To find out more about the history of Made in BC – Dance on Tour and its network of artists, visitors to madeinbc.org/history-project just have to hover over one of the images displayed and click on it. (screenshot)
It is easy, in Metro Vancouver, to take certain things for granted, such as access to live theatre, music and dance. But the pandemic, with its limits on social gatherings, has given urbanites an inkling of what smaller communities regularly experience. The relative scarcity of live performance in places like Prince George and Revelstoke is one reason that Made in BC – Dance on Tour was created in 2006. It is unfortunate, then, that Made in BC’s 15th anniversary falls in a time of travel and other restrictions. But that hasn’t stopped the organization from celebrating, and innovatively so.
Made in BC (MiBC) has collaborated with artist and graphic recorder Adriana Contreras to create an interactive online illustrated map “offering viewers the opportunity to take a visual and audio trip through the last 15 years of work, celebrating the numerous artists, presenters and community members that have been a part of this history.” Among these artists are Jewish community members Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Tara Cheyenne Performance), Amber Funk Barton (the.response), Naomi Brand (All Bodies Dance Project) and Vanessa Goodman (Action at a Distance).
“Especially in an art form that is so ephemeral, documentation is important not only for our personal memories, but for the history of the organizations and communities that we work with,” Brand told the Independent. “These kinds of records are really valuable for us to learn from what has happened before and to remember the accomplishments and discoveries that came before us. The map is a beautiful and creative way to write our history in the present while it is still relatively fresh in the bodies and memories of those who participated in it.
She added, “The field of contemporary dance in Canada is small enough that most of us are connected through a few degrees of separation that can be traced through our lineage of teachers, mentors and collaborators…. The map project represents all of that visually across the geography of this province.”
Cheyenne Friedenberg also spoke about the ephemeral, or temporary, nature of dance, making it hard to keep track of accomplishments.
“We spend much of our time and energy justifying and fighting for our art and art-making, it’s no wonder many of us don’t take time to reflect or celebrate the wake behind the boat,” she said. “It’s also very important to take note of what artists have brought to communities around the province and how these communities have influenced the art and the art makers. We are an ecosystem and it benefits all of us to appreciate how we have grown and developed as an artistic community. I know my work has been greatly influenced by my relationships across the province. I know folks who started making their own work after seeing a show or taking a workshop. I think part of the reason I’m still making work is because I feel part of this artistic ecosystem that is ever-evolving.”
Made in BC statistics show that, over the past 15 years, MiBC “has provided opportunities for over 50 dance companies incorporating over 200 dance artists to tour their work, reaching over 20,000 people around the province. And over 30,000 people have participated in and experienced the joy of other community-engaged dance activities, beyond the theatre.”
“MiBC as a network is about fostering relationships between artists, presenters, audiences and new communities,” said Brand. “As dance artists, we work with living, breathing, feeling people as our material (as opposed to clay, or an instrument, or paint brushes). This human-to-human, personal interaction is so important to what we do in the studio, as well as through emails and Zoom these days. We’re lucky to have an organization like MiBC that supports artists and has brought so many incredible experiences to communities across the province.”
Brand recalled one experience in particular. “In 2017,” she said, “my colleague Sarah Lapp and I did a residency through Made in BC at the Rotary Centre for the Arts (RCA) in Kelowna. It was our first experience touring with our company All Bodies Dance Project and bringing our artistic practice to a new community. We met such beautiful, courageous and lovely participants in the weeklong workshop and learned a lot about ourselves through sharing what we do with a new community. That residency had a huge impact on Sarah, who actually ended up relocating to Kelowna a year or so later, and beginning an integrated dance project in partnership with RCA with a collaborator that she met during that residency.”
Cheyenne Friedenberg first toured with MiBC in 2009, when the organization selected her first full-length solo work, bANGER, to tour along with Day Helesic’s piece Surge.
“I had toured a lot in the U.S., across Canada and Europe, but this was my first real experience taking my own work around the province,” said Cheyenne Friedenberg. “I was, and continue to be, very interested in connecting with the land and the people closer to home. Why have we as a culture believed touring Europe is more prestigious than touring the West Coast? It’s not. Since that first tour in 2009, I have toured, taught, created and learned around B.C. over half a dozen times and I can’t wait to get back out here!”
She said it was hard to pick just one MiBC experience that was especially impactful or memorable, so she offered two:
“1) Smithers, 2012: after seeing my solo Goggles, a couple (who are now my friends) were so taken by seeing me and my family (who I tour with) taking questions and, probably, breast-feeding after the show, that they decided to have a baby and continue to make art.
“2) Dolly Alfredson, a Wet’suwet’en language speaker and teacher shared many post-show thoughts with me, all in Wet’suwet’en. It felt very special. This was after my show I can’t remember the word for ‘ I can’t remember,’ in 2018.”
Contreras, who collaborated with MiBC in collecting and communicating these types of recollections from the dance artists, said her favourite part of the process was listening to all the stories, “getting a glimpse at a special moment in time from the many artists I had the pleasure to work with in part.”
It was Jane Gabriels, executive director of MiBC, who invited Contreras – in spring of 2020 – to be part of the 15th anniversary history project.
“I had just left my full-time job as director of programming and communications with New Performance Works Society to work as an independent graphic recorder, illustrator and designer,” Contreras told the Independent. “This was also around the time that COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the province went on lockdown. Needless to say, this project was a bright light in a very uncertain moment.”
On the project, she worked closely with Gabriels, as well as Debora Gordon, MiBC manager of community dance connectors, statistics and promotions, and Zahra Shahab, a dance artist and choreographer who was the 2019 creative residency artist at MiBC.
“The process was one of collective discovery and experimentation,” said Contreras. “I knew that MiBC has a vast archive documenting the work of all the artists that have been part of its programs, but I wanted to go back to the essence, the aspect that makes MiBC so unique, the unifying element of supporting B.C.-based artists to present their work and connect with communities throughout the province; bring contemporary dance to audiences that don’t often get to experience it.
“During my time as an arts administrator supporting dance artists,” she continued, “I had heard many anecdotes and memorable stories that happened during MiBC tours. Many of these occurred in the theatre, others in the liminal space, on the road. Many others in everyday occurrences that nurtured community. We decided that these were the stories we wanted to highlight.
“MiBC reached out to artists and asked if they wanted to share their stories, which were audio-recorded to be featured on the website. We then chose an object to represent each of the stories, and those are the elements you see in the drawing, one for each artist or collective.”
She added, “Creating this work reminded me why I love the performing arts so much, and I can’t wait to sit in a theatre and experience live dance, theatre and music again.”
Hagit Yaso, who was part of Metro Vancouver’s celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut in 2014, is among the Israeli performers who will be joining the online event this year. (photo from hagityaso.com/en/home)
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and its 46 community partners, which includes the Jewish Independent, will be marking Israel’s 73rd birthday with a virtual celebration April 14 at 7:30 p.m. This year’s special hour-long event will include performances by both Israeli and local artists, as well as some surprises.
For the past 17 years, Federation has joined forces with Eti Lam, a Tel Aviv producer who specializes in bringing Israeli artists to Jewish communities around the world.
“Producing an event like Israel’s Independence Day requires lots of work and long-term collaboration between the community and myself,” Lam told the Independent. “It usually starts with searching for the right artist that is happy to come to Vancouver on this special date, building a suitable show, rehearsing it back in Israel, and many more activities. And, as with everything, the price should be right to the budget.”
This can take time, she confessed. “Some years, it took the Federation team and me a whole year to find and deliver the right show.”
With the pandemic, things are even more challenging, but the situation also offers a unique opportunity.
“Considering the COVID-19 limitations, we couldn’t meet in the concert hall,” said Lam. “Still, the show must go on. We approached multiple artists that performed in Vancouver in the past and the responses were amazing, so we’ll get to celebrate together this year, too. The performance will be broadcast online, without compromising the uniqueness and festivity of Israel’s Independence Day.”
Lam lauded the Vancouver audience, calling it “truly one of a kind, special and unique.”
“Every year,” she said, “1,200 people gathered together to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day with an Israeli artist. Being able to produce this event year over year for the last 17 years has been a great privilege. It’s been successful thanks to the close relationship with the incredible people in the Federation and in the community. Whenever I arrived in Vancouver, I felt that I had returned to celebrate with a close group of my friends, part of a warm and loving community. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the Federation and community members for their help, support and partnership over the years.”
The evening lineup is set to include various dance groups and artists, as well as students from Richmond Jewish Day School (RJDS) and Vancouver Talmud Torah singing the Canadian and Israeli national anthems. Local talents Orr Chadash, Orr Atid, Duo Orr and Grade 6 dancers from RJDS will join Israeli artists Yoni Rechter, Nurit Galron, Hagit Yaso, Micha Bitton and Shlomit Aharon for the broadcast. This year’s event will also feature a community Koolulam-style video, a version of “Bashana Haba’ah” in which different members of the community sing a line, a verse or the chorus.
Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations go back a long way in Vancouver, though prior to 2002 they were done at a slightly smaller scale, with the exception of Israel’s 50th anniversary in 1998 at the Orpheum. This year, because a plethora of virtual (and worldwide) programs, events and webinars have led to “Zoom fatigue,” Federation decided to “go local” and highlight community talents.
To even localize the Israeli component, Federation invited the Israeli artists, who have performed here before in person on Yom Ha’atzmaut, to dedicate a song to the community. Additionally, organizers have promised a surprise that they feel confident will go down well with the community.
Emceeing this year’s event will be JCC sports coordinator Kyle Berger, who also is a stand-up comedian, and King David High School counselor Lu Winters.
“Once we realized COVID restrictions weren’t going to allow Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman to do it, we were hoping we’d be asked,” said Berger. “The fact that it’ll be on Zoom means they’ll be able to make us look fitter and younger than we actually are, which is another awesome perk.”
Berger and Winters, along with a handful of staff and crew, will be filming and streaming the show from a production studio in Burnaby. “But, when we close our eyes, we will be live from Israel,” said Berger.
“Thankfully, we will both be there doing the show together and will be able to feed off of each other’s energy and nerves. Of course, we will still be 6.13 feet apart while filming,” assured Berger, who has worked with Winters before, as co-delegation heads for the JCC Maccabi Games.
He vowed that “everyone should expect an incredibly fun evening celebrating our community’s special connection with Israel, especially our unique relationship with our partnership region in the Galilee Panhandle. Think Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve meets the Academy Awards – produced by the same number of Jews, but with less famous hosts.”
Nava, Omnitsky and the Perfect Bite are all offering special Yom Ha’atzmaut menus for April 14. Register at jewishvancouver.com/yh2021 to join the celebration.
Also on April 14, the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island will be hosting a small program via Zoom with an Israeli-themed picnic. Registrants will be able to pick up their meal (drive-through) and enjoy it while participating in the Zoom program. To register, send an email to [email protected].
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Ted Littlemore is one of seven dancers in the latest iteration of Idan Cohen’s Orfeo ed Euridice, which will be available online April 6-13. (photo by Flick Harrison)
The first article the Jewish Independent published about choreographer and opera director Idan Cohen was about his reimagining of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. Much progress has been made in the few years since, and excerpts from the contemporary dance work will be streaming on demand April 6-13.
Cohen was a relatively recent arrival from Israel back in 2018. As artistic director of Ne. Sans Opera and Dance, which he established here in 2017, he has become a prominent part of the Vancouver arts scene. He is currently artist-in-residence at the Dance Centre, which describes Cohen’s approach to this 18th-century opera as one that interprets
“Orpheus not as a god, but as an artist – a human who looks at the complex and sometimes violent history of Western, classical opera and dance with eyes wide open, the dancing body serving as a living example of human strength and fragility.”
In the myth, poet and musician Orfeo mourns the death of his wife, Euridice, and tries to get her back from the Underworld. It is an effort fraught with challenges, not unlike creating a new artistic work.
“Staging an opera is a monumental task, and it is really exciting to have an audience who has been following this production from its inception,” Cohen told the Independent. “Alongside the Dance Centre’s residency, we were given a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, through the Piercey family – the Sheila Kathleen Piercey Fund – which enabled us to continue and present this final phase of the research, leading to the full production in 2022.
“For the past few months,” he said, “I have been rehearsing with Leslie Dala as the music director and with seven incredible dancers and five opera singers. We are presenting almost 40 minutes of a piano reduction of the score, played live by Leslie, and the singers, as a dance-opera. So you’ll get to see and listen to a live opera that is also a dance performance.”
In 2019, Ne. Sans presented Trionfi Amore, as a part of the research for Orfeo ed Euridice. That production featured Ted Littlemore, Kate Franklin and Jeremy O’Neill. For this April’s production, they are joined by dancers Hana Rutka, Rachel Meyer, Aiden Cass and Stephanie Cyr.
“The wonderful counter-tenor Shane Hanson is singing Orfeo and the chorus singers are Heather Pawsey, Tyler Simpson, Heather Molloy and William Grossman,” said Cohen. Costume designer and stylist is Evan Clayton, while Littlemore pulls double duty – not only performing, but in charge of the makeup and masks.
The number of people involved now brings its own challenges, given the continuing pandemic.
“The Dance Centre’s residency enabled us to rehearse in large spaces that allowed for our relatively big group to remain socially distanced at all times,” said Cohen. “Following COVID-19 protocols meant that we needed to be wearing masks and that the performers could not touch. I tried to look at these not as obstacles but as creative opportunities and I am very proud of what we’ve managed to achieve.”
Ever the one to look on the bright side of things, Cohen added, “It was wonderful to gather musicians and dancers and create. There’s nothing quite like it, and I hope that the result will be as pleasurable to our audience as it was to us.”
The April streaming, which will have been pre-recorded, includes a discussion with Cohen. Tickets are on a sliding scale, and can be purchased from thedancecentre.ca/event/idan-cohen.
Jack Zipes gives the lecture Resurrecting Dead Fairy Tales on Facebook Feb. 17. (photo from MISCELLANEOUS Productions)
Some fairy tales are timeless in that they still have lessons to impart. For example, The Pied Piper, a story dating back to the Middle Ages, “is a tale of plague, greed, betrayal, conformity/confinement with allusions to child abuse,” explained Elaine Carol, co-founder and artistic director of MISCELLANEOUS Productions.
MISCELLANEOUS’s Plague project will have participating youth, along with professional artists, interpreting the Brothers Grimm’s The Pied Piper “from an intersectional, anti-racist, anti-oppression, queer feminist perspective.” In preparation, Carol told the Independent, “we have been reading our way through the mountain of brilliant writing by Jack Zipes, asking him many questions – even our film editor of Resurrecting Dead Fairy Tales is now reading two of his hundred or more published books.”
Zipes’ recorded Facebook Watch talk, Resurrecting Dead Fairy Tales, will be streamed Feb. 17, followed by a live Q&A with Zipes. Some of the lecture will be part of the documentary being created about the youth-centred theatre project, which will include various workshops and an eventual stage production at the Scotiabank Dance Centre in 2022.
“I have also been working with young professional artists Tiffany Yang, who was a youth in our Monsters production, national and international tours, and Julia Farry, our production assistant/outreach worker,” said Carol. “Tiffany has translated four indigenous Taiwanese folk tales that are stories of plague – mostly in coastal communities, including animal wonder tales of fantastical fishes and other fascinating narratives. Julia has translated three Japanese folk tales focusing on plagues. There are many plague stories that we still hope to collect, including the facts of disease spread by European settlers to the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, as research materials for our project-in-development.
“We are currently collecting these tales to bring to our youth cast after it is deemed safe to work with them in person,” Carol continued, “as we will be using theatre, hip hop/streetdance, contemporary dance, marimba and world music, urban music, performance art, etc., to co-create a new play. This play will be used as a vehicle for the youth to discuss their own experiences of living in a world pandemic.”
Zipes’ lecture was filmed in Minneapolis by MISCELLANEOUS Productions’ professionals. The professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota is an expert on folklore and fairy tales. He is a storyteller himself and the founder of the publishing house Little Mole and Honey Bear.
“My parents and grandmother always told me tales of different kinds,” Zipes told the Independent. “When I began studying for a PhD at Columbia University, I wrote my dissertation on ‘The Great Refusal: Studies of the German and American Romantics in the 19th Century.’ My interest in fairy tales grew as I realized that these imaginary tales hold more truth than the so-called realistic future. And I also was angered by Bruno Bettelheim’s book about fairy tales in which he imposed a Freudian interpretation on readers. Since then, I have been trying to reveal how relevant fairy tales are to our lives.”
The examples given in the lecture’s press release are from two books Zipes has translated and published: “For example, in Yussuf the Ostrich, well-known political caricaturist Emery Kelen tells the story of a young ostrich who helps defeat the Nazis in northern Africa during World War II. In Keedle, The Great, first published in 1940, Deirdre and William Conselman Jr. sought to give Americans hope that the world can overcome dictatorships. To the authors, the title character Keedle represented more than Hitler, but all dictators then and now.”
Zipes said, “I don’t think that my being Jewish accounts for my interest in fairy tales. My Jewishness makes me a bit meshuggah, and this is why I try to think out of the box and have developed a storytelling program for children without sanitizing the fairy tales. The best of folk and fairy tales have never been sanitized, and I use tales to tell so that children will be enabled to tell their own miraculous tales.”
“My Jewishness is complex,” said Carol, “because I am mixed-race Sephardic-Romani and Ashkenazi. One of one million reasons I love Jack Zipes and think his work is crucial is his lucid critique of the Disneyfication of fairy tales and folklore.”
Resurrecting Dead Fairy Tales starts at 5pm on Feb. 17 and is intended for older youth and adult audiences. On the day and time, click here for link to watch.
On Jan. 28 and 29, Music on Main hosts the world première livestream of Graveyards and Gardens, co-created and co-produced by Caroline Shaw (composer and recorded sound) and Vanessa Goodman (choreographer). A PuSh Festival Partner Presentation, the performance takes place among 400 feet of orange sound cables and an arrangement of plants – nature and technology being another synthesis the artists explore. Things begin with a long passage featuring an array of sounds – some come from tape decks, some from a record player, some from old Edison wax recordings – and this production is, among other things, a powerful display of the creative process.
New York-based vocalist, violinist, composer and producer Shaw, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music winner, was Music on Main’s composer-in-residence from 2015-2016. Vancouver choreographer Goodman is the artistic director of Action at a Distance Dance Society.
Ben Caplan opens this year’s Chutzpah! Festival Nov. 21. (photo from Chutzpah!)
In the last issue of the Jewish Independent, Chutzpah! Festival artistic managing director Jessica Mann Gutteridge, festival host and stand-up performer Iris Bahr and event comedy closers Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini, aka the El-Salomons, were featured. This week, the JI offers a glimpse into the rest of the lineup, by order of appearance.
Musician Ben Caplan opens the festival on Nov. 21 with a recorded performance. Before the recent COVID restrictions, the show was to be presented live from the Rothstein Theatre.
Caplan was on stage here back in January, bringing Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story – which is based on the true story of two Jewish Romanian refugees coming to Canada in 1908 – to the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival (jewishindependent.ca/searching-for-a-safe-harbour). This show, Caplan will be performing songs from his album Old Stock, which is adapted from this music-theatre work.
“The story of Chaim and Chaya, and, by extension, that of a great number of immigrants and refugees who have come to Canada, is full of a great many hardships and tribulations,” said Caplan when asked what lessons from their experience might be relevant in COVID times. “Their story is not free from conflict, both with the outer world, with each other and with themselves. What we see in their story is that, through perseverance, they are able to cross the narrow bridge of their precarity into a sweeter time. It is a nice reminder that no matter how dark things get, there are always brighter moments ahead.”
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Last Chutzpah! Festival, former Vancouverite Tamara Micner performed her one-woman show Holocaust Brunch here. On Nov. 22, she’s offering a first peek at a new work-in-progress from her current hometown, London, England.
“Old Friends is very much in the early days – I would say it’s in kindergarten,” admitted Micner. “I’ve been working on it this year and the Chutzpah! Festival streaming will be the first time I perform some of the piece with a public audience. I don’t know exactly what the performance will look like or exactly what will be in it. It’s ‘nervciting’! I look forward to sharing some of the work with Chutzpah! audiences and doing a Q&A afterwards to speak more about the show. I’m hoping and aiming to present the full show in 2021.”
A key inspiration for Old Friends is the music of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and their relationship.
“I find Simon and Garfunkel’s music comforting and uplifting…. The combination of Paul’s songwriting, Art’s voice and their harmonies are beautiful,” said Micner. “I also find the themes in their music resonant at this time – including loneliness, isolation, hope and a yearning for connection…. I’m also intrigued by the on-again, off-again nature of their relationship and the Jewishness in that – how we have a tendency to cling to each other, leave each other, not talk for years, but not be able to fully stay apart or let go. There’s a lot to mine in that, I think – where that comes from, what it’s about and how we can free ourselves from that cycle.”
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Also on Nov. 22, New York-based playwright Rokhl Kafrissen shares her new work-in-progress.
“Shtumer Shabes [Silent Shabbat] opens in the year 2000,” said Kafrissen. “A performance studies grad student named Jess is writing about the heyday of Yiddish theatre in Poland in the 1930s. Jess is studying what she calls the ‘hybrid potentialities of interwar Yiddish performance practices.’ How did Jews use their art to embody binaries like Yiddish and Polish, Jew and Catholic, urban and rural, capitalist and socialist? She argues that The Dybbuk is the ultimate expression of that hybridity.
“As the play opens, Jess stumbles into the chance to interview an honest-to-goodness Warsaw Yiddish diva. It turns out that Sonja, a 90-something veteran of the Polish-Yiddish stage, is living in her neighbourhood. Jess comes to believe that Sonja possesses a ‘lost’ play script: Shtumer Shabes. Her encounter with Sonja is also her opportunity to write history. But Jess is confronted by the elusiveness of ‘plain facts’ and the cost of writing history. For me, the encounter between Jess and Sonja represents two competing ways of understanding the past, through scholarship and through art.”
Imagining Sonja’s world wasn’t hard for Kafrissen, as she knows well Yiddish theatre, past and present, and the standard Yiddish reference sources. However, she did struggle with her protectiveness of the Yiddish past and her obligation as a journalist “to the people and productions I’ve been reading about, an obligation to tell their stories accurately and respectfully.”
“But, at some point, my inner journalist has to be thanked politely and shown the door,” she said. “If you’re going to write historically informed fiction (which is what I consider this piece), you have to be comfortable going beyond the facts. It gets even trickier because part of Sonja’s backstory … is flashback to the war, when she was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. I know enough about the Warsaw Ghetto to invent a plausible scenario. But depicting it feels daunting. The potential for kitsch or melodrama is high. My characters grapple with extremely sensitive issues, including allegations of collaboration with the Germans. It was important to me that if I was going to include such provocative topics, I had to stick closely to historical fact and stay within the realm of the possible. My characters would not be saints or holy martyrs, but real people, caught in the worst possible circumstances.”
Cast as Sonja is Shane Baker, who Kafrissen has known since she worked with him in 2009 on his one-man show The Big Bupkis: A Complete Gentile’s Guide to Yiddish Vaudeville.
“I quickly became a big admirer of Shane’s work,” she said. “He can go from the highest brow, as with his translation of Waiting for Godot into Yiddish, all the way to the lowest brow, as with his vaudeville show…. In the last few years, Shane had been working on a drag character called Miss Mitzi Manna. She was inspired in part by his close friendships with the last generation of Yiddish theatre grandes dames. So, when I got a 14th Street Y LABA Fellowship in 2019, I decided to write a play with a role for Shane in drag as my yearlong fellowship project. I knew from the beginning that the role wasn’t written for Mitzi Manna per se, but Shane’s development of the character was a huge inspiration. Writing the role of Sonja with a drag character in mind opened up a kind of playfulness and experimentation for me. Drag is such a dramatically rich device. It heightens our awareness of the artifice of theatre and interrogates the mimetic nature of theatre itself.”
A staged reading of Shtumer Shabes was supposed to have taken place last in April. “Unfortunately,” said Kafrissen, “that coincided with the world as we knew it collapsing. As I get ready to present excerpts from the play for the Chutzpah! Festival, I can see a tiny sliver of silver lining. Even with the pandemic, I’ve managed to sneak in some actor time in the last couple months, as well as getting thoughtful feedback on the script from folks both within my artistic circle and outside. The script is now so much better than the version I had in the spring, so I tell myself maybe it’s better that I didn’t present that earlier draft to the world.”
The Dybbuk by S. Ansky infuses Shtumer Shabes: Jess is obsessed with The Dybbuk and it’s why she went to grad school; and “Sonja’s career on the Warsaw Yiddish stage was tied up with the phenomenal, real world success of The Dybbuk,” said Kafrissen. “It was with a Dybbuk monologue that she auditioned for Yiddish drama school and the role of Leah (the young woman possessed by the dybbuk) was always her dream.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary both of Ansky’s death in November 1920 and the première of the Yiddish version of the play a month later. “I love the idea of having our Chutzpah! program serve as Sonja’s final tribute to Ansky and his creation,” said Kafrissen.
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Death … and life are at the centre of Israeli choreographer Ella Rothschild’s Pigulim, which is described as “a cultural narrative [that] unfolds against the backdrop of a meal at a long dining table where three characters suffer from unbearable loneliness and battle their way between life and death. Each character travels between their individual materialistic being and their consciousness, revealing their essential humanity in relation to existence and the quest for happiness.” A pre-recorded performance of the work will be shown at the Chutzpah! Festival on Nov. 23.
In the summer of 2019, Rothschild was selected as one of the first artists-in-residence at Suzanne Dellal Centre. She started Pigulim there and continued researching it in “other places in the world with different scenarios and different cast members.” This year, back at the centre, the piece premièred in its video version.
Pigul (pigulim, pl.) “describes a law from the Jewish tradition,” explained Rothschild. “It refers to a sacrifice that was prohibited to be eaten because of a forbidden thought that the priest (kohain) had in the moment he was making the sacrifice. It can mean abomination or loathsome, and it’s not a word used in everyday Hebrew. The idea that a thought can change reality has a direct connection to what I tried to present in Pigulim. If the thought one can have determines the reality of another entity, how much from our consciousness is being present in our reality and our society?
“Another aspect of choosing this particular name is another gap that unravels between the sound of the word and its meaning. Pigulim has a nice way of rolling in the mouth. The letters are round and when you pronounce it, it almost sounds like a name of a rare flower – but the meaning of it is the opposite. It contains strong emotions and gravity. Once more, it holds this gap between what we experience and the reality.”
This gap – “a certain detachment between our body and mind” – is something with which we must live, said Rothschild, and its loneliness is not changed by “how many people are surrounding you in the space.”
“As I see it and experience it, it is a state of being, not only of certain individuals but as a mass society,” she said. “I have learnt, through working with others, more about how this gap appears and how we perceive it. We behave inside these structures that are determined for us and, yes, it leaves a gap or an absence that we don’t really understand, or we will forever try to make sense of.”
However, there is more than just absence. “I did find out that we share more than we think,” she said. “We share beauty, laughter, sadness and grief. We cry from the same things and we worry and we fear. But we also love. And that is an overwhelming thing to share.”
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Israeli pianist and composer Guy Mintus – whose solo concert will be live-streamed on Nov. 24 – is about to release his third album with the Guy Mintus Trio: A Gershwin Playground.
Mintus’s study of piano didn’t follow a traditional path. “I didn’t start with classical piano,” he said. “I started on a little keyboard my parents got me, not an acoustic piano even, and I was studying a very mixed repertoire of adapted arrangements for beginning keyboard players. Among that repertoire were the Beatles, Israeli pop songs, Fiddler on the Roof and … two [George] Gershwin tunes: ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ and ‘Summertime.’ When I started playing those, my father handed me the Porgy and Bess album of Ella [Fitzgerald] and Louis [Armstrong]. That totally blew my mind and I started trying to emulate the arrangements on my keyboard (which had the ability to switch between different sound samples).
“To me, these songs are timeless – musically and lyrically. They’re very rich and have a strong musical character but yet they remain very open and flexible to let you in and bring yourself into them. The lyrics also mostly speak of things that will always be relevant. It’s not by accident that generations and generations of jazz musicians have been interpreting Gershwin.”
One aspect of the music’s continued importance is that, “unfortunately, we’re constantly reminded by these horrific events that keep happening that racism is still very much around; that the colour of your skin can easily become a disadvantage right off the bat,” said Mintus. “When I’m thinking of Gershwin, I’m also considering his background as a Jewish-American composer coming from a family of immigrants. Of all things he could be fascinated by, he was fascinated by Black American music and ended up writing the first jazz opera bringing this marginalized music to the heart of the consensus. More than that, he wouldn’t allow Porgy and Bess to be premièred at the Met Opera because, at the time, they wouldn’t allow Black performers. He made it mandatory that, if Porgy and Bess is ever performed, main roles have to be performed by Black people. Now, Porgy and Bess has its controversies in regards to race and representation but I believe in the essence of its coming from a place of great respect to the incredible culture its getting inspiration from.
“I think that the Jewish and African-American communities actually share quite a lot in common,” he continued. “There’s certainly a collective trauma we’re each dealing with. To me, Gershwin was standing right in the middle of that – in ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ (which is on the album, as well, in a solo version) you literally have a meeting point between klezmer and the blues. I want to echo that connection, which is still very relevant to me, through my own lens as an Israeli who lived, studied and worked in New York. It’s important to give back, acknowledge and show respect where it’s due. Last July, the trio and I did an online fundraiser concert called Gershwin Global. It was in order to raise funds for the Jazz Foundation, who takes care of elderly musicians and emergency cases. This music comes from people who gave their lives to it – if we benefit from it, we’ve got to find a way to also give back to its source.”
The new album will be launched on Nov. 27 and, given COVID, touring it is not an option. Nonetheless, Mintus said it is worthwhile to put it out anyway. “Life goes on, music goes on and, in my opinion, it’s as relevant, if not more, to release new music in this period,” he said.
With the internet, there are many ways to connect with people all over the world, he added. “This poses a creative challenge how to find interesting, experiential ways to share this music with the world; how to share the story behind the album. Each single has a unique artwork, there are videos, a bunch of online live events that are planned – all of this is going to be available through my Facebook page (facebook.com/guymintusmusic). The fact that I’m not switching countries so often as normal allows me a different kind of focus and attention on how to turn this release process into the most fun, meaningful and creative process it can be.”
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Chutzpah! artist-in-residence this year is choreographer Idan Cohen (Ne. Sans opera and dance). The world première of his Hourglass, which is presented by RBC, will be performed and live-streamed from the Rothstein Theatre on Nov. 25.
“Both the residency and this opportunity to present at Chutzpah! are the best things that could have happened to me during a time when artists are facing difficult challenges,” Cohen told the Independent. “I believe with all my heart in the strength and importance of the arts for a healthy society. It is not a luxury but a necessity, especially within a specific culture. Judaism is not just a common history or a set of beliefs, but a diverse culture that needs to be ever-evolving, reinterpreted and recreated, respecting and learning from our common past while creating a shared future. Having Jessica [Mann Gutteridge] share some of the same core values, and acknowledge the importance of going forward with the festival this year, has been such an empowering force for me and my collaborators during these past few months.”
Hourglass is an exploration of aging set to music by Philip Glass. It is a duet with former Ballet BC company dancer Racheal Prince and returning Ballet BC company dancer Brandon Lee Alley.
“As dance artists,” said Cohen, “our focus is on our most intimate tool and instrument: the human body. When that body is extremely intelligent and qualified, as Racheal’s and Brandon’s bodies are, true magic happens on stage. It’s like an ancient fairytale told to you as a child: it represents both the past and the future, it’s exciting and haunting, and it teaches you something valuable through the most basic elements of storytelling. No need for fireworks or special effects.
“For this edition of the festival, we are presenting 30 minutes of dance to four out of 20 études composed by Glass played by the conductor and celebrated pianist Leslie Dala (Vancouver Opera, Bach Choir). Leslie was actually the one who first presented the idea of this project to me, and dancing and working with him has been a most gratifying experience. There are linear elements in the piece, but Glass’s music marries the abstract and the linear, the romantic and the intellectual, in a way that not many composers are able to do, and that’s what makes it so unique.
“Racheal and Brandon, who are young yet mature and highly experienced dancers, can embody different physical states in such a fascinating way,” said Cohen. “They had a significant role in our exploration of the theme of aging and time.”
Being a real-life couple means that Prince and Alley have been able to rehearse together safely during COVID, and the Rothstein Theatre is large enough for them to work with Cohen at a safe distance. “Since Leslie is also dancing (!) in the piece,” added Cohen, “we had to adapt in order to keep everyone safe, which is, of course, the priority. This has definitely been a great learning experience, and an immensely gratifying one.”
The Chutzpah! Festival runs Nov. 21-28. For tickets, which start at $18, visit chutzpahfestival.com or call 604-257-5145.
Livona Ellis rehearses for the DanceCentre performance of Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present. (photo by Sylvain Senez)
Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present at the Dance Centre Nov. 19-21 features Livona Ellis, Vanessa Goodman and Rebecca Margolick performing works that were created for Mary-Louise Albert. Albert herself returns to the stage, at age 65, after a 19-year hiatus, to perform the first phase of a solo work commissioned from Serge Bennathan.
The three solos being reimagined were created during the last six years of Albert’s 20-year professional dance career (see jewishindependent.ca/generations-combine). They have not been performed since.
“When Mary-Louise first approached me to share her ideas about this project, I was transitioning out of a company,” said Ellis, who is performing Woman Walking (away) by Peter Bingham. “It seemed like the perfect work to describe the state of transition I was about to enter. I was leaving something behind and going towards the unknown. For me, the piece deals with a lot of questions and conversations we have with ourselves; reflecting on memories and being curious about the future.”
Ellis is a dancer with Ballet BC. She is on the faculty at Arts Umbrella and is the programming advisor for BC Movement Arts Society, which was founded and is directed by Albert. The rehearsal process for Woman Walking (away) started with Albert teaching Ellis the solo before COVID hit.
“It was great to have her insight and point of reference,” said Ellis. “I then worked with Peter Bingham where, in particular, he talked a lot about the intent and physical and theatrical sensations. It was very much an open dialogue, my input with Peter was very welcome.”
Recently, Ellis started rehearsing again with Albert. “She is really interested in melding our two interpretations and finding more ways for me to fully embody the solo in my own way,” said Ellis, mentioning her excitement to be sharing “the evening with these other talented and strong women – Vanessa, Rebecca and Mary-Louise – and to experience again performing in front of a live audience.”
Making the dance her own has been something that Goodman also has been working on with Albert, and with choreographer Tedd Robinson, who created oLOS.
“The work is a journey and allows me, as an interpreter, to transport myself into an embodiment that is both full of form and deconstruction. This is a beautiful place to experience the work, which is both deeply intuitive and dichotomous,” said Goodman, who is a choreographer herself, as well as artistic director of Action at a Distance Dance Society. She first worked on the piece more than a year ago, in May 2019, spending time with Albert and Robinson reenvisioning it.
“We worked in Sointula, where Mary-Louise lives, visiting what the solo meant to all of us; examining the process physically and mentally of passing along a living archive,” explained Goodman. “Every time an artist embodies a work, it transforms with their system – this work continues to transform with, and for, me each time I inhabit it.
“oLOS has been a tremendous opportunity to be able to learn from both Tedd and Mary-Louise,” she continued. “They both have an incredible amount of information to share. Both of these artists have helped to shape dance on a national level, and it is a gift to be able to experience oLOS now with them.
“Both Tedd and Mary-Louise have been a part of my development for the last 18 years,” she added, “with Tedd teaching me in my last year of high school at CCDT [the School of Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre, in Toronto] before moving out west and then providing me with great insight into my solo Container in Ottawa in 2015. And, Mary-Louise has supported me in so many ways as a creator over my professional career, allowing me to develop and share work…. These two artists have shared so much with me, and it is an exciting intersection to be able to work on this project all together.”
For Margolick, who is performing Allen Kaeja’s Trace Elements, the intersection is even more personal. The solo was created in 2000, she said, and she remembers watching her mother dance it at the Rothstein Theatre – Margolick was 9 years old at the time.
“Fortunately, Allen and I had our creation period prior to the pandemic,” said Margolick about the piece’s latest iteration. “We rehearsed without Mary-Louise during the remounting/creation process in Toronto. We had another week to finish the piece in Sointula, B.C., with Mary-Louise coming in to watch runs and sharing her thoughts and expertise on the work, past and present. As she is also my mom, she made sure to facilitate the space needed, with great sensitivity, for the work to become personal to me.
“Allen made space for me to experiment and try things out and his process can be summed up in three words – generous, kind and courageous. Every time I run the piece, it feels different emotionally and my reactions to the text vary day to day … it makes the work always feel alive. We say ‘reimagine,’ as we were all interested in how I can bring myself into the solo and give the tools needed to make it my own.”
Margolick is based in Brooklyn. A dancer and choreographer, she was a 2020 New Directions Choreography Lab Fellowship at the Ailey School and is a 2020 artist in residence at the Dance Deck here in Vancouver. As well, she is artistic associate of BC Movement Arts Society.
When Margolick worked with Kaeja in Toronto on the solo, she said, “We had many in-depth conversations around the subject of the piece, and Allen shared with me his experience around learning and researching his father’s story. Allen’s father was a Holocaust survivor, and creating work around the Holocaust became a way for Allen to process his dad’s experience. What came about from reimagining this solo was this merging of past and present with my movement and Mary-Louise’s movement, and a linking between different generations of the Jewish experience and family.”
Since Albert is her mother, Margolick said there is an “inherent natural connection I have to her movement and expression. It’s a beautiful way to explore this connection between us.
“This piece speaks to me on many levels,” Margolick added. “The text is a conversation between a young German man and woman, 22 years ago, referencing Nazi Germany propaganda and the apathetic, yet unfortunately relatable, responses from the young woman about her mother’s experiences during the war. It is eerily relevant to what is happening around the world, as we reckon with the ongoing oppression of systemic racism, colonialism, greed, antisemitism and the rise of fascism and the alt-right. This piece for me is an eerie reminder of how quickly things can change, and how easy it is to fall into apathetic thinking, which dangerously leads to losing one’s empathy.”
Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present is part of the Dance Centre’s Global Dance Connections. In addition to the Nov. 19-21 live-stream shows, a recorded performance will be available online Dec. 3-17. For tickets and more information about both offerings, visit thedancecentre.ca.
The new artistic managing director of Chutzpah!, Jessica Mann Gutteridge, faced unique challenges in presenting the festival. (photo from Chutzpah!)
“This has been a challenging time for all communities. I hope that this year’s Chutzpah! Festival can bring a sense of joy, and the communal spirit that comes from sharing performing arts experiences with others, whether at the theatre or from the comfort of home,” said artistic managing director Jessica Mann Gutteridge in a recent interview with the Jewish Independent.
This will be the first-ever Chutzpah! The Lisa Nemetz International Jewish Performing Arts Festival that people will be able to watch at home. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the performances will be available online, Nov. 21-28, with a few opportunities to attend small-audience shows that are being live-streamed from the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre. Not only will this be the first Chutzpah! presented digitally in the festival’s 20-year history, but it will be the first directed by Gutteridge.
“I knew that I had an exciting and challenging year ahead of me when I took the helm of Chutzpah! from Mary-Louise Albert, who was artistic director before me for 15 years,” said Gutteridge. “I really could not have anticipated how much the world would change just three weeks later, when the pandemic shuttered the Rothstein Theatre and the entire performing arts sector. The first month or so was spent focusing on our staff’s well-being and helping the many users of our theatre to reschedule and replan all the events that had to be canceled.
“The first thing I did for the Chutzpah! Festival was to take some time to think,” she said. “My board was wonderfully supportive from Day 1 and assured me that whatever scale I felt was right would be all right with them – even if I wanted to postpone for a year. I spent a great deal of time just thinking about the purposes of the festival, how it serves the community and the relationships we have with our audiences and community of artists. Even before COVID, when I was thinking about what my first festival might look like in a transition time, I felt inspired to bring together artists who had performed in the festival in the past with new artists who I hoped would join us in the future. So, I began by reaching out to artists from both groups so that we could just start to get to know each other, and find out how everyone was responding to this unprecedented situation.”
By early summer, said Gutteridge, it became clear that the health-related restrictions with respect to the pandemic would still be in place in November, “so I began to think about how we might incorporate digital presentations into the festival, and to talk to artists who were exploring this form of performance in their work.
“I was thrilled to learn that Iris Bahr, who was in the 2019 festival, is not only a brilliant actor and stand-up comic, but is also a podcaster who interviews other artists and public intellectuals with much wit and insight. I invited her to perform her solo stand-up, but also to function as our festival host and conduct live interviews with all the festival artists,” said Gutteridge. “Because Iris divides her time between Israel, New York and Los Angeles, we knew she would have to appear digitally and, though this adds another layer of technical complexity, I think it’s such a special opportunity that the present moment brings us – to join artists from across the world and have a chance to learn more about how the pandemic is changing and shaping their creative work.”
The festival’s online-only shows will include Bahr’s stand-up comedy performance (click here for story); New York-based playwright Rokhl Kafrissen’s Shtumer Shabes (Silent Sabbath) and former Vancouverite-current Londoner (England) Tamara Micner’s Old Friends, both of which are works-in-progress; a concert by Israeli pianist and composer Guy Mintus; and Israeli choreographer Ella Rothschild’s Pigulim.
There will be two shows live-streamed from the Rothstein, where limited audiences will be permitted. Ben Caplan will perform music from Old Stock, which is adapted from his music-theatre piece Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story (see jewishindependent.ca/searching-for-a-safe-harbour). And Chutzpah! artist-in-residence Idan Cohen (Ne. Sans opera and dance) presents the world première of Hourglass. Closing out the festival are Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini (click here for story), who will be live-streaming from Brooklyn, joined by yet-to-be-announced local comedians performing at the Rothstein.
The lineup is a fraction of what it would have been if not for COVID, but Gutteridge thought it important to proceed with the event.
“Well, for starters, I’m stubborn and I like a challenge!” she said of the decision. “I also knew that we were well-positioned with staff and support to execute a creative and fulfilling festival, even though it would not look much like past festivals. In talking to colleagues inside and outside the JCC, and hearing from our community via a survey in July, I understood that there was a lot of enthusiasm to keep experiencing the kind of performing arts presentations that Chutzpah! has offered for 20 years now. And, looking ahead to dark November nights, I think we can offer a communal experience that will bring some much-needed joy.”
In addition to focusing on quality entertainment, health and safety has been at the forefront of the planning.
“We have worked carefully with health and performing arts sector experts to make sure that we are providing the safest possible experiences for audiences, staff and artists, including at our physically distanced, intimate live events at the Rothstein Theatre,” said Gutteridge. “I’m also very impressed by how our artists have risen to the challenge. Rokhl Kafrissen, the playwright of Shtumer Shabes, has been working with her cast via Zoom since April, when they presented a workshop of the play in lieu of the debut performance they were scheduled to have at LABA in New York. Our audiences will have a chance to meet the artists and see excerpts from the play, with context about the work’s meaning and creation, all performed from the artists’ individual locations. It’s a special opportunity for our audiences to peek inside the creative process.
“Idan Cohen’s Hourglass, a new dance piece with live piano accompaniment, is being created this fall at the Rothstein Theatre as part of our creative residency program. With 318 seats and a large stage, the theatre is large enough for physical distancing, and Idan is working with a skeleton crew – often just himself and the two dancers at work. The dancers, Brandon Lee Alley and Racheal Prince, are partners offstage as well as on, so they are already in a household bubble. The other dance piece, Ella Rothschild’s Pigulim, comes to us from the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv, where the performance was previously recorded in a studio theatre, so that health and safety protocols could be observed and the dancers could form their own bubble.”
Tickets for the festival start at $18 and are available online at chutzpahfestival.com or by phone at 604-257-5145.
Iris Bahr pulls double duty at the 2020 Chutzpah! Festival, as host and performer. (photo from Chutzpah!)
Comedien, writer, actor, director, producer and podcaster Iris Bahr will both host this year’s Chutzpah! Festival, Nov. 21-28, and perform her stand-up live Nov. 26.
Known for her eclectic characters, Bahr will call on many of them as she converses with the other festival artists as part of her hosting duties.
“I’ll be conducting these conversations either as myself or as some of my characters, depending on the artist I’m speaking to,” Bahr told the Independent. “My alter egos include Shosh, the salty Israeli who has become popular on Instagram, Rae Lynn Caspar White, my ‘Southern redneck intellectual,’ and Shuli, my Orthodox character who is beyond excited to ‘dive into the arts’ for the first time.”
Many JI readers will know Bahr’s stand-up from having seen her perform at last year’s Chutzpah! The show will be somewhat different this time around.
“My stand-up will involve more crowd work and storytelling versus just straight-on stand-up to camera,” she said. “I have found that to be a more captivating and enjoyable experience for everyone involved when the audience can also engage and experience each other’s presence, it’s the closest we can get to a communal live theatrical experience in these challenging times.”
Eman El-Husseini, left, and Jess Salomon with furry family member Esther Honey El-Husseini. (photo by Mike Bryck)
Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini, aka the El-Salomons, close out this year’s Chutzpah! Festival on Nov. 28. They will live-stream from Brooklyn, and local comedians will join the event from the Rothstein Theatre.
In performance, the married Jewish-Palestinian lesbian comedy duo leans into the things that make them unique. Their chemistry is not only evident on stage, but even comes out in an email interview, where the pair play off one another like, well, a couple who knows and loves each other well.
JI: You met when you were each performing solo routines and continued in that vein, I think, even after you were married. When and why did you team up professionally as well?
Jess: It didn’t really come from us. We weren’t out in comedy until we got engaged so it was only after that, that we started making jokes about our relationship. Sometimes, we’d follow each other on a show and it became obvious who we were talking about. Like how many Jewish-Muslim-Palestinian Canadian couples that moved to America from Canada are there? Another comedy couple might be able to be on a show together and say my boyfriend did this or my girlfriend did that, and no one would connect that they were referring to one another. So, we built in this reveal and, eventually, people started asking if we were going to share the stage together. We didn’t want to, but it’s a sacrifice we make for the fans!
Eman: The first time we shared the stage was at a gig in an old synagogue turned community centre in L.A. I went on first and introduced Jess for her performance. We bantered, unprepared, on stage for about 10 minutes. We had no idea a reviewer from Tablet was in the audience and, although we individually performed for about 30 minutes separately, that 10 minutes of banter stole the show…. We didn’t think much of it but, a year later, 2018, we were in our hometown of Montreal for the Just for Laughs Festival. The BBC World Service was in town to put on a comedy show. They called us and asked if we’d want to record a set together and we said, ‘absolutely not.’ First of all, they have a huge listenership and we wouldn’t be able to polish an act under such short notice and, second, no one wants or should want to work with their spouse. But, the British have a way to persuade, it must be the accent.
At the same time, because we were back in our hometown, Just for Laughs offered us two shows to do whatever we wanted. We decided to perform individually for 20 minutes and then 20 minutes together. We almost got divorced but the audience loved it! We sold out both nights and added a third. Who would have thought a duo act would be so sought after? We’ve been working together ever since, and we are still married! I think, at this point, if we ever separated, we’d have to be closeted about getting divorced.
JI: From where do you get the strength and confidence to be a stand-up comedian?
Eman: I have no idea why and how I’ve stuck with this career after my first set. I bombed so hard and, until today, continue to bomb at times, but there is truly an addictive element to making someone laugh. Even if it’s a single person in a room. Laughter is so genuine and isn’t easily had. I mean, even in our day-to-day life Jess and I will share with each other how we made a stranger laugh shopping for groceries or walking the dog. It’s so rewarding.
Jess: Making strangers laugh and then talking about it is 100% an Eman thing. Right now, we’re in an argument over a speech therapist I’m convinced she hired just to entertain while she insists she has a speech impediment that must be fixed.
Eman: I feel like my strength and confidence comes from my parents. Although my sister and I have a brother, I managed to be the favourite.
Jess: You do have a masculine energy they might be responding to.
Eman: A big reason I wanted to be a stand-up comic is because of how misrepresented and underrepresented Arabs, Muslims and particularly Palestinians are in the media. More often than not, I am the first Palestinian someone meets in real life. I feel like an ambassador of sorts, dispelling stereotypes about my people. Exposure is such a powerful tool in getting through to people and if you can make them laugh that’s a big bonus. Even if people are immediately turned off by what I represent, they are still curious to hear what I have to say. I remember headlining a show in Niagara Falls once. I had to be on stage for 45 minutes. Twenty minutes in, I realized I haven’t made a single person laugh….
Jess: I love that it took you 20 minutes! That’s confidence.
Eman: They were conservative-leaning so, I called them out, ‘Guys! I know you don’t like what I’m saying but I can tell you like me.’ That eviscerated the room! From that moment forward I knew I could never quit comedy even if I wanted to.
Jess: I tried to do a joke about the no smoking sign on the plane and quickly realized there were at least a few comics who had done the same joke. That’s when I realized it’s better when I pull from personal experience. Even if I’m not an ambassador like Eman. I’m not the first Jewish comedian people have seen.
JI: How and when did your new Crave Canada special, Marriage of Convenience, come about?
Jess: After performing in Montreal for Just for Laughs and the BBC in 2018, we kept working on our duo act and growing our audience on Instagram for our comics (@theelsalomons). We sent a tape of what grew into an hour-long show to Just for Laughs and that’s how we got booked for the Crave special.
Eman: We realized people preferred us together than individually, which is insulting considering we had about a decade each of solo experience. It’s understandable, there are so many stand-up comics but rarely any duo acts.
Jess: There’s no one I’d rather lose my individual identity for.
JI: What is the origin of the cartoons?
Eman: Jess came up with the idea. We would get such a huge response on social media when we’d write these back-and-forth status updates about each other.
Jess: Huge is relative.
Eman: People asking when the sitcom was coming out.
Jess: And, knowing that it would take awhile for us to find the time to write a pilot that was pitch-ready and be in a place where we could sell a series, a weekly cartoon on Instagram seemed like a manageable place to start to develop the character version of ourselves and, hopefully, an audience. We also have a close family friend, Jesse Brown, who just happens to be an incredible illustrator that wanted to work on this with us. So that’s how it was born.
Eman: The El-Salomons was the hashtag for our wedding, and Jesse drew us for our invitations … my mother-in-law saw them and said, “He made you look thin.”
Jess: Actually, yes, that is how it was born.
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Chutzpah! starts Nov. 21. For the full lineup and tickets, visit chutzpahfestival.com or call 604-257-5145.