about being a Jewish woman working in the theatre industry?

I’m going to answer instead with something I believe as a person working in the theatre industry: It’s not a competition, it’s a community. Be kind to people. Be good to people. Support each other’s work; celebrate each other’s achievements. I love when I get opportunities to talk up my friends’ work to theaters. A rising tide floats all boats!

 

 

An Interview With Victoria Myers

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Talking with Victoria Myers, Editor-In-Chief at The Interval, was an absolute dream. Her online publication is revolutionizing the representation of women in theatre. For The Interval, Victoria has interviewed brilliant artists such as Camille A. Brown, Anne Kaufman, and my favorite, Rebecca Taichman. Get to know Victoria and her thoughts on inspiration, anti-semitism, and of course–Barbara Streisand. 

How did you end up becoming Editor-In-Chief at The Interval?

I started The Interval, so I can definitely say there was a great deal of nepotism involved in me becoming the editor. The path to starting The Interval was fairly convoluted. I had a really miserable experience in college and graduated severely depressed, with no sense of self, with no friends I’d made at school, and without there being any teachers I could go to for advice—the college experience every kid dreams about!

Shortly after that, I was floundering, going to shows and spending a fair amount of time discussing theatre with the couple of friends that I had made. I’ve always hated doing things “for fun,” which I realize makes little sense, but a few years ago I heard someone refer to “the tyranny of leisure” and thought to myself, “Yes, correct.” Basically, what I mean is that for me to enjoy doing something, it has to be for a greater purpose than for fun and, usually, has to be about making something (I think this stems from watching so much I Love Lucy as a kid). So, back then, this led to starting a theatre website, since, at the time, one of my friends wanted to be a critic and another wanted to be in PR (as it turned out, she really just wanted to befriend actors). That site was much broader than The Interval, but it was definitely aimed at a young, female audience. The first interview I did for that site was with Kelli O’Hara, so that was very cool and very gracious of her to do. That site didn’t last too long since we didn’t really know what we were doing, and people went their separate ways. But I was always very conscious of the ways I saw gender dynamics playing out in theatre, and who was part of that conversation, who was not, and how that conversation was happening.

During my one semester in grad school, I wrote a paper about women in musical theatre, and one area that I concentrated on had to do with media coverage and how theatre media was really antiquated in the way that it told stories about women. Then in 2014, I pitched parts of that paper to Laura Brown at Harper’s Bazaar (now she’s Editor of InStyle), and she was very receptive and let me do some pieces for HarpersBazaar.com about the Tony Awards that season, and I interviewed three women who were nominated that year (Jeanine Tesori, Susan Stroman, and Kelli…again) and we talked about the work and then some specific questions about gender. That proved that there was an audience for this type of content, and that led to The Interval. The other couple of components had to do with seeing people I cared about treated in a way that I didn’t think was right, and my own feelings of being very angry and powerless. And that is the short and simple version (despite not really being either of those two things).  

What is the most inspiring part of interviewing so many incredible female theatre artists?

I actually don’t view interviews through the lens of inspiring or not inspiring. I think that’s the difference between doing them and reading them. Personally, I think when doing an interview, especially in a Q&A format, it’s important to go into it as neutral as possible and not project anything onto the person you’re interviewing. The goal is always to be accurate and to present the person the way they are. The other trap, I think, with presenting people as being “good” or “being inspiring” is that, in a way, that becomes about the interviewer’s ideas of what those things are, and I don’t think it’s my place to project my own sense of morality onto someone else. I think, ideally, the interviews should be inspiring to read, but inspiring in the sense that they present artists as complex individuals and, hopefully, people can find different things in different people that they either relate to or find intriguing.

On a personal level, I actually find it difficult to interview people I have a personal interest or connection to because it can be emotionally difficult to go into those situations and, in some ways, erase yourself from being there. I think sometimes people don’t get that interviews are fundamentally different than conversations, and it’s not at all like going to lunch with someone you admire. But, all of that being said, the person who I had the strongest personal connection with their work prior to interviewing them was Sherie Rene Scott. Everyday Rapture is one of my all-time favorite pieces of theatre and was totally mind-blowing for me—and one of the bravest pieces of theatre I’ve seen. I feel like she hasn’t gotten the respect she’s deserved from the theatre community, so that interview also felt very important.

What is your favorite project you have worked on in your career?

Last summer we made a short, narrative film for The Interval and that was pretty exciting and something I’d wanted to do since The Interval began and definitely something I’d like to do again. But I’m going to say my favorite project was profiling Leigh Silverman (also Jewish!) in the summer of 2016. It was the first time I’d ever written an in-depth profile. I liked having the opportunity to write and also do something creative, and something that ultimately suited my personality more than a lot of things I do on a day-to-day basis. I find writing profiles can be terrifying, but I also think the form is really expansive. For that piece, I got to spend a lot of time in the rehearsal room with Leigh and that was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had in my adult life. I also found that my profile on Leigh was the first time doing anything related to The Interval where I truly felt comfortable and like I could be myself and didn’t have to suppress certain parts of my personality or pretend to be someone I’m not. I think there are so many professional situations where women—especially young women—have to work so hard to get taken seriously or have to conform or pretend to be not as smart as they are or not as outgoing, and that’s definitely been a challenge for me. During college, I fell apart, and, since then, it’s been a real struggle to feel like myself again and feel like someone I like. In certain ways, The Interval has complicated that because I do tend to feel like I can’t really be myself in a lot of situations.  But that experience writing about Leigh was the total opposite. I think the fact that I felt that, even though most of the time I was just sitting in a corner, is a real testament to her as a director and as a person—and why she’s so fucking good at her job.

In what ways do you believe publications like The Interval are changing theatre for women?

When The Interval started, theatre publications basically didn’t acknowledge or address issues surrounding gender. That’s changed, and I think there’s definitely a correlation between that and The Interval. It’s great that has changed, but, at times, conflicting since we’ve had an ongoing issue with other publications “borrowing” our work or basing their work off ours without credit to us or citations, and that attitude towards our work feels very gendered to me. The Interval has been on the vanguard of how artists are talked to and about, and I think for women especially that’s vital because, traditionally, they’ve been covered in ways that render them far less complex than they really are. I think that’s important not only for keeping the record straight about who these women are, but also for showing younger people who might want to pursue these paths that are many ways to do that and many personalities that can fit into these boxes—the idea of a “female director” or “female playwright” is not some finite or static thing. Lastly, one of the most important things I think The Interval does is shift the paradigm from “sexism is bad” to “women are interesting” because those two things are not the same, and the latter is really important.

How would you explain your identity as a Jewish woman?

Both my parents and all of my grandparents are Jewish. We didn’t go to synagogue and I didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah or anything like that. But I don’t consider that relevant to being Jewish or not. I don’t really prescribe to the idea of “culturally Jewish,” although I know that’s probably how most people would describe me. I feel like the notion of describing someone as “culturally Jewish” comes from viewing Judaism only in relation to Christianity and is about making Jews more palatable to people. Throughout my life, I’ve had people say things to me like “Oh, you’re not really Jewish,” as if that somehow makes it more okay to them and I’m supposed to view that as a compliment—naturally, I find that insulting and offensive.  I grew up in Ohio around a fair amount of anti-Semitism—the town I grew up in had a country club that, in my lifetime, wouldn’t allow Jews to be members; I wasn’t allowed over to certain kid’s houses because their parents didn’t want them being friends with someone Jewish; a church group once handed out anti-Semitic flyers at my day camp; and the list goes on—so that definitely has played a part in my identity.

Then, when I got to NYU, I encountered a whole other type of anti-Semitism. I think anti-Semitism is a historical constant, and continues to be a problem and a problem in NYC and in theatre (but we’ll get to that). I also do consider myself a Zionist—to be clear, I think Netanyahu is awful, the settlements are wrong, there should be a two-state solution, and the Israeli government is definitely deserving of criticism (especially lately!). Recently, I’ve found it more important to be open about that. I think in many liberal circles (of which I am part) the word “Zionist” has been co-opted to mean something it doesn’t mean. I think it’s similar to what people tried to do with the word feminism when people went around saying that feminism meant hating men, and, as we all know, that’s not what it means. Feminism means you consider women people who should be treated equally, and Zionism means the Jewish people deserve a country and the right to self-determination. But, anyway, I basically just consider myself Jewish. Also, I spend a lot of time in therapy.

What is a piece of theatre that has spoken to you specifically as a Jewish woman?

I don’t think I’ve ever thought about this before! Now that I am thinking about it though, I’m going to say Everyday Rapture, even though so much of it is very explicitly about Christianity. But the main framing device of the piece is “The world was created for me/ I am a speck of dust” and that actually comes from Judaism. Sherie is extremely knowledgeable about religion. The questions that piece asked about faith deeply resonated with me, and it felt like the first time I’d ever heard anyone put words behind certain things I’d felt.  Also, of course, all musical comedy because it is our legacy (you’re welcome, world). And can I count Barbra Streisand as a piece of theatre?

What aspect of the theatre industry do you wish was more accepting about Jewish culture and religion?

Point blank: it needs to be less anti-Semitic. I think there are a lot of conversations to be had and a long list of issues. There are things like casting and how Jews are portrayed on stage. I don’t think you have to be Jewish to portray someone Jewish, but I do think there’s a conversation to be had about the usually narrow-minded and stereotypical ideas people have about what Jews (and particularly Jewish women) look like. I also think, in the last few seasons, there have been a noticeable amount of shows, musicals in particular, that have fallen into caricature when portraying Jews and/or portrayed the villains in the show as very explicitly Jewish.

Also, I don’t believe Holocaust themed material should be treated like it’s universal. The Holocaust wasn’t universal. It seems like there’s been an uptick in theatres trying to present material in a way that erases the experiences of the Jewish people, and that people who wouldn’t defend that kind of thing happening towards another minority, gladly defend it when it’s about Jews. It also seems like there’s a growing number of people who feel like they can blame all the ills of the theatre community on Jews. It happens a lot through coded language like “We don’t see plays about X, but we see so many plays that take place on the Upper West Side” or “We’ll do a diverse Fiddler on the Roof and show them!” (I’d encourage these people to Google the history of productions of Fiddler) or when people use  “theatre should feel like Church” in way that paints non-Christians as the problem rather than using it as a way to speak to their own personal, positive associations.

There’s also a real issue with people feeling free to lecture Jews about what is and is not anti-Semitism. A recent example of this was when The Washington Post published Carey Purcell’s anti-Semitic diatribe. She was a theatre writer, and, beyond the fact that few in the theatre community (that prides itself on being an inclusive and open-minded) felt compelled to speak out against her piece, there were even a few non-Jewish theatre people who felt compelled to argue that her piece was fine (they had Jewish friends who said it was fine!) and, if it wasn’t, it was the fault of the Jewish editor. Non-Jews do not get to define anti-Semitism. In general, I’ve been pretty appalled at how many people in theatre hold anti-Semitic views and feel free to share them, especially among people who would consider themselves to be liberal and advocates of diversity. Yet these same people are fine with double standards, litmus tests, ignorance, and silence when it comes to Jews. It fills with me with rage, and is one of the primary things that makes theatre feel, at times, untenable to me. It also makes me mad at myself for not speaking out about it more. I keep a list on my computer of anti-Semitic people and incidents, and I look forward to the day when I find some constructive to do with that list, and, to borrow from Lindy West, where I can be like, “Yes, I’m a witch and I’m hunting you.”  There’s a very good article by Taffy Brodesser-Akner called I Probably Won’t Share This Essay on Twitter that gets into some of the issues of why speaking out can be difficult.

As I’ve now been incredibly negative, I will also say there are also many good people who work in theatre, and there are people who are sensitive and aware of these issues. For example, Kelli O’Hara has been on the receiving end of many angry texts from me about these issues and has always responded in a really kind and smart manner. I think that’s worth pointing out, since as much as I would love to name all the people on my “anti-Semites in theatre list,” I do think in the end it can be more productive to celebrate the people who are doing things right and setting a good example that way.

An Interview With Shoshana Greenberg

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Shoshana Greenberg writes musicals and plays, fights for gender equality in theatre, runs a podcast, and is a general superstar. Check out her writing (for The Interval!) and her fabulous podcast

When did you first realize your passion for writing could be applied to theatre?

I saw a lot of shows growing up, so I knew writing theater was something people did, but I think I didn’t really see it as something I would do until I attended the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU. It was there that I first felt like I had the tools to write for theater.

What was your experience like in a program focused specifically on Musical Theatre Writing?

It was wonderful to be so immersed in a subject I love and also to have an experience that’s so focused on craft as opposed to lecture. I had a very liberal arts undergraduate experience with tests and papers that I would never use again, so I wanted my graduate experience to be about the actual creation of art and writing. It was also very collaborative, which is different from other graduate experiences I’ve heard of, which sound isolating. Aside from some individual writing and composing exercises, you are always working with another person, which meant that I was very close with my classmates and built a community and support system for the future.

What is the industry environment like for you as a female playwright?

It’s rough out there for every writer, unfortunately, but I do think it’s harder for women to break in, especially if they write with multiple collaborators and aren’t like, a known “brand.” Men still like to hire men, and going after opportunities and being ambitious is still seen differently in men vs. women.

What is one story you fiercely want to share with the world through the avenue of theatre?

Well I hope all the stories I’ve already started writing eventually get produced so that they are shared with a wider audience. Generally, I love stories about historical figures that people may not have heard of, even recent figures. There are a few I’d love to work on, but I’d rather not give one away now :).

What inspired you to create The Story No One Knows?

Well, my collaborator Hyeyoung Kim first wrote The Story No One Knows in Korean and then asked me if I wanted to collaborate on writing the lyrics to the English version. So it was her creation, but I was inspired to come on board immediately upon hearing the story, which is about the people who clean up after and identify a person who dies with no known next of kin. I was very much attracted to the ideas of what we leave behind after death and our legacies, and also how objects are so important to who we are. We are living in an increasingly minimalist world thanks to our devices, but I love objects.

Being a Jewish woman in theatre, how do you feel your voice and culture are represented in your art form?

I feel lucky because I think the Jewish culture is represented very well. Fiddler on the Roof is one of the most popular musicals, and there are many Jewish musical theater writers historically and in the present day. Less so, however, Jewish women, but there are a good amount. I’d love to see more stories of Jewish women, though. Even Fiddler on the Roof is more about Tevye than the daughters.

What is a piece of theatre that deeply spoke to you as a Jewish woman?

Wendy Wasserstein’s work really speaks to me--The Heidi Chronicles, yes, but also her play Isn’t It Romantic, which I remember loving when I read it but I’ve never seen it. Also, the play Significant Other spoke to me on many levels, but Sas Goldberg’s character definitely spoke to me as a Jewish woman, even though I’m nothing like her. Oh, and the musical It Shoulda Been You. It was so refreshing to see a show that had a Jewish female character that wasn’t the Jewish mother (the show ALSO had a Jewish mother). Usually, when I see a show about an interfaith marriage or couple, it’s usually the man who is Jewish and the woman who isn’t. In this show, the Jewish women are the ones getting married, not giving their Jewish brother best wishes. That was very important to me.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to your work in theatre writing?

There are the writers I admire, like Sheldon Harnick, Stephen Sondheim, Wendy Wasserstein, and Thornton Wilder, among many others. And there are also the writers who were my teachers at NYU who inspire me both with their work but also directly: Kirsten Childs, Sarah Schlesinger, Mindi Dickstein, Sybille Pearson, Robert Lee, Fred Carl, William Finn, Michael John LaChiusa, Mel Marvin, Deborah Brevoort, Randall Eng, Donna DiNovelli, and Rachel Sheinkin. Lastly, all my fellow musical theater writers inspire me because we’re all just out there trying to do it, but I want to give particular shout-outs to Gordon Leary, Julia Meinwald, Sukari Jones, and Maggie-Kate Coleman, and of course my collaborators Russell Stern, Jeffrey Dennis Smith, and Hyeyoung Kim.

Are there any assumptions you face, based on your gender and religion, that impact your experiences in theater?

I think I’m generally assumed to be a “nice Jewish girl.” And I AM generally nice, Jewish, and a girl, but that is a stereotype I think people may see me as and may make me less interesting as a writer to them. This is speculative, of course. I hope my gender and religion don’t have any impact, but it’s hard to say.

What is a lesson you believe is important for all Jewish women in theatre to learn and understand?

Well, I think we need to see more stories that center Jewish women. There aren’t a lot. I think it’s also important to see Jewish women playing Jewish female characters. It’s not required, of course, but for me it does make a difference. I feel a much deeper connection to the show, and it decreasing the chances of the actor “playing Jewish.” For many Jews, Judaism is something that exists in your heart from a very young age. I think it’s hard to understand that and fully embody a character like that if you are not Jewish. These aren’t lessons but just things to think about when looking at theater through the lense of Judaism and women.

An Interview With Cassie M. Seinuk

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Cassie M. Seinuk is an extraordinary female Jewish playwright and stage manager. She has written incredible works such as From the Deep and Dream House and has won several awards, including the Pestalozzi Prize for Best New Play at the Firehouse Center for the Arts New Work Festival. I sat down with Cassie to discuss her experience with navigating the theatre industry as a Jewish woman. 

What inspired you to come up with the idea to call yourself a ‘Jewbana’? Which is rad as hell, by the way.

When I was growing up and in high school, people would ask me about family life. I would say I’m Cuban... I went to a Jewish school so being Jewish was sort of assumed. So then people started saying I was a Jewban. It became something unique and kind within the Cuban Jewish community. It’s not derogatory in any sense. Then when I was coming up with a Twitter handle (laughs) like 12 years ago, I figured I should just own it because it’s something that makes me different within the playwriting and theatre community.

In the theatre industry specifically, be it plays or experiences, how do you connect to all of your identities: Jewish, Cuban, woman, whatever the rest may be?

Mom is the newest one out of all of those, it’s crazy. I think that it started out as something kind of difficult. I’ve been working in theatre since I was 11, more than half my life. I first started when I went to a Jewish summer camp. I was a kid who didn’t want to act, but it was very important to me to do the plays. The woman who was running the camp was a retired stage manager and asked me if I knew what stage managers did and introduced me to that field. From there, I started stage managing the shows at the camp and as I got older I staged managed more and more shows. As I got into the real world I realized that doing theatre and being Jewish was very difficult. It’s funny because there’s this big assumption that the theatre world is full of Jews. I grew up modern orthodox, and my family was pretty socially conservative and most of the people I went to school with only had the goal of marrying a rich doctor and having a ton of kids. When I was applying to colleges, everyone in my life was very concerned with making sure whatever school I picked had a big Jewish community. But to me, I just wanted a really good theatre program. I ended up at Brandeis, which was not the biggest bubble shift, but the difference was that Brandeis was super liberal compared to where I grew up. Everyone there was always doing something and creating something and taking in other cultures. So I had the safety of still working within a Jewish world, but I got to start exploring. When I was locking in my major, my stage managing professor told me I had to make the decision to pursue my life as a Jewish woman or to pursue my life as a theatre artist. At the time, that was what it was. Theatre companies were not going to let you be their stage manager if you wanted to be Shomer Shabbat (someone who adheres to the commandments of the Jewish Sabbath i.e. not using electricity). If you want to observe Shabbat and not work from Friday night sundown through Saturday evening, then you’re going to have a problem unless you move to Israel. That was really hard for me, but ultimately what I believe, as a Jewish person and as a Jewish educator, is that God understands happiness. Part of being Jewish is embracing life and having joy in life--doing good. I had to have this moment where I realized that stage management brings me joy and that’s where I’m the best me. At the time, I thought I chose theatre over my Jewish identity. As a stage manager, it's still tough, because companies will want to hire me but their shows will open on the High Holidays (the period of time in which the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall on the Jewish calendar) and it’s like, did you have to open your show on Rosh Hashanah? As a playwright, which I started getting into during my last year of college, and where I feel my heart it most, I realized I could be as Jewish as I want to be and also gives me an opportunity to bring in my other identities, like being Latina.

How would you describe your voice as a playwright?

It’s definitely dark (laughs). I do feel like my voice changes. My artistic vision and what I really seek when I’m writing is identity. I’m really curious about that as a subject in general. I’m also really curious about the demons people have and the things that haunt people. How each and every one of us has some sort of haunting or scar and how those play out in our lives. Someone just said to me that I write plays about family. I didn’t even realize it, but I was rereading my plays and they do all sort of come back to family one way or the other. What really irks me and gets me to write is when I see or hear something that’s just really fucked up. It makes me want to find a way to tell that story. Whether that’s me being fascinated by young people who have cancer or two people trapped in captivity. There’s definitely a range to my voice.

What/who is a play, playwright, performer, etc. that/whose work has spoken to you as a Cuban Jewish woman?

I can’t say there’s really one piece of art or one performer that has really spoken to me. There probably are people out there who fit in the same bubble as me, being Cuban and Jewish, but I just don’t know them. I will say, I have a little fangirl crush on Alexis Scheer (get to know Alexis here). She was just in a reading of my play, Dream House and I had such a blast working with her. We both couldn’t believe that the two of us had never met before and we bonded over our mutual identity. I’m so excited to read her work and see her new play. I have such a girl crush on her.

How much of your artistic statement: “I strive to write evocative theatrical and personal moments that stay with people for days, weeks, and even months afterwards. A part of this mission of mine is rooted in my drive to write plays that navigate the existential and introspective, to explore the dark and often the tragic.  My plays are set in a heightened reality, where the rules of our everyday world don’t always apply, and while it’s different for each play, it’s these aching questions about who we are, how we survive, and what happens when we lose a part or all of ourselves in the process that pulls me to the keys of my laptop.” do you believe stems from your roots as a Jewish Cuban woman?

I’m going to say this as a Jewish educator. I think knowing Jewish history and growing up with a lot of knowledge of biblical stories and the Talmud(primary text source of Jewish religious law), just in the way that Greek mythology is full of tragedies and hardships, there is an overall story of survival, its the Jewish story. I think why I write such deep, dark, sometimes twisted things, is that it really fascinates me how people either push through and survive some of the craziest situations or how those dark crevices in a person can take them down. I do think that the history of the Jewish people is about surviving. I don’t like to quote or source the Holocaust, because I feel like that’s another troupe that Jewish theatre especially falls into. It’s not that we want to erase that from history, God forbid, but its that everyone has a Holocaust story. There is more to us than that.

What has been the most monumental experience you have had in your career in theater?

Writing my play, From the Deep and getting to produce it is definitely the most powerful for me. Especially in terms of what we’re talking about, it’s my first play that I let my Jewish voice come out. It’s my first play that I didn’t hide behind anything or didn’t make a character not Jewish because of the status quo. I love Israel, but I have a complicated relationship with Israel. Growing up in a very Zionist and right-wing community, I try to keep all of my biases in check. But, when I researched Gilad Shalit, whom From the Deep was inspired by, I felt a really strong connection to the challenges of the Middle East’s struggle. Thinking of it as ‘I am just a young person being held as a political piece of furniture, because I’m Jewish, because this is my country, and because I’m fighting for what I believe in’. Especially doing marketing for the play and boosting the fact that there was Jewish content was really scary territory for me. It was the first time I was “coming out” as a Jewish playwright with opinions on something very controversial. But I was coming at it from the point of acknowledging that everyone involved is a person and all these people are being affected. That process finally gave me ownership over the Jew part of the Jewbana.

Have you had any experiences in theatre that may have been different for you, bad or good, if you did not identify as a Jewish woman?

I do think my career as a stage manager would be very different. It’s because, like what I said before, I had to make a choice between leading a more religious life and going into theatre. Because of that, there were a lot of jobs and opportunities that I just omitted myself from. I was kind of just like, I’m not going to apply to these stage management positions because I don’t want to have the conversation about needing to take time off for Jewish holidays. I’ve set rules for myself and have stuck by them for 12 years so I can still observe the important holidays and pursue my career as a stage manager. All together it's about five days per year I need to have off--that’s it. Still, it’s challenging to find steady work as an equity stage manager, someone who has been a part of the union for eight years now, it’s hard.

What is something about being a Jewish woman in theatre you wish was different?

There are so many things. You know there are a lot of times where I’m working on something or having a conversation, or there’s a Jewish character in a play and its just complete stereotype. Sometimes what’s in a piece of work doesn’t even make sense, because that’s not really what it’s like to be Jewish. My husband and I like to reference Friends when it comes to this because Ross and Monica are Jewish, but the only episode that ever really addresses that is the one with the Holiday Armadillo. But, for however many years that show ran, there was a Christmas episode every season. Yet, the writers of the show are Jewish and some of the characters had Jewish last names, so what’s the deal? Why aren’t there more real Jewish characters? I feel like with Jewish stories, it’s always like here is the Jewish character so we can make this one joke or so we can make a reference, but then forget about it. I wish there was more of a presence. Some people read my new work and think it’s too niche or too Jewish for their community. I think part of that is the assumption that you’re either a black hat, payos (sidelocks of hair worn by some observant Jewish men and boys) Jew or… you’re Monica and Ross.

How do you think more nuanced stories of Jewish women, written by pioneering playwrights like yourself, could change Judaism; a religion so deeply ingrained in tradition?

I think it goes back to representation of Judaism. In the Jewish school I teach at, we wanted to show the kids a movie that represented modern Jewish kids and wasn’t Fiddler On the Roof. It was a movie from the late 90’s called The Miracle On the Court, I think it was a Disney Channel Original. Anyway, these kids were so excited to see Jewish characters, in a movie about sports that related to them and told the story of Hanukkah. That was really powerful to see as an educator. I mean, this is where it begins. I look at my students and think, they are the people who are going to make a change one day. Our generation is making change right now in the Jewish community, you know, more Jewish women are becoming Rabbis in branches of Judaism where that is traditionally deemed illegitimate. I hope that the world is changing and I think just more exposure of modern Jewish stories, especially women’s stories will help. I feel like there’s more power when Jewish women and men create nuanced stories. Then there will be more opportunities for people to better understand our community, change, and learn.

 

An Interview with Alexis Scheer

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Alexis Scheer is hands down, one of the most accomplished theatre artists in Boston right now. A Miami native, Alexis is currently pursuing her masters at Boston University. For the majority of her life, Alexis has been heavily involved in the theatre industry. From founding her own theatre company, to writing award winning plays--Alexis is stripping away the notion that Jewish women can only thrive as performers. It was absolutely inspiring to sit down with the playwright, producer, performer, extraordinaire. 

How did you get involved with Off the Grid Theatre? What are they all about?

So, I founded Off the Grid in 2012 as an undergrad at The Boston Conservatory. I was a musical theatre major in a highly focused program, but there were other avenues of my artistry that I wanted to explore and work out. And I was surrounded by other students who wanted the same thing… so I started a company! It was entirely student produced work in those undergrad years, but when I graduated the company graduated with me. And so I started producing in Boston and you know, started paying people (laughs). Now I think we’re gaining a reputation for producing things that are slightly off mainstream. Plays that some of the bigger companies might consider too risky or that would leave their subscribers not too thrilled. As an artist and as a playwright, I like to think my audience is largely my generation. So what I really hope to do with my work is help raise this generation of theatregoers. I want a 20 year old to come to the theatre, see a show, and say, “oh I didn’t know theatre could do this, I’m gonna keep coming.”

What is unique about being a playwright?

I think it’s much more collaborative than people assume. As a playwright, I try and go into the room, whether it’s rehearsal or a workshop, with the thought that actors are it. They have wisdom about these characters that’s so integral to the development of new plays. At the end of the day, I’m trying to create a blueprint or map for a lived experience in real time and space. So being able to listen to my collaborators is critical. And it’s also fun! I’m building the playground so we can all play on it together.

What is the inspiration behind Our Dear Dead Drug Lord? What do you think the future of that play looks like?  

I started writing the play a little over a year ago, and it was a combination of all these things that were swirling around in my head. My mom is Colombian, so Pablo Escobar is this weird, looming figure in my head always… especially once Narcos on Netflix became a big thing. I was also reading a lot of comic books during that time, Paper Girls and Bitch Planet, and thinking about being a young angry teenager. I also think a lot of the work being created now is somehow in response to our political climate and I wanted to address our current situation, but I don’t really have the distance needed to articulate anything worthwhile. And Lila Rose Kaplan, another wonderful playwright who you should totally get on this blog, talks about tilting reality in order to actually speak to it. So the play takes place in 2008 during the Obama election cycle and the girls that populate the play are on varying ends of the political spectrum, and then there’s magic of course.

I head to Chicago next week for a workshop and reading of it at the LTC Carnaval of New Latinx Work and I’m hoping I can connect to people who are excited about the play and it’s future. And then I come back from that and a day later I’m in rehearsal for the Boston workshop production with Off the Grid. So this summer I’m really focused on development and getting the script in shape. And then it’s the dream to see this play live in NYC and then the regional theatre circuit, I think it’s so unlike anything else that’s out there. Then, eventually, I’d love to see it in the college theatre realm. I think a lot of my work is me trying to write the types of roles and scenes I wish I could have done in high school and in college. In high school, I went to the insanely wonderful New World School of the Arts, I remember choosing to work on Harper’s scenes from Angels in America, god bless the teachers that okay-ed that, but I was always wondering where the meaty stuff was that was age appropriate and authentic and gritty. I feel like we’re now finally in this movement where great material for young women is being made like The Wolves, Dance Nation, and School Girls. It’s happening and I’m hoping to hop on and ride that wave.

What did it feel like to win the Improper Bostonian Magazine Rising Theatre Star Award?

(Laughs.) I mean, I’m just deeply humbled by it. It’s extremely cool to be recognized and also really exciting because I feel like it’s boosted my signal as an artist, so I’m really grateful to The Improper Bostonian for that. But, you know, it also makes me want to bury myself in work. They plugged Our Dear Dead Drug Lord and I was like, cool I better get started on those revisions!

Could you also talk a bit about your one-woman show, Chosen? What inspired it, excited you about it, called you to it?

Well, I went on Birthright (a free, ten day trip to Israel for young adults of Jewish heritage) to really investigate my Jewish identity and I did that fully knowing I was going to use the experience to write a play. I feel like a lot of things I do, I do to get a good story out of it, (laughs) I don’t think that’s really great life advice. Anyway, the greatest surprise was how quickly I wrote Chosen. I usually let ideas and experiences percolate in the back of my head for a while. And this year my New Year’s resolution was to not start any new plays and focus on revisions for everything else I’m working on. Then in February, holed up in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere Connecticut, I ended up writing the first 30 minutes of this one person show that attempts to articulate the complicated and profound experience I had in Israel. And then I had the first full, 90 minute, reading of it in NYC with Sanguine Theatre Company the very next month.

To be honest, when researching your work before this interview, I was stuck scrolling, totally overwhelmed with all the quality work, and different types of work, you’ve produced at such a young age. What about your art keeps you motivated to keep creating?

Ah, you’re so nice, thank you! You know, someone extremely wise just told me we’re driven by divine dissatisfaction. And I think what really pushes me forward is the fact that what we do, all of us as artists, is impossible. We’re trying to articulate the human condition and you can’t really do that definitively. So my work is never going to be done.  

How would you explain your experience in theatre through the lens of a Latinx Jewish woman?

That’s such a huge question. I feel like I’m usually made to be one or the other, usually Jewish. And I’ve always struggled with feeling agency over my Colombian side because of the way I physically appear and my clumsy Spanish speaking. Sometimes I feel like two halves of something don’t make a whole of anything, which I think is a common theme amongst people with intersecting identities.

How do you think your Colombian roots and your Jewish roots intersect?

My go-to answer for this is guava hamentashens (a pastry associated with the Jewish holiday Purim, filled with a fruit paste). They’re great. But, beyond that I’m still trying to figure out how they intersect. I mean, I know they intersect, because I exist. I think something you can find in both cultures is a drive to persevere and a great entrepreneurial spirit.

What is a piece of theatre that spoke to you as a Colombian Jewish woman?

Okay, this is a shout out to Melinda Lopez. The first time I read Sonia Flew, the opening stage directions talk about the house, it’s the holidays and it describes the Christmas tree covered with Star of David ornaments. This was years ago and I remember that moment so distinctly.  It literally took my breath away, just that stage direction-- that was my childhood. It was this great validation of my identity. (laughs) I don’t think I ever told Melinda this story. I feel like such a nerd. Anyway. Yeah, Melinda Lopez is a rockstar.

What is a story you would write that you think could bring more nuanced representation of Jewish women to theatre?

Those are stories I’m definitely trying to write, especially with Chosen, which is a major investigation of my identity, because I am Jewish and Colombian. Writing more intersectional characters is something I want to do. There are some ideas for plays marinating in the back of my head that I think would be considered nuanced representation, but I can’t give away all my secrets to you.

Judaism is very based in the asking of questions. What is one question you like to ask yourself when writing, or a question you want your plays to ask audiences?

I love the idea that Judaism is based in the act of questioning. That’s something that came up a lot in Israel, cause I had questions about everything. And I think the intersection between Judaism and theatre is the question, ma nishtana. Why is tonight different from all other nights? It’s the question we ask on Passover. It’s the question I ask myself when I start a new play. Why do these actions occur now? And it’s the question I ask when I go to the theatre. Why this play? Why now?



 

 

An Interview With Lyndsay Allyn Cox

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Lyndsay Allyn Cox has been an integral part of the Boston theatre scene for the last 11 years. After making the move from North Carolina where she worked as a drama teacher, she dominated as the managing director for Fresh Ink Theatre Company for six seasons. Lyndsay devotes most of her energy to acting and has been seen in productions all over Boston like Men On Boats and Crossing Flight. Coming up, you can see Lyndsay in Leftovers at Company One Theatre, open from July 21st-August 18th. Get your tickets here: https://companyone.org/production/leftovers/. Over the years, Lyndsay has found a community and a home in Boston. She is one Jewish woman who is stripping down barriers left and right.

What motivated you to get involved with Fresh Ink Theatre Company?

I met with Louise [Hamill, Artistic Director of Fresh Ink) back in 2011 when we were working on some sort of play festival and I had been in Boston for a few years and I was looking to get involved with a company in a leadership sort of way. We were talking one day after a rehearsal and she told me about her new company and asked if I would be interested in getting to know more about it. I said yes and I went to see their first performance and instantly I realized they were a company I wanted to be a part of. I then joined them as their managing director and I basically learned on the job. We were a really small company in those days, there were just a few of us on staff. I think what initially drew me to Fresh Ink was their desire to present new work by local artists. There’s lots of companies that do new work, but I think what is unique to Fresh Ink is that they are producing work that is locally grown. Part of the requirement if you are a playwright at Fresh Ink is that you are living in Boston or New England throughout the entire production of your piece. I think also the process of having them act as a dramaturg and being present for workshops for each full production is really important.

Did you see a lot of new works come in from Jewish women?

There definitely have been playwrights that have come across our eyes at Fresh Ink. But, you know, out of six seasons I could only tell you about a handful of people. I think when Fresh Ink was looking at how to diversify their demographics of playwrights, I don’t know that looking for playwrights who were Jewish was a priority necessarily. I think trying to get playwrights of color and from the LGBTQ community involved was a huge deal. I think so often it’s not so much a point of focus for companies to make sure that they’re having a Jewish voice being brought to the stage.

Being both a woman of color and Jewish, what has your experience been with casting and the rehearsal process during productions?

There’s so much complexity to being Jewish, there’s so much complexity to being a woman, there’s so much complexity to being a woman of color, and if we put all of those together you get a very deep and rich character that you can create and build on. I would definitely appreciate more characters like that. I tend to do shows that have mostly African American casts, and there's usually this culture that is very Christianity based. Like praying as a group before we go on stage. I’ve found it very tricky to find my footing in those situations and the other day at rehearsal, I said ‘oy vey’ which is something I say all the time, and it slipped out of my mouth and one of my cast members was like, ‘what, are you Jewish?’ and I was like… “yeah, I am”. And it was just this weird interaction because I don’t think people expect that from me because they have probably never met a black person who is Jewish. I mean, besides Sammy Davis Jr. I think people have a hard time coming up with someone. In particularly in the African American community, the default is Christian and we’re going to assume that if we’re all in a room together then we’re all Christian and that’s just the way it is. It has become a bit more challenging for me as an actor in [the African American] community because there is always that assumption. Now I actually have to tell people that I’m Jewish, not that I don’t want to tell people, but why should I have to have this conversation with you about my faith so you don’t automatically assume that I’m Christian? So to have the opportunity to work on a play where the story of a Jewish person of color was the meat of it, it would feel so different and freeing. Whereas every time it’s a discussion and a debunking of people’s assumptions.

What has been your favorite role you’ve been able to portray? Why?

That’s such a hard question! I would have to say, I’ve done a lot of great roles and I’ve been really lucky to work with a lot of great directors. One of my favorite directors, Summer Williams, cast me in the show I’m in now and, I mean maybe it’s because this is the character at the top of my head right now, but the character I’m playing in Leftovers, Raquelle, she’s freaking amazing. She’s a mom, I’m a mom now, so I think I come at it with a very different approach than I would have before becoming a mom. And she has two sons and a deadbeat ex-husband and just the things she says and experiences are so true to life. Yes, I’ve done a lot of character work on this person, but most of my character work has really been remembering my family members and the way that they act, respond, and raise their kids. This has been a pretty special role for me and I just fell in love with the play and with Raquelle. She has bits and pieces of every mother and grandmother in her.

What is a piece of theatre you have seen or read that really spoke to you as a Jewish woman of color?

My official journey to Judaism, because I did choose to convert as an adult of my own choosing and not because my spouse is Jewish--he’s not--was catapulted into high gear after I saw, The Pianist of Willesden Lane. I saw it at Emerson and it was a one-woman show and she was playing the piano and singing and talking about her mom’s life in Europe during the 1940’s. I got free tickets to it from a woman in my class, I was a teacher at the time, and I just remember walking out of that performance thinking “I’ve been seeking Judaism for a long time and me getting tickets to this random play at Emerson must be a sign”. The whole experience really moved me. That night I went home and started researching where I can start studying officially, I had been studying on my own sort of haphazardly. Yeah, it was a piece of theatre that sealed the deal for me and confirmed that I was making the right choice for myself. So I embarked on a very, very long conversion process, it was not easy, but it was all started by a piece of theatre. With anything, because I identify as multiple things, you know, African American, LGBTQ, and Jewish, and all these stories that deal with any of these identities tend to be sad, forlorn pieces of art. It’s definitely difficult to find art out there that speaks to me as a Jewish woman, a woman of color, and a queer woman that are authentic, but not the same story we’ve heard a million times over. It’s hard, though.

In the past few years, there has been an incredible, long overdue, push for racial diversity on Broadway. On the other hand, while there is definitely a rise in nuanced stories about race, most stories involving Judaism are very specific to historical contexts like the Holocaust or some version of Jewish exile. Coming from both of these communities, how do you feel about this and how would you like to see Broadway, and theatre in general, take responsibility for representing both of these communities?

I mean in the same way that you can go see plays with brown characters that aren’t all about slavery, or crime, or civil rights, I think there is a space out there to see plays about Jewish life. It should be just as normal. It doesn’t have to be about the Holocaust, but I think the real work has to come from the Jewish community. It has to come from playwrights who are writing plays that speak to them and who will self-produce or for the leadership in these companies to have Jewish stories on the forefront of their mind. I think racial equity and gender equity is right at the forefront of their minds. Every play they read, every season they put together, they’re thinking very quickly about those two things and that's great, they weren’t doing that however many years ago. But now we have to take a moment and be like, ‘okay, now that we’ve gotten this far let’s add another layer onto that’. Especially being a Jew of color it's even more complicated to ever see yourself depicted anywhere else outside of looking at myself in the mirror. You don’t see it on TV, you definitely don’t see it on stage. If we’re going to start representing Jews on stage then let’s talk about what that really looks like in America today.

Is there a personal experience you would like to share about how being a Jewish woman impacted an opportunity for you in your theatre career?

One of the things that I think has changed for me is that now when I work on shows I very quickly try to identify the other people who are Jewish. And I think in that way, it has built a community for me that I didn’t know that I had within this Boston theatre scene. I’m not sure how it happens, but I will have this moment with someone where we both identify with each other as both being Jewish and it just opens up this relationship because we’ll feel like we have this thing in common that not everybody else has. When I worked on a production of Barbecue at The Lyric, our stage manager was Jewish and one Friday night we brought challah and Shabbat candles and grape juice and invited the cast and crew to participate in celebrating Shabbat. It was a really special time and everybody got this window into what Jewish life can be like that they probably never would have known had they not worked on a show with someone who is Jewish. It’s little moments like that that I think have really shaped my experience as an actor. I hope for more of those types of experiences and connections.

What do you hope to see happen in the theatre industry in the coming years?

I think we are doing a really good job, of course, we could do better, at making sure untold stories from people of color and people who identify as LGBTQ are being put forward and produced. But, I do think that there needs to be a space for Jewish stories, Islamic stories, really anything that is not Christian based is not produced much. And if it is, it’s these war-torn, heartbreaking stories. We can’t forget what’s happened and what is happening, but where is just the regular, everyday story about my life where I just happen to be Jewish? I think that’s why shows on TV, like Transparent, were kind of groundbreaking, because you were watching a Jewish family in a very normal context. I hope to see what is happening in film and TV to begin happening on stage. I think it’s going to take Jewish playwrights really writing their stories and finding avenues to have those stories brought to life. If it’s not through the typical process of submitting plays, then it has to happen in some other, new way. Maybe I’ll be the one to create a space for the people who are writing those stories and give them the opportunity to share. I think there is space in our community for a company who focuses on telling Jewish stories from a Jewish perspective. Maybe we are at the beginning of that right now.

An Interview with Blair Nodelman

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Our first interview on Strip It Down is with, drum roll, please…Blair Nodelman! Blair is currently the marketing fellow at ArtsEmerson, a production company in the heart of Boston committed to bringing stories from all over the world to their stages. I am so happy to have been able to sit down with Blair and discuss what it means to be a young Jewish woman in theatre and how Judaism infiltrates and connects with her passion for theatre.

How did you first get started in theatre?

When I was in 2nd grade, I did my first musical and I played a cat, it was a big deal. But then really what happened was, my high school had a really amazing performing arts program and I auditioned for West Side Story and I didn’t get in. And then I auditioned for Urinetown and I did get in! I had a made-up choral part, I didn't sing, I was a modern dancer, I wore three-fingered gloves and face paint. Yeah, it was a lot, but that’s kinda how I started. From there, I just really liked the community and kept acting and getting involved in different aspects, like any other theatre kid it started with a bad production of Urinetown.  

What is one wish you have for the theatre industry that you want to turn into a reality?

I think something that I feel a lot, especially as someone who just graduated [college] there is a lot of opportunity in theatre, which is awesome, but a lot that those opportunities come at a cost, like literal cost. You don’t get paid enough, you get paid under minimum wage, and yet you still have to have prior experience and be able to support yourself. So I would like to be part of a culture of a younger generation of theatre-makers that demand the pay that we deserve for the work that we’re doing. I also just see a lot of awful treatment of young people and exploitation, whether it’s an internship or an apprenticeship or what not, I think we need to do a better job at giving designers and actors equal pay for the work they’re putting in.

As a Jewish woman, what piece of theatre made you realize your religion and your passion for theatre could be connected?

I think I was always interested in Jewish stories. It definitely wasn’t in high school because there are like no jews in New Mexico, so I never connected then, and I didn't grow up in a musical theatre household so I’ve still never seen Fiddler On the Roof, yeah I’ve really failed there. But I think it was pretty recently, I watched Indecent when they streamed it online and I just thought, wow this is incredible. And I probably realized that my Judaism and theatre connected earlier than that, but when I saw Indecent I was alone in my room, watching this show on my computer, and just sobbing, because it was so honest and based on a true story. It just felt like such a beautiful representation of World War II and the Jewish experience of that war and the Holocaust without being so desperately morbid and graphic. That was a very important piece of theatre for me.

Do you think the storytelling essence of Judaism helps people connect deeper to the religion and culture?

Yeah, there’s a huge oral tradition, like even with Torah portions and teachings they’re presented as like fables almost. There’s a story with a moral, but its a story first. I mean, I always think about The Prince of Egypt, I know it’s a movie, but like, it's a musical… I can’t even get into it I would talk about it all day, but there is always a story to be told in Judaism and I think that’s why the teachings are so powerful.

Who is a theatre artist that you feel represented by as a Jewish woman?

I’m not going to say Barbra Streisand because I’ve already used her as an answer this week, but I do love her. So I know they’re mostly known for their work on TV, but Ilana Glazer from Broad City and Jenny Slate from Parks and Recreation are both powerhouse Jewish women. I would also say Katrina Lenk who is in The Band’s Visit and was in Indecent, I’m not sure if she’s Jewish but I know she’s Eastern European, whatever she’s amazing and can play a really convincing Israeli. I think it’s hard too, though, because a lot of Jewish actors and artists change their last names, not that every Jewish person in theatre needs to be out and proud about being Jewish because obviously it's a personal choice, but it’s hard to name people and know who they are because people have stage names, or are told to change their names, or told to be less Jewish. Like Natalie Portman is Jewish, but she changed her last name from whatever it was to Portman to sound less Jewish. It’s just hard to name Jewish theatre artists and maybe that’s my own ignorance, like needing to do more research, but it's definitely difficult to identify them.

Do you believe your perspective as a Jewish woman impacts your career in theatre?

So I grew up interfaith, my mom is Catholic and my dad is Jewish which is really a whole other perspective that’s not often talked about and not wholly accepted in the entire Jewish community, like most conservative and orthodox Jewish people would not consider me Jewish, even though that’s how I identify,  because my mother isn’t Jewish. For me, I think theatre is a great communicative tool to display those other stories that aren’t necessarily out there. I don’t know if my perspective is the most unique or the most important one to be spotlighted, but I would love to be a part of storytelling that looks at that. I also feel like interfaith conversations, regardless of what religions, isn’t often talked about. I think coming from that background has taught me to make my own decisions when it comes to big ideal decisions like religion. I was given the choice of being Jewish, my parents wholly let me decide what I wanted to be and believe. But I do think it’s interesting that I will admit I’m Jewish before I will admit that I’m also partially Catholic and this past year I saw a production of Saint Joan, and my middle name is Joan and when I saw that show, I also identified with that story. Even though I’m definitely more drawn to Jewish stories, a part of my identity also connects with themes of Catholicism.

Have you had to face any sacrifices or challenges being a Jewish woman working in theatre? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

That’s funny you asked that, because I was just looking at my calendar today trying to figure out how to use my vacation days and if I go home for Labor Day I won’t be able to take off for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, because as a Jewish person I have to consider that. And often there are shows on Friday nights and while I don’t keep Shabbat, I go to services maybe, but often I have rehearsals when I could be gathering with my community. Whether you’re in the arts or not, it’s hard as a Jewish person to navigate how to celebrate holidays that are super important but using vacation time for that. It’s definitely a cultural thing and part of the world we live in but it’s a challenge. There are also a lot of times when I’m in a show that involves, or references Judaism, I’m usually the only Jewish person in the room. I did a reading once that was about Kafka and so it involved some Jewish themes and I was just like, why am I the only one speaking up about this? Especially because I wasn’t raised Jewish, I know I’m definitely not the most knowledgeable person. There’s just this weird pressure and you would think there wouldn’t be because there are so many Jewish people in theatre, but no one talks about it. Then when you’re in places with very small Jewish populations like New Mexico or Boston, you end up being the only voice in that room to speak about and represent Judaism. That can be really isolating and I also don’t think I should be the voice of Judaism as a whole. We live a pretty charmed life as Jewish artists, though. There’s a lot more Jewish art out there than we realize.