Spotlight on the Sylvia
Advah Soudack and Anna-Mae Wiesenthal rehearse the song “Building a Dream” for Two Views from the Sylvia, which runs Nov. 8-12. (photo by Adam Abrams)
With the upcoming theatrical production of Two Views from the Sylvia, author Diana Stevan interviewed Sue Cohene, a founder of the show’s producers, Kol Halev Performance Society. The new play, based on the Sylvia Hotel, runs Nov. 8-12 at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.
DS: What inspired you to do the play?
SC: The answer is insanity.
DS: Tell me more about that. How did you get the idea?
SC: About five years ago, I was attending one of our monthly Jewish psychology network meetings. During our introductions, welcoming new attendees, I did a quick version of my background as a psychotherapist and the latest news about Kol Halev. After the introductions, Marsha Ablowitz, another psychotherapist, who I had known for many years, came up to me and said, “Do you want to do a story about my aunt?”
My response was, “Your aunt?”
She said, “Yes, my Aunt Sylvia.”
Not particularly keen, I replied, “Your Aunt Sylvia?”
“Yes, Aunt Sylvia of the Sylvia Hotel.”
I was hooked and said, “Tell me more.”
DS: So she told you the story of her aunt. Was there anything you were surprised about?
SC: Yes, but you have to come see the play to find out. But, I have to say, the Jewish Vancouver backstory is quite fascinating. I’ll tell you one tidbit. There was a connection between Sylvia Goldstein Ablowitz and another legendary Vancouver figure, Joe Fortes, the lifeguard at English Bay.
DS: Interesting. I’ve heard about him. I understand from the title of your play, that there are two views from the Sylvia. Can you tell me more about that?
SC: One view is from the outside, from English Bay, looking in; the other is from the inside, looking out. And those are just the literal views I’m talking about.
DS: I understand there’s some music. Is this a musical?
SC: We have two one-act plays. The first one, named Sylvia’s Hotel, is a musical about the building of the hotel by the family and the obstacles they found. The second one-act play, named The Hotel Sylvia, is a play with music, focusing on the period of time after the hotel was built.
DS: I heard that the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia showed an interest.
SC: Yes, the Jewish Museum is one of our partners in this project. They will be presenting a historical photography exhibit at the theatre.
Diana Stevan is a writer, who previously worked as a family therapist, teacher, model, actress and freelance writer broadcaster for CBC TV’s Sports Journal. Her novels – A Cry from the Deep, a romantic mystery/adventure, and The Rubber Fence, psychological fiction – and her coming-of-age novelette, The Blue Nightgown, draw on both her experience and imagination. This interview was published by Theatrewire.