For eight days, Aug. 2-9, the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture will be transformed into a hub of Latin American culture as it hosts Festival Judío, a multifaceted celebration showcasing Jewish artistic work from Argentina to Mexico. The festival, revived after its original 2004-2006 run, is expected to be the largest of its kind in terms of scope anywhere in the world.
“There is so much material to choose from that there could easily be separate festivals for Latin American Jewish visual art, books, films and music,” said organizer David Skulski, who also spearheaded the previous festivals.
Among the highlights of this year’s event is a show featuring Mauro Perelmann, who fuses various Brazilian styles with Israeli and klezmer music.
“My aim is to stir emotions through my music. I want to be evocative and create an atmosphere. It is more important for me to get a reaction from people than to play what is written,” he told the Jewish Independent from his home in Rio de Janeiro.
The samba was invented in the same Rio neighbourhood that later became a Jewish enclave, and there have always been links between Jews and Brazilian music in the city, he said. “With some modification of the scales,” he added, “I am able to turn familiar Brazilian tunes into sounds that resemble klezmer.”
A known composer and choir conductor in Brazil, Perelmann is no stranger to Vancouver audiences, having performed here in 2015 and 2016. His Festival Judío appearance on Aug. 8, as part of a nine-piece musical ensemble, will be preceded by a samba dance lesson.
Buenos Aires-based bandoneonist Amijai Shalev will present the lecture Tango: The Jewish Connection. “Jewish musicians and songwriters were very involved in the creative process of tango,” he explained. “The style of the violín tanguero is that of a Jewish violin arriving in Rio de la Plata (Argentina and Uruguay).” His Aug. 5 discussion of the parallels between tango and klezmer will examine the habanera rhythm (heard in George Bizet’s opera Carmen) that is present in both tango and klezmer. He will also trace the Eastern European origins of the bandoneon, a concertina that is a fixture in tango music.
On Aug. 3, Argentine-Canadian mezzo-soprano Andrea Fabiana Katz’s performance will cover several works by Jewish composers. “People associate tango with earthiness, passion and emotion…. The texts are very, very rich and full of metaphor and deep emotions, mostly about love, especially old familiar love. The poetry is always wonderful,” said Katz, who lives in Metro Vancouver.
The evening will be a milonga, which can be taken to mean both a musical genre and a tango party. Prior to the concert will be a tango dance lesson, and Jewish foods from Latin America will be available.
Among the festival’s offerings are five films. An Unknown Country employs firsthand accounts in following the lives of Jews who escaped from Nazi Germany to Ecuador, and shows their contributions to the economic, artistic, scientific and social life of their adopted country. Director Eva Zelig will be on hand after the film, on Aug. 7, for a question-and-answer period.
Other films at the festival include Los Gauchos Judíos, based on an Alberto Gerchunoff novel portraying the thousands of Russian Jews who came as farmers to Argentina in the late 1880s and 1890s; and The Fire Within, a documentary chronicling the integration of Moroccan Jewish settlers with the indigenous women of rural Peru in the late 19th century.
Two dramas, the bittersweet comedy Nora’s Will (Mexico) and the slow-burning thriller The German Doctor (Argentina), complete the cinematic line-up.
Lectures and artists
The Song of Lilith, an Aug. 6 talk by visual artist, filmmaker and Jungian therapist Liliana Kleiner, explores the ancient myth of Lilith found in the Talmud and in kabbalah, its incarnations through the ages, and how this legend relates to the present day.
Additional events include a writers workshop led by young-adult author Silvana Goldemberg and a presentation about the reality of the situation in Venezuela, led by Jack Goihman, who was an agriculture engineer when he left his home country of Venezuela because of its political instability. Arriving in Vancouver in 2014, Goihman completed a master’s in business administration and now works as a project manager.
A visual art show and sale will exhibit works by local and internationally shown and collected artists, including Miriam Aroeste and Kleiner, as well as a mural by the late Arnold Belkin.
A book sale, primarily of selections from the University of New Mexico Press, includes Oy, Caramba! An Anthology of Jewish Stories from Latin America, edited by Ilan Stavans, and Yiddish South of the Border: An Anthology of Latin American Yiddish Writing, compiled by Alan Astro, with a introduction by Stavens.
“Festival Judío is a double celebration of Jewish culture and Latin American culture,” observed Shalev. “Both are expressions of the richness and diversity of humanity.”
Jennifer Lines and Andrew McNee in The Taming of the Shrew. (photo by Tim Matheson)
Bard on the Beach celebrates its 30th season with an eclectic, nontraditional mix of three Shakespeare plays – a western Taming of the Shrew, a Bollywood All’s Well that Ends Well and Coriolanus, a political drama with gender reversal – and a stage version of the Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare in Love.
A Western-style Shrew
How do you present Shakespeare’s tale of a strong-willed woman brought to her knees by a tormenting husband in today’s #metoo world? Can you justify staging a misogynistic play in the 21st century? That was the dilemma facing director Lois Anderson, who played the female lead in 2012. Her solution? Take some liberties with the script – nip it here, tuck it there, add in some role and speech reversals, set it in the American Wild West of the 1870s. While purists may bemoan the surgery, there is a lot to like about this production.
In Shrew, Lucentio (Kamyar Pazandeh), the son of a wealthy merchant from Pisa, comes to Padua to study and is smitten by Bianca (Kate Besworth), the lovely younger daughter of Madam Baptista (Susinn McFarlen). He is resolved to marry her but the good Madam insists that her older daughter, Katherine (Jennifer Lines), must be married off first. Unfortunately, Kate has the reputation of being an über shrew and none of the local men sees her as wife material. Enter Petruchio (Andrew McNee), a down-on-his-luck Veronan who has come to Padua to “wife it wealthily” and sees Kate (and her dowry) as both a challenge and an answer to his prayers.
Their first meeting is a fiery battle of evenly matched wits and an insight into things to come as the “taming” journey begins from a spontaneous marriage proposal, through the outlandish wedding to the honeymoon in a canvas tent on the range. The scene with Petruchio’s men lounging around the campfire singing in harmony about tumbleweed is a harbinger of Kate’s metamorphosis from the shrew to the good wife.
Meanwhile, back in Padua, now that Kate has been married off, Bianca’s admirers are set to woo her. Lucentio and Hortensio (Jewish community member Anton Lipovetsky) disguise themselves as tutors to vie for her affections. Lucentio wins the battle of the swains, the couple elopes and Hortensio consoles himself by marrying a wealthy widow. Kate and Petruchio return to Padua to celebrate the nuptials and a wager is made among the three grooms as to which wife will be the most obedient and come when called. Although Kate is the one who appears to obsequiously respond, she makes her final exit with a bang.
Lines is stellar as Kate. We see her feisty side when she lassoes her sister Bianca and drags her around the room, when she throws a flowerpot out of a window onto a mocking crowd below and when she breaks a lute over Hortensio’s head – Lipovetsky plays the part with great comedic timing. We also see Kate’s more vulnerable side, as she sits alone contemplating her spinsterhood and what is, in essence, the bullying she endures from the townsfolk.
Petruchio’s character has been made into a kinder, gentler soul, more palatable to today’s sensibilities, but the nice guy doesn’t always mesh with the mean one Shakespeare wrote. That said, McNee is strong in his portrayal and you cannot help but like him. It helps that the chemistry between the two leads is palpable – their characters are outsiders who have finally found their soul mates and revel in the discovery.
The production values are high for Shrew. Mara Gottler has done a stellar job with the costumes, the colourful frocks worn by the women, the cowboy dusters and the urban togs of the localites. Cory Sincennes’ set is simple, with the opening scene of Padua City’s main street readying for a summer fête easily morphing into the Baptista sitting room or a saloon. Gerald King’s lighting design and Malcolm Dow’s western sound design, replete with sounds of galloping horses in a very funny pony express scene, complete the theme.
This Shrew is certainly worth seeing but it would have been better with the original script, acknowledging the culture of the Elizabethan period regarding the treatment of the “fairer” sex and opening the dialogue about how far women have come in the past 400 years and how much further there is to go. After all, you don’t take the antisemitism out of Merchant of Venice or the elder abuse out of King Lear – and you should not take the misogyny out of The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s works, warts and all, should be looked at through a 16th-century lens, not a modern one.
The Bard in India
All’s Well that Ends Well defies classification into one of Shakespeare’s genres – comedy or tragedy. Bard on the Beach plays it as the former and it pays off, with an audience-pleasing feast of colour, music, bhangra dancing and swordplay.
The setting is 1946 India in a country on the cusp of independence from British rule prior to the partition with Pakistan, which divided the country into Hindu and Muslim nations. The story revolves around Helena (Sarena Parmar), an upper-class Hindu physician’s daughter and ward of the aristocratic British Countess (Lucia Frangione), who falls in love with the Countess’s soldier son, Bertram (Edmund Stapelton). Bertram is dismissive of Helena, considering her beneath his station.
However, Helena is determined to have him. The Viceroy (Bernard Cuffling) is ailing and near death. Helena, remembering her now-deceased father’s various remedies, offers to treat the Viceroy in exchange for the right to marry any man of her choosing. But, while she gets her wish and Bertram is forced to marry her, he abandons her to go to battle. He leaves behind a letter stating that he will not live with Helena as her spouse until she retrieves a ring he is wearing and bears him a child.
In Delhi, Bertram meets virginal but coquettish Diana (Pam Patel) and seduces her (so he thinks) but Helena has previously met with her and made plans to trade places with Diana in the bed chamber. This deception allows her to meet Bertram’s conditions and finally convince him that she is worthy of him – although why she would want such a cad is beyond comprehension.
Helena’s journey of self-discovery is symbolized by her sartorial choices, as she changes from Western garb to a traditional sari by the end of the play, paralleling the Indian journey from colonization and British rule to independence.
It is nice to see the diversity of cast in this production and the use of Hindi dialogue, particularly by Diana’s mother, the widow (Veenesh Dubois). Parmar is lovely as Helena, Cuffling a grouchy but avuncular Viceroy. David Marr as Lafeu, the minister, is hilarious and Jeff Gladstone as Parolles, one of Bertram’s military mates, steals the show with his slapstick antics. Newcomer Patel as Diana is a breath of fresh air. The ensemble dancers under the direction of choreographer Poonam Sandhu and the two Gurkha guards, Munish Sharma and Nadeem Phillip, bring authenticity to the onstage movement.
This show is all about the visuals – the set, the costumes, the dancing and the lighting. Kudos to costume designer Carmen Alatorre for her stylish choices and to set designer Pam Johnson for the stunning terracotta arched set, which transitions from a palatial Delhi home to a Punjabi marketplace brimming with colour and activity. Co- directors Rohit Chokhani and Johnna Wright, with their talented cast and crew, have created a gem. This fusion of East meets West is a winner.
Fall for Shakespeare
As director Daryl Clonan – who helmed last year’s hit, As You Like It, Beatlemania-style – said to the opening night crowd of Shakespeare in Love, this play is a love letter to the theatre. Not only that but it is great fun. The costumes, the acting, the set, the ambience, all do honour to its namesake 1998 film starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow. The movie took the cinematic world by storm, winning seven Oscars, including best picture, and this summer’s stage version is set to wow Vancouver audiences.
The story is set in period, the early 1600s. The Bard (dashing Charlie Gallant) is suffering from writer’s block as he works on a new play, Romeo and Ethel and the Pirate’s Daughter. His inspiration ultimately arrives in the form of muse Viola De Lesseps (Ghazal Azarbad), the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who dreams of acting on stage. However, as women were not allowed thespian careers at that time, she has to disguise herself as Thomas Kent in order to audition for Shakespeare’s new play. As Kent, she gets the part of Romeo.
Meanwhile, Shakespeare meets Viola and falls for her – and she for him, although she has been promised to Lord Wessex, a nasty fortune-hunting aristocrat who plans to whisk her away to his family’s Virginia tobacco plantations.
This show has something in it for animal lovers (the dog Spot is a scene stealer), movie buffs and, of course, Shakespeare mavens, who will delight in identifying the various lines from the Bard’s repertoire, the play-within-a-play, mistaken identities, swordplay, a balcony scene, an in flagrante delicto moment and more.
The ensemble cast is terrific and Gallant and Azarbad are sublime in their portrayals of the two lovers, who enjoy some steamy moments behind the bed curtains. Jennifer Lines has a small but memorable role as a regal and stately Queen Elizabeth I. Mention must also be made of newcomer Jason Sakaki, who plays Sam, the young boy who plays Juliet until opening night, when his voice changes, giving Viola a chance to tread the boards without hiding her gender. Kit Marlowe (Austin Eckert), one of Shakespeare’s competitors, has been given an enhanced role in this rendering and he helps Shakespeare muddle his way through Sonnet #18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day….”
Four Jewish community members are involved in this production. Warren Kimmel – last seen at Bard as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice – plays Fennyman, a local impressario who takes a share in one of Shakespeare’s plays and, while it is a small role, Kimmel plays it to the comedic max. Anton Lipovetsky makes the unctuous groom Lord Wessex utterly repellent, Mishelle Cuttler provides a potpourri of baroque melodies as sound designer and musical director, and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s work as movement coach adds energy and playfulness, as it does in The Taming of the Shrew.
Set and costume designer Cory Sincennes once again keeps the set simple, a stark sepia-coloured Globe Theatre, but goes all out on a colourful feast of costumes.
This will likely be the hit of the season.
Three of the four Bard productions are up and running; Corialanus opens Aug. 21. For the schedule and tickets visit bardonthebeach.org or call 604-739-0559.
Tova Kornfeldis a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
Michael Germant, left, Sarah Boes and Drew Henderson co-star in Island Production’s The Understudy, Aug. 1-10 at PAL Studio Theatre. (photo by Jayme Cowley)
Oftentimes, in cultural endeavours, there is a tension between artistic vision and profit margins; that is, if there is any money to be made. This is one of the themes of The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck, which is being presented by Island Productions next month at PAL Studio Theatre.
The show co-stars Sarah Boes as Roxanne, the stage manager, who also is a frustrated actor; Drew Henderson as Jake, the good-looking action-hero star trying to be taken seriously as an actor; and Jewish community member Michael Germant as Harry, the understudy, who happens to be Roxanne’s ex-fiancé. Despite the personal drama, “a stoned lightboard operator, an omnipresent intercom system [and] the producers threatening to shutter the show,” Roxanne must try to run the understudy rehearsal for the Broadway première of a recently discovered Franz Kafka masterpiece.
Existentialism, explains director Mel Tuck in his online notes for the production, “denotes the inexplicable nature of human existence and emphasizes man’s freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of his acts.”
“What I like about The Understudy and what I think is funny,” Germant told the Independent, “is that, just when you think the characters have got things under control, everything falls apart. I also love how Rebeck makes the events of the play intertwine with the events of Kafka’s ‘undiscovered’ play-within-the-play thematically.”
Echoing Tuck’s comments, Germant added, “The existential aspects in Kafka’s play lead to the final choice that our three protagonists make at the end, both within and ‘without’ Kafka’s play.”
About those protagonists and what they symbolize, Tuck writes, “There are actors that have substantial careers because they are attractive, and then there are actors who have chameleon-like skill at hiding themselves within the role they are playing. Both have their place and purpose. The battle between art and business is forever being played out before our very eyes. There are many arguments for art as opposed to business. We artists believe in the value of entertainment and intelligent growth for ourselves and our public. We are exploring polarities and the implications of internal versus external thoughts; how we are affected by our conditioning and how that manifests in our social lives and activities. In the theatre, as in movies and TV, one prime issue has taken precedence: money. Money is a defining and deciding factor in avenues of artistic endeavour. What is the best possible way to make a play, movie or TV show successful? The sad reality is usually money takes precedence. And often funny means money. This is a very funny play.”
The Independent has interviewed Germant a few times, all for serious dramas, but he has done comedy before.
“Good dramas have humour written into them,” he said. “It’s the spoonful of comedy that makes the drama go down. And vice versa – good comedies like The Understudy have drama at their core.
“We’ve actually done another comedy, called Seminar, by Theresa Rebeck…. A drama we did – John Patrick Shanley’s The Dreamer Examines his Pillow – has a lot of humour, and a comedic ending. Both of those plays were also at the PAL Studio Theatre and both in 2014,” said the actor, for whom this play marks his seventh for Island Productions.
“On screen,” he added, “I was in a pilot called High Moon, where my character was the comic relief, and I did a short dark comedy, which was really well-received at film festivals this year called Caught in the Spokes.”
About the ways in which comedic and dramatic roles differ, Germant said, “Comedy is heightened pace and energy. In drama, you can set your own pace – you can pause or take a break or a breath wherever you want. But comedy is structured very specifically and timing is the golden rule. In that way, it’s more disciplined and difficult than drama.”
Michael Scholar Jr. co-directs the political comedy Born Yesterday, which opens July 13 at the Jericho Arts Centre. (photo from ETC)
Garson Kanin’s comedy Born Yesterday opened on Broadway on Feb. 4, 1946, and was a hit. It has been made into a film (1950), returned to Broadway twice (1989 and 2011) and seen countless productions. About political corruption, it has a timeless quality.
“This play seems to have been written for this exact moment, when populism, corruption and bullying are an omnipresent part of our political and personal lives,” co-director Michael Scholar Jr. told the Independent.
Scholar co-directs the Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) production with Shelby Bushell. Part of the company’s Annual Summer Repertory Festival, Born Yesterday opens July 13 at the Jericho Arts Centre.
“Kanin wrote the piece while in Europe,” said Scholar. “While he was serving in the army to defeat fascism abroad, he seemed more concerned about those same tendencies within our own democracy back home. This play and one of its central figures, Harry Brock, the bullying millionaire who tries to buy his way into power, are sadly all too familiar 80 years on.”
In Born Yesterday, junkman Harry has come to Washington, D.C., to use his money to influence legislation. Despite his own uncouthness, Harry is concerned that his girlfriend, Billie, a former showgirl, will make him look bad, so he hires a reporter, Paul, to educate her. As her newly released intelligence begins to surface, she could prove Harry’s undoing.
The Independent last spoke with Jewish community member Scholar about The Enemy, another political play, which was at the Firehall Arts Centre late last year.
“Since The Enemy, a lot has changed for me,” he said. “I spent a semester teaching acting and directing at Arizona State University in Phoenix. And now, on my summer break, I’m co-directing Born Yesterday for ETC and, a day after opening, I fly to New York to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island, which I get to work on with my 6-year-old daughter, Alice.”
About how he came to co-direct Born Yesterday, Scholar said, “I was talking with artistic director Tariq Leslie while on a movie set here in Vancouver, and we got to talking about how ETC was hitting above its weight class and doing some powerful work in town. He had seen my production of As You Like It at Studio 58 and enjoyed my work. And so a match was made.”
Scholar described having a co-director as “a real blessing.”
“It means that we can tag team on rehearsals, and I actually get to have a day with my family each week,” he said of working with Bushell. “Also, having her perspective in the room has meant that we are covering more ground and that, together, we have fewer blind spots. This play is about a woman who is perceived to be a ditz, but whose sense of civic duty is awoken through education and intellectual stimulation. This play, written in the ’40s by Garson Kanin, is surprisingly relevant to our current political climate, but it also has some potentially problematic elements [so it is] worth having two sets of eyes looking at this material.”
One of those elements is the depiction of women.
“Brock is a bully and, without giving away too much of the plot, he is a violent character towards both men and women in his entourage,” explained Scholar. “The play deals with toxic masculinity, misogyny and stereotypes, but, in its time, it was working to subvert those ideas. So, we’ve reworked parts of the piece to highlight this intention and to not reinforce gender stereotypes, which has been another great reason to have Shelby as a collaborator on this project.”
Ensemble Theatre’s website highlights a quote from the play: “A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.” It notes, “By turns uproarious and sobering, and packed with a cast of vibrant characters throughout, Kanin’s play reminds us that a healthy democracy depends on its inhabitants to stay healthy, and that abuse of power cannot be stemmed without an informed and engaged citizenry.”
Scholar stressed that, despite the weighty issues tackled, the play is primarily a comedy. “It has a fast-pace banter and physical precision that is almost farcical,” he said. “It uses comedy as a way of dealing with challenging ideas, disarming us with laughter so that we can reflect on our situation with not just our heads, but our hearts, too. I’m sure audiences will have much to discuss afterwards, but they will also be entertained while on this poignant journey.”
ETC’s summer festival runs to Aug. 16. In addition to Born Yesterday, it features Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy, which opened July 12, and Tracy Letts’s Superior Donuts, which opens July 19. For tickets, visit ensembletheatrecompany.ca.
Zayd Dohrn’s Reborning returns to the New York stage this summer. (photo from Zayd Dohrn)
The play Reborning, written by Zayd Dohrn, is being performed Off-Broadway at the Soho Playhouse in New York City from July 5 through Aug. 3, thanks to Vancouver’s Reality Curve Theatre.
A Canadian nonprofit professional theatre company founded in 2011, Reality Curve reached out to Dohrn to bring this play, which ran in Vancouver last year, to the New York stage. The production is produced by artistic director Paul Piaskowski, Darren Lee Cole and Rebecca McNeil, and is presented by Playbook Hub with support from the Vancouver Film School, the Canada Council for the Arts and Shimon Photo.
Reborning is a dark comedy-drama with elements of horror. In it, people are able to buy life-like infant dolls that look like loved ones who have died. The play centres around Kelly, a woman who lives with her boyfriend in Queens, N.Y., and creates “reborn” baby dolls. She has a client who commissions her to make a replica of her dead baby girl and, as Kelly constructs this doll, it stirs up memories from her own life.
“It’s a relationship between a younger and older woman – a customer and an artist – who are both looking for something and it becomes dangerous,” said Dohrn, who lives in Chicago and is an associate professor at Northwestern University. “There is a whole subculture with these dolls. I wrote the play right after the birth of our first child. My wife was shopping online for baby toys and clothes and she found these life-like dolls. The photos of them are incredible, realistic, detailed and medically accurate. Some even have hospital bracelets. There is something beautiful about them, yet very disturbing.”
Dohrn talked to customers and heard their testimonials. “Many of these people can’t get over the loss of their baby and use the dolls therapeutically.”
The play stars Emily Bett Rickards (CW’s Arrow), Piaskowski (Unspeakable, The Twilight Zone) and Lori Triolo (Riverdale), who is also the director.
The first production of Reborning, which starred Ally Sheedy, was 10 years ago at the Summer Play Festival at the Public Theatre in New York City, when Dohrn was at the Julliard School. It has had more than 20 productions nationally and internationally over the last decade, including in Los Angeles, Brazil, Panama, Florida, San Francisco and, in 2018, Vancouver, where he connected to Reality Curve.
Dohrn’s life and road to literary success could be a fascinating play in itself. His parents, Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dohrn, were leaders in the radical group the Weather Underground (also known as the Weathermen) back in the 1960s and 1970s. There was an accidental explosion in a Greenwich Village townhouse where Weathermen lost their lives, and the couple went underground, using assumed names. Dohrn, who is now 41, spent his early childhood on the run.
“It didn’t seem strange to me to grow up being fugitives, that was just our life,” he said. “We lived in New York City in Harlem, traveled a lot, moved around a lot and lived in communes. Then my parents turned themselves in and we settled in New York. My mom went to jail for almost two years when I was 5, and I have vivid memories of visiting her there. My dad took care of me while she was gone.”
When his mom was released from prison, she became a lawyer. “My dad became a professor and I was raised in a middle-class house, although they still had their notoriety and they were committed to their politics and their cause,” said Dohrn. “Growing up, we would go to a lot of demonstrations and meetings with other activists.”
Dohrn went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Brown University, a master’s in fine arts from New York University, a master of arts from Boston University and a playwriting fellowship from Julliard. He also spent a lot of time in China. Fourteen years ago, he married Rachel DeWoskin, and they have two daughters. DeWoskin, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich., is an author, teaches at the University of Chicago and also spent many years living in China before she and Dohrn met.
Many of Dohrn’s plays draw from his childhood and life experiences. In one of his earlier plays, Haymarket, set in 1886, a bomb explodes in the middle of a peaceful rally of demonstrators in Chicago – at least one of the radicals goes into hiding. His play Sick, about a Manhattan couple who go to extreme measures to protect themselves from pollution, was reminiscent of living in Beijing and witnessing the fear during the SARS epidemic.
When asked about his religion, Dohrn said he considers himself a cultural Jew. “My mom was half-Jewish and my parents were atheists, but, culturally, my mom considers herself Jewish and we were raised as cultural Jews and celebrated Passover and Chanukah,” he explained. “We celebrated in a radical way – we did Passovers in a women’s prison in upstate New York, celebrating the Exodus as a story of freedom and celebrating with female inmates in prison.”
Dohrn noted that he, his wife and kids have traveled a lot, visiting Jewish sites. “My wife considers herself Jewish and we are raising our girls with a lot of Jewish cultural influences,” he said.
Dohrn and DeWoskin spend time each year in China. “Rachel kept her apartment in Beijing for at least 10 years and we would go for a few months every year,” he said. “When our kids started to grow up, we wanted a place where they could be more independent so we got an apartment in Shanghai. We spend three-quarters of the year in Chicago and one-quarter of the year in Shanghai. We both have academic schedules so we are able to spend the summers and winters there. There are still historical monuments and artifacts from the Jewish community in Shanghai and the synagogue is now a museum. Our apartment there is in the building that was the Jewish processing centre for the refugees during World War II.”
Currently, Dohrn is developing a series about radical political movements like the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers for Showtime and a feature film for Netflix. He’s looking forward to Reborning being back on the New York stage. “For me,” he said, “it’s a bookend, to have it back in New York again after all these years.”
Alice Burdick Schweigeris a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.
Left to right: Sheryl Wheaton as Rosie, Lori Ashton Zondag as Tanya and Caitriona Murphy as Donna in Mamma Mia! with Adam Charles as Jack, Caleb Lagayan as Race and Graeme Kitagawa as Mush in Disney’s Newsies. (photo by Lindsay Elliott)
Iconic Swedish pop music and a story that exemplifies America’s love of the underdog are coming to Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl this summer. Theatre Under the Stars presents Mamma Mia! and Disney’s Newsies on alternate nights, starting with a preview of Mamma Mia! July 5.
Set in the Greek islands, Mamma Mia! features ABBA songs aplenty, as bride-to-be Sophie invites three of her mother’s former lovers to her wedding in order to figure out which one is her father. The TUTS production features two Jewish community members who are veterans of the stage: Wendy Bross Stuart as music director (and rock band pianist) and Stefan Winfield as Harry Bright, one of the possible fathers, a role that was played by Colin Firth in the film version of the musical.
About his preparation for the TUTS production, Winfield shared: “Main note to self: do not attempt to replicate Colin Firth’s performance! He is a great actor. His quintessentially understated, sensual and impossibly British charm that comes across so well on the screen is not something I’d ever be able to reproduce on the Malkin Bowl stage in a way that connects with anyone past the first row … so, I’m bringing what I can to the role, doing my best to fulfil the vision of the creative team.”
Winfield’s first TUTS show goes back to childhood. In 1976, he played Randolph in Bye Bye Birdie. “My next appearance on the Malkin Bowl stage was not until 1999,’ he said, “when I played an adult role (i.e., not a Jet or a Shark!) in West Side Story.”
Since then, he has been involved in several TUTS shows, including Jesus Christ Superstar, another mounting of Bye Bye Birdie and of West Side Story, and The Drowsy Chaperone. Among other things, he was also in Parfumerie at the Metro Theatre in 2014, directed by Disney’s Newsies musical director, Christopher King, and has been directed a few times by fellow Jewish community member Richard Berg, who is currently TUTS’s production manager.
“It’s a pleasure to be working again with Shel Piercy,” Winfield added. “This is the fourth time I’ve performed under his direction on a theatre production, but the first time dates back to 1977! I played Kurt in a very local production of The Sound of Music for Marpole Community Theatre, directed by Shel, who, I believe, had only recently graduated from Eric Hamber. He’s a guy who’s been telling great stories for several decades, on stage and screen; I am very honoured to work with him.”
Another co-worker partially explains why Winfield likes being involved in TUTS. “The opportunity to work under the direction of and perform with outstanding theatre professionals, including my wife, choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt – not to mention the crowd of extraordinarily talented and impressively trained up-and-coming young people who give themselves over to TUTS for the summer. And, for me personally, TUTS has really lived up to its mandate of creating a family atmosphere in allowing me to share the experience with my son Wesley, who was ‘en ventre sa mère’ during Bye Bye Birdie as Shelley was choreographing, then performed in featured bits in The Drowsy Chaperone at the age of 5, and is doing the same now in Mamma Mia! – this time actually executing choreography set by his mum! To watch it gives me joy … naches, if you will.”
And it’s a family scene that is among Winfield’s favourites in Mamma Mia!
“There are a lot of great moments,” he said, “but I’d say my favourite occurs during the scene when the dads meet Sophie for the first time. Harry is singing ‘Thank You for the Music,’ playing the guitar while lost in wistful reminiscence, when, to his surprise, in walks Sophie who joins in on the song. It’s a moment made all the more special by the lovely voice and energy of the young lady who’s playing Sophie in our production, Keira Jang.”
Also a TUTS veteran, Bross Stuart has worked with Piercy and Stewart Hunt before.
“Shel, Shelley and I have worked together on many shows; we go back a very long time,” said Stuart. “In fact, Shelley was actually my student when she was in Grade 8. And an excellent student at that! As a team, I have profound respect for Shel and Shelley. There is a wonderfully creative synergy between the two of them and between them and myself. They see possibilities which are almost magical.”
Bross Stuart’s first TUTS production was Fiddler on the Roof in 1997.
“In those days,” she said, “it had not occurred to people in Vancouver that it might be useful to have an actual Jewish person involved with a production of Fiddler on the Roof. TUTS was ahead of its time, realizing how important this would be! In those days, there was very little Jewish influence in this town, especially compared to where I had spent my childhood and young adult life – in New York City and Montreal.”
Describing working at TUTS as “intoxicating,” Bross Stuart highlighted the beauty of Stanley Park and said about the feeling of “conducting/playing outdoors in front of a large, appreciative audience – absolutely second to none. A very special experience!”
As well, she noted that “each show has completely different demands because of the material we are using.” For Bross Stuart, ABBA’s music was a new challenge.
“ABBA was not in my repertoire at all,” she admitted. “During the ABBA period, I was busy living in Japan and studying traditional music for koto and shamisen, composed by Yatsuhashi Kengyo and Tsuruyama Kengyo. No pop music for me! However, I have learned so much about this style from working on Mamma Mia! Doing ABBA music has taken me to a new place in my musical life. Growing and learning is such an exciting venture.”
While music rehearsals officially started on April 24, Bross Stuart said she opened her home for early rehearsals to anyone who wanted a head start.
“The style of the music makes the approach much different from most shows,” she said. “Less on the micro details and more on the big picture. As a detail-oriented person, it is a great learning experience for me – and, I am playing keyboard in a rock ’n’ roll band (and conducting). Each of the four keyboards is hooked up to a computer with many sound patches. I love it!”
For tickets to Mamma Mia! and Disney’s Newsies – which may not have local Jewish community members in its creative team but has music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein – visit tuts.ca or call 604-631-2877.
The cast of Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project. (photo by Wendy D. Photography)
Among the more than 20 choreographers and companies from across Canada, Brazil and Korea that are participating in this year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival are local Jewish community members Alexandra Clancy (Soleful Dance Company) and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Tara Cheyenne Performance).
Soleful Dance Company’s Where the Music Begins will take place July 12, 8:15 p.m., in the Firehall Arts Centre courtyard, and Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project (working title) is part of Edge 5 July 11, 9 p.m., and July 13, 7 p.m., at the Firehall. DOTE runs July 4-13. Click here to watch the festival trailer on YouTube.
* * *
Where the Music Begins, created by Clancy and composer and musician Mike W.T. Allen, was commissioned by Dances for a Small Stage for its Summer Series.
“Mike and I had played music together but never officially constructed any works for stage,” Clancy told the Independent. “Throughout the rehearsal process, there would be a back and forth of ideas; sometimes I would have a rhythmical phrase of tap dance and Mike would then create a melody over top, and sometimes Mike would compose a phrase of the melody and I would choreograph specifically to that part of the tune. After some give and take between our prospective instruments and ideas, we solidified a melody and then decided upon the structure of the tune. Some of the tune is improvised, some is a conversation, and some is very set and predetermined. We both enjoyed the collaborative process and found a harmonious way to create music and dance together.”
Clancy grew up in Vancouver and has always been involved with the Jewish community. “I was raised Jewish; attending Hebrew school on Sundays, becoming bat mitzvah, and participating in holidays and traditions,” she said. “After going on Birthright a few summers ago, I was re-inspired by the beauty of the culture and have tried to stay more engaged in the community by attending Axis events and other social gatherings, as well as going to synagogue when I can. I am grateful for the support and familial kindness that I have received from the community, consistently reminding and encouraging me that I am capable of whatever I put my all into.”
And she has put her all into a lot, having trained in all genres of dance, studying at Danzmode and the Vancouver Tap Dance Society. She was a member of Tap Co., a pre-professional youth tap dance company, and has trained and performed across North America.
“After graduating, I lived in Austin, Tex., and was a member of Tapestry Dance Company in its 25th season,” said Clancy. “I then moved back to Vancouver and have been performing and teaching ever since. This past year, I taught at the Arts Connection, Dance Co., and the Pulse, sharing my love and passion for tap dance and educating the next generation of talented dancers.
“As recital season comes to an end, I am currently in a creative residency with Dances for a Small Stage, where we are developing works for our Summer Series and exploring digital literacy in dance. As well as preparing for DOTE, I am also in the studio rehearsing and creating for our upcoming performance at Jacob’s Pillow later this summer. In the fall, I will be moving to Calgary to attend the training program at Decidedly Jazz Dance Company.
“My goal,” she said, “is to broaden my toolbox to assist in expressing myself and telling stories through dance. This upcoming year, I hope to continue to collaborate and create through Small Stage, develop more new works with Soleful Dance Co., film a concept video, and share dance through as much teaching and performing as possible.”
Jacob’s Pillow is located in western Massachusetts in the town of Becket. Clancy auditioned for and then attended the inaugural tap dance program at Jacob’s Pillow in 2010 and returned two years later (again with an audition) for a second summer of learning and dancing. “My time at the Pillow was the most influential training thus far in my life and it has always been a dream of mine to perform my own work at the Pillow,” she said.
That dream will become a reality this summer.
“Jeffrey Dawson and I co-choreographed a piece for an online competition Jacob’s Pillow was running this year, and we were lucky enough to be chosen as Top 6 and then voted Top 3, meaning we will get to perform our work live at the Inside/Out stage on Aug. 17,” said Clancy.
In addition to choreographing and teaching, Clancy established Soleful Dance last spring. She and some other dancers “felt we needed a name and a clear avenue to share the work we had started developing. Based in Vancouver, this company is a platform to express ourselves and tell stories through the music of tap and the movement of dance.
“Although under my direction,” she said, “Soleful Dance Company is rooted in collaboration. Our ultimate goal is to make audiences feel something. All of the members of the company’s primary focus is tap dance; however, everyone brings a versatile background to the creative process, spanning from contemporary dance, to acting, to playing music and more. We hope to continue to grow and create more works to share with audiences in the near future.”
Clancy described tap dance as “a magical art form that allows one to not only express through movement but connect and emote through sound.
“This traditional American art form has a rich and complex history that is intertwined deeply with jazz music and culture,” she explained. “There is a sense of community that I have always appreciated about tap dance, and I feel a great amount of respect and gratitude that I get to perform and participate in its culture. It just feels good to get to move your body and dance and then, on top of that, creating and connecting with music opens endless doors of expression.”
* * *
The Body Project is a new interdisciplinary performance created from interviews, symposiums and roundtables.
“I started research on and around the theme of ‘female body image’ about a year ago,” Friedenberg told the Independent. “Part of our research/creation process has been interviewing female-identifying and non-binary people (many dancers and actors). To date, 35 people have generously participated.
“In the studio, I have been mining my own complicated and unhealthy relationship with my body as a dancer in a female body with the help of my amazing collaborators/performers. The process so far has involved exploring how the forms of stand-up comedy and dance can express this difficult, and often absurd, story of struggling with body image that many of us share.”
The performers – Bevin Poole, Caroline Liffmann, Kate Franklin and Kim Stevenson – came into the process shortly after Friedenberg began her exploration of the topic.
“We are working very closely with intimate and difficult material so, although I am leading the process, it is essential that all the voices/bodies in the room are present in the work. For example, there is a section choreographed by Kim Stevenson – much of the gestural language has been created through our own gestures as we’ve spoken about our personal experiences with body image.”
About the creative process, Friedenberg said, “These are very busy people, so we have had times when we are all in the studio and other times when it’s just me and one collaborator. Making room for people’s lives and demands, including parenting and caring for parents, is an important part of our feminist practice.
“Justine A. Chambers is our dramaturge/outside eye and Michelle Olson will be involved in the project as a consultant and possibly a performer in the next phase of development.”
As professional dancers, the performers/creators have shared some common struggles and coping mechanisms regarding body image.
“The pressure to fit a very narrow ideal of the ‘dancer body’ has been difficult and complex for all of us,” said Friedenberg. “There’s the pressure to be very thin, small, more muscular, or less muscular. Pressure to fit an oppressive ideal of beauty. We each have found ways to navigate these limiting ideas. Sometimes we have had to remove ourselves from certain arenas in order to survive. Sometimes we have found power in defying the stereotypes of what a dancer should look like to the euro-centric patriarchal gaze. But I keep coming back to the effort and energy required to bare these expectations and what we can transform with that energy instead.”
She added, “It must be noted that the many voices, words, time and contributions from the people we have interviewed are alive in the work through our bodies and presence. Their names will be listed on our website. Although the work, at this early stage, is a version of my story, it is also very much a result of being together in conversation about body image, in a circle, speaking, listening, moving, supporting and sharing with many powerful female-identifying/non-binary people – ‘the personal is political.’”
Did you know without goats, the coffee bean may have never been discovered? Are you able to recognize if the vinyl you hear coming from your neighbor’s apartment is a 78, 45 or 33? Do you type your university essays out on a typewriter? Barry knows, Barry can, Barry does, Barry will and Barry did. Introducing the next wave in AI customer service. Barry is the perfect fit for all your too-cool-for-school business needs.
In Jewish community member Ira Cooper’s Artisanal Intelligence, fellow community member Hannah Everett plays Jane, the entrepreneur and creative genius responsible for developing Barry, a fast-learning, curious and fashion-wise artificial intelligence customer service robot, played by Drew Carlson. Cooper describes his play as “not simply a form of absurdist, comedic, low-brow escapism as it may come across. It’s a conversation about identity, as most things are, and its tumultuous relationship with self versus societal box-fitting…. There are other dialogues, too; questions raised about creation versus intent versus audience response and who gets to create meaning. It’s also an affirmation of what love can be.” Artisanal Intelligence is at Havana Theatre July 5 and 7, 9:30 p.m. Tickets ($15) can be purchased at showpass.com.
Adam Henderson stars in Jerusalem, at the Jericho Arts Centre June 7-30. (photo from United Players)
The play Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth sees its debut in Vancouver this month at the Jericho Arts Centre and its lead actor, Adam Henderson, is a member of the Vancouver Jewish community.
Henderson grew up in New York City, moved to Winnipeg as a teenager and, after studying and working as an actor in England for 20 years, relocated to Vancouver in 2000. “I wanted to have a more balanced life than was possible in England, with more time to raise a family,” said Henderson, who is married with two children at home ages 5 and 12.
Asked about his Jewish identity, he said he describes himself as “a New York Jew from a mixed upbringing, but Jewish by birth and culturally interested.”
Henderson’s acting career began at the Manitoba Theatre Centre when he was 17 and has taken him all over the world, including to Israel, where he starred in War Shepherds in the 1980s. Today, in addition to doing live theatre, he teaches accents and dialects at the Vancouver Film School, and voice acting at the University of British Columbia. As a dialect coach, he specializes in helping other actors with their accents and dialogues, and he records audiobooks, too. “Vancouver doesn’t easily support actors, so we have to do other things to make our acting happen,” he explained.
As he rehearsed for Jerusalem – a play that references a poem by William Blake and not the holy city of Jerusalem – he was also working on Altered Carbon, a television show for which he’s coaching an actor from Berlin to sound more American. “It’s exciting for me because my family is originally from Berlin and I have a strong connection with the city,” he told the Independent.
Jerusalem, presented by United Players, is about a squatter called Johnny “Rooster” Byron and his retinue, and has a cast of about 16, Henderson said. “It’s quite a remarkable play and was made famous by Mark Rylance, one of my heroes, who played the role of Rooster. It’s a great adventure taking on a role that he’s put his stamp on, and it’s both intimidating and inspiring, because he sets the bar quite high!”
Henderson said anyone who enjoys classical theatre will enjoy Jerusalem, a play rich in language and “quite epic.” As for his lifestyle move to Vancouver almost two decades ago, that’s worked out well, he added.
“I have a successful family and I can organize my schedule to be there to raise my kids. In London, I was constantly busy with my career and, though it’s an exciting place to work, it’s harder in that environment to have a stable life. In Vancouver, I don’t travel much and there’s more contact with nature, which I find calming.”
Jerusalem runs June 7-30 at the Jericho Arts Centre. Tickets, which range from $22-$28, are available at the door or online at unitedplayers.com.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Magic & Remembering opens at Scotiabank Dance Centre on June 1, which is B.C. Access Awareness Day. (photo from All Bodies Dance Project)
The themes in this show range from home and belonging to our collective connection to self, city and architecture,” All Bodies Dance Project co-founder and facilitator Naomi Brand said about Magic & Remembering, a program of dances and films, featuring dancers with and without disabilities, that runs June 1-3 at Scotiabank Dance Centre.
“A lot of ABDP’s choreography highlights the relationship between different bodies moving in different ways,” said Brand, who is a member of the Jewish community. “We try and make work where our differences as dancers are celebrated and exploited for their choreographic potential. We’re always looking for new territory that challenges notions of the ‘typical’ dancer and the typical ways of making dance.”
A similar motivation sparked the idea for this show.
“Magic & Remembering was born out of the desires from artists in our company to lead their own choreographic processes, as well as an idea to explore new territory in dance filmmaking,” said Brand.
The program comprises three dances and three films. Most of the works are new for this production and created by longtime members of All Bodies Dance Project.
“ABDP works in a very organic way as a collective of artists who work through collaboration and improvisation to devise new choreography,” explained Brand. “Each of the pieces came about in a different way through a different creative process. My role has been to act as an ‘outside eye’ to support the choreographers, offer feedback and suggestions; sort of an editor to help clarify the pieces.”
Two of the three filmmakers are local, she said. Martin Borden – who is also a visual artist, woodcarver and educator, and has been documenting ABDP’s work for many years – collaborated with dancers/choreographers Rianne Svelnis and Harmanie Taylor on Sanctuary.
Gemma Crowe worked with Carolina Bergonzoni on Ho.Me. “Gemma is a dancer who has been working in video for a number of years,” said Brand. “As a dancer, she brings a keen understanding of how the camera moves almost as a partner in the dance.”
The third film is called Inclinations and it was created, said Brand, “by our friends and colleagues Danielle Peers (Edmonton) and Alice Sheppard (based in New York) and features a cast of four manual wheelchair users, including Harmanie Taylor from All Bodies Dance Project.”
Quoting from Sheppard’s website, Brand described the piece as one that “contrasts the playful connections when disability esthetics, disability community and a gorgeous ramp meet the institutional histories and discordant inclinations that can lurk just below the surface.”
“We are excited to include this beautiful film in our production,” said Brand, “as a way to connect and support disabled dance artists in our network from outside of Vancouver.”
The press material for the production notes that the films are “of dance works reimagined for the camera.” As to what that means, Brand explained that Sanctuary and Ho.Me were originally created as dances performed live: the former for the 2018 Vines Art Festival and the latter for last year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival.
“We’ve taken those dances,” she said, “and ‘reimagined’ them through the lens of the camera by using the same movement material, but reconfiguring it into a new piece. The camera allows for an intimacy and detailed insight into the dances that opens up whole new possibilities. For example, Carolina Bergonzoni’s Ho.Me, which consists of three personal solos, was shot in the dancers’ own apartments. We get to see these unique bodies and their movements in their private spaces, surrounded by objects of meaning to them.
“Sanctuary is shot in a busy urban location. The duet is accompanied by a soundscore created from the sounds of a typical Vancouver afternoon. Video allows us to take viewers into new worlds and to see the dancers and the dances in new ways.”
As for the dances in Magic & Remembering, Brand said they “use the dancers’ differences in unexpected and evocative ways. For example, Harmanie Taylor and Peggy Leung’s duet, Inflect, was born out of the simple choreographic question, what would happen if both seated and standing dancer used wheels? Peggy dances on a wooden wheelie board that facilitates all kinds of interesting and surprising ways of relating to Harmanie, who is a manual wheelchair user.
“Romham Gallacher’s trio, Re/integrate, delves into some deep and personal territory by exploring the process of bringing trauma-shattered pieces of oneself back together. The piece makes use of some intricate contact duet material between Adam Warren and Peggy Leung. Adam is a wheelchair user but dances the pieces without his chair.
“Cheyenne Seary’s Clove Hitch is a quintet based on themes of identity, individuality and belonging in a group,” she said. “The piece is set to music by Juno-nominated indigenous artist Cris Derksen.”
All Bodies Dance Project has many collaborators and partnerships that make its work possible, said Brand. “For this production,” she said, “we have partnered with the Roundhouse Community Art Centre and the Gathering Place, where we do most of our rehearsals, and are grateful to have received grant funding from the City of Vancouver.”
Magic & Remembering opens on B.C. Access Awareness Day, which is “a comprehensive campaign to raise awareness about disability, accessibility and inclusion,” said Brand.
In line with ABDP’s efforts to remove barriers, “all of the performances are scent-reduced with sliding scale ticket pricing – no one is turned away for lack of funds,” she said. “Our two performances on Monday, June 3, include ASL interpretation.”