Merewyn Comeau and Raes Calvert in Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish, which is on the Chutzpah! stage Nov. 18-19. (photo by Javier Sotres)
For the first time, the Chutzpah! Festival, which was launched in 2001, is presenting programming specifically targeted to young people, families and educators. Dan and Claudia Zanes will be live in concert Nov. 13-14 and Joseph A. Dandurand’s Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish will be presented by Axis Theatre Nov. 18-19. Both events take place at the Rothstein Theatre.
“One of my first strategic goals when I joined Chutzpah! was to launch a programming stream for young people and families,” said Jessica Gutteridge, managing artistic director of the festival since 2020. “I have a background in theatre for young audiences, and this is an area of performing arts that I find very rich and interesting…. I think the best way to keep the performing arts vibrant into the future is to share exciting and stimulating arts experiences with young people so that they can grow into the audiences of tomorrow. And finding ways of sharing these experiences across generations makes for wonderful bonding between kids and their parents, grandparents, caregivers and mentors, but also gives the adults in the audience a memorable and enjoyable experience. I’m also a passionate proponent of arts education, so finding opportunities for teachers to bring performing arts into their teaching is meaningful to me.”
Dan Zanes is a Grammy award-winning children’s performer and Claudia Zanes is a music therapist/jazz vocalist. The couple has been “making music with each other since the day they met in the fall of 2016.” Their Nov. 14 performance is for schools and the Nov. 13 show is open for all.
“Dan Zanes, to put it bluntly, was a key reason I survived the music playing in my children’s rooms when I had young kids,” said Gutteridge about her choice of performers for this program. “I think he’s just a spectacular musician and storyteller that all ages can enjoy, and his partnership with Claudia Zanes makes even more gorgeous and meaningful music. I appreciate that Dan and Claudia are committed to making their performances sensory-friendly and accessible, and in sharing messages of love, solidarity and social justice, that are timely and important.”
As with the concert, the Nov. 18 production of Th’owxiya is for schools and the Nov. 19 show welcomes everyone, with the caveat that the ogress might be scary to some young children. The play, recommended for ages 5 and up, recounts a Kwantlen First Nations tale, “the legend of the basket ogress, Th’owxiya, an old hungry spirit that inhabits a feast dish full of bountiful delicious foods, and sly Mouse (Kw’at’el), who is caught stealing cheese from this feast dish. To appease an angry Th’owxiya, Kw’at’el embarks on a journey to find two children for the ogress to eat, or else!” The work features “traditional Coast Salish and Sto:lo music, masks and imagery” and audiences will learn “how Raven (Sqeweqs), Bear (Spa:th) and Sasquatch (Sasq’ets) trick a hungry spirit and save Kw’at’el and their family from becoming the feast.”
Both the concert and the play run about an hour, and all performances take place at 11 a.m.
While the concert and play are two programs specifically aimed at young audiences, Gutteridge said many of the Chutzpah! performances “are appropriate for general audiences, and we hope that youth and teens in particular will join us for some of them. For example, Persian Jewish Cooking with Ayelet Latovich, Music at the Centre of the River, and the Joan Beckow Legacy Project – which will feature youth performers from Perry Ehrlich’s Showstoppers – are all programs that all ages can enjoy together. Programs like Jacqueline Saper’s presentation of her memoir of growing up Jewish in Tehran and the Site: Yizkor project may offer teens engaging ways of learning and contextualizing current events and history.”
In a similar vein, Gutteridge added, “Adults should feel just as welcome as kids to come and enjoy these shows – truly these are experiences that are relevant and enjoyable for all ages. If any families who would wish to join us for these events feel that their financial situation does not permit them to attend, please contact our box office. We have an allocation of tickets set aside so that cost is not a barrier to sharing these experiences with young people.”
Gili Yalo performs in Vancouver on Sept. 24 for a Chutzpah! Plus event. (photo from Chutzpah!)
Israeli singer-songwriter Gili Yalo returns to Vancouver for a Chutzpah! Plus concert on Sept. 24. It’s his first time back in the city since 2015, when he was part of the band Zvuloon Dub System. Yalo said he can’t wait – “the last time at the Chutzpah! Festival was wonderful!” he told the Independent.
In 2015, Zvuloon Dub was touring the United States and other countries. “Part of the tour was the Chutzpah! Festival,” said Yalo, “and we finished the tour in Montego Bay, Jamaica, performing in the legendary festival SumFest. After being part of Zvuloon Dub for seven years, I felt that it was the right time and the right spot to start something new. I came back to Tel Aviv and started working on new songs for my solo career.”
Yalo’s eponymous first solo album, released in 2017, was very well-received and he followed it up in 2019 with the EP Made in Amharica, on which he collaborated with Dallas-based musicians in Niles City Sound, a studio in Fort Worth. He has released several singles and has played on stages and in festivals around the world.
But, even though he has been a singer his whole life and performing almost as long – including in children’s choirs and during his time in the Israel Defence Forces – Yalo resisted making music a career. Among his alternate endeavours was being a club owner.
“I opened the club for Israeli Ethiopian people, who didn’t feel safe to stand in line at Israeli clubs; back then we got a lot of refusal just because of the colour of our skin,” he explained. “At the club, there were two floors, one of R&B and reggae/dancehall music, the other one was Ethiopian music. It really affected me because I have heard and learned lots of Ethiopian music.
“After several years of running the club, I felt that I needed to do something different in my life … and I told myself, you don’t want to regret not trying to achieve your biggest dream, and I decided that I had to try and overcome my fears. It was natural for me to make a fusion of Ethiopian music and Western music such as jazz, funk, R&B and reggae, because that was my life between home and the outside.”
Born in Ethiopia, Yalo was 4 or 5 years old when he and his family fled to escape famine in 1984. Traveling by foot, it took them about two months to walk from the Gondar region, in northern Ethiopia, to refugee camps in Sudan, where they stayed for several months, until being airlifted to Israel as part of Operation Moses.
“Lots of the songs that I’m writing are talking about identity, journey and integration into society, so I think all of it came from the experience of making aliyah and the difficulty in the process,” Yalo told the Independent.
There are many things that Yalo would still like to accomplish, but, right now, he said, “I especially want to share music.” He wants to write good songs, collaborate “with musicians that I appreciate, and take my music to a place that it can inspire lots of people.”
Playing in Vancouver with Yalo will be Nadav Peled (guitar), Dor Heled (keys), Billy Aukstik (trumpet), Eran Fink (drums) and Geoffrey Muller (bass).
About coming to the city, Yalo said, “I want to say that Vancouver is one of the best places in the world. I’ve seen so many places thanks to music and, if it wasn’t so far away from my family, I would definitely consider living there.”
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.”
* * *
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.”
* * *
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.
* * *
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.”
* * *
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.”
* * *
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.
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.
* * *
Chutzpah! starts Nov. 21. For the full lineup and tickets, visit chutzpahfestival.com or call 604-257-5145.
Writer and comedian Iris Bahr performs at the Rothstein Theatre on Nov. 12 and 13, as part of the Chutzpah! Festival. (photo by Gail Hadini)
Award-winning writer, actor, director and producer Iris Bahr delves into serious issues using humour – and by being someone other than herself. She will bring some of her many characters to the Rothstein Theatre stage Nov. 12 and 13 as part of the Chutzpah! Festival.
Bahr hosts the weekly podcast X-RAE, as alter ego Rae Lynn Caspar White. In her one-woman show DAI (enough), she portrays 11 different characters in a Tel Aviv coffee shop. In her comedy series Svetlana, which ran for a couple of seasons, she starred as the Russian prostitute and political consultant. These are but a few examples of the personas she has created.
“I think I was about 6 years old,” Bahr told the Independent about when she did her first impression. “My family went on a trip to Italy and I began to imitate the tour guide, who kept going on and on in a heavy Italian accent about ‘marble from Carrera’ and so, for years after that, I would always be asked to ‘perform my Italian woman’ when my parents had company over.”
Using the example of the character of Rae Lynn, Bahr explained how an alter ego allows for a better conversation.
“I host my X-RAE podcast in character because I find it puts people at ease and they open up about topics they wouldn’t otherwise,” she said. “Rae Lynn flips from highbrow to lowbrow in a heartbeat and talks openly and outrageously about parenting, marriage and various R-rated topics. During my interview with Lawrence O’Donnell, for example, we veered from Marxism to Penn Gillette’s sex parties in a single breath.”
A magna cum laude graduate of Brown University, in Providence, R.I., Bahr studied neuropsychology, and has done brain research, as well as cancer research.
“I think I gravitated towards neuroscience because the inner workings of the brain fascinate me and I’m equal parts cerebral and highly emotional, and so that translates into all my work,” she explained. “I have a splintered identity, but not in a 50-50 kind of way – I actually feel 100% American and 100% Israeli at all times and that feeling of connection yet constant alienation lends itself to me inhabiting different characters and being able to truly commit to different viewpoints.”
Bahr was born and raised in the Bronx but moved to Israel as a teenager, staying there through military service; she still has family there. Her latest satire, The Olive Tree, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recently had a soldout reading in New York and is set to open in spring of next year. DAI came to the stage in 2006 and audiences have included the United Nations, in 2007.
“I was invited to perform the show for over 100 ambassadors and delegates and the experience was unforgettable,” she said. “They were highly attentive and laughed at all the right moments, which I was not sure was going to happen. I felt like a diplomat for a day.”
Bahr said she wrote DAI “to communicate the intricacy and complexity of life in Israel, the inner conflicts prevalent in Israeli society, and how they are affected by living under constant threat of suicide bombings/sudden death, which, as any Israeli will tell you, instil not a feeling of helplessness but a vibrancy and love for life. On the flip side, is how that very fact is perceived by visiting outsiders and Palestinians affected by the conflict. The characters we meet in the café – from all walks of life, ideological spectrums and backgrounds – have no idea their lives will be ending abruptly [by a suicide bomber] and so their monologues range from outrageously humourous, vengeful, disillusioned and more.”
She first performed DAI at Baruch College in New York City, “as part of a festival sponsored by the Culture Project,” she said. “I had no idea it would get picked up immediately for a commercial run, and so that was a phenomenal development.
“A lot has changed since I first wrote DAI, in terms of how the conflict is manifesting itself on both sides, and yet the situation has sadly stayed the same. Thankfully, suicide bombings seem to be a thing of the past, but my dear childhood friend and father of four was stabbed to death only last year while out shopping, the Palestinian plight has not improved and the political climate is worse than ever. Nevertheless, the characters in DAI have sustained their relevancy; my German character talks about rising antisemitism in modern-day Germany, for example; my Israeli former military man talks of his son who doesn’t want to serve in the military; and the snooty ex-pat woman who lives in New York City, well, those types of women only seem to multiply by the minute.”
She stressed, “The play is not a polemic – it is a collection of social observations that speak from many different viewpoints. The piece aims to entertain, offer a visceral theatrical experience and, hopefully, also illuminate and enlighten. Thankfully, it has been warmly received amongst extremely ‘pro-Israel’ audiences and also ‘pro-Palestinian’-leaning crowds both in Europe and here in America. Of course, certain right-wingers think it’s too leftist and left-wingers think it’s too right, which is all I could really hope for as a piece about humanity.”
For tickets to see Bahr perform at Chutzpah!, and for more festival offerings, visit chutzpahfestival.com.
ProArteDanza’s The 9th will première in Vancouver before heading home to Toronto. (photo by Alexander Antonijevic)
Ten years after its conception, ProArteDanza’s The 9th, a full-length contemporary dance performance, will have its world première in Vancouver at the Chutzpah! Festival Oct. 26-28.
“We were originally planning to première it in Toronto for November,” Roberto Campanella, co-artistic director of ProArteDanza, told the Independent in a phone interview. “We’re opening in Toronto Nov. 6, which is a week-and-a-half after Chutzpah! And then Mary-Louise [Albert] called and said, ‘How do you feel about bringing The 9th here?’ And I said, ‘Well, it would not be a bad idea for everybody involved to have that opportunity…. We love being at Chutzpah! We’ve been before, we have a longtime relationship with Mary-Louise.” (Albert is artistic managing director of Chutzpah!)
Campanella created The 9th with ProArteDanza co-artistic director Robert Glumbek in collaboration with the dancers. Inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and performed to the score, the show has four movements and is about 70 minutes long, with no intermission.
Each dance movement was created and mounted on its own: the first, then the third, the second and, finally, the fourth, which the company performed this past June in Trois-Rivières, Que., for the festival called Dansencore. Regarding the full-length work, Campanella said “it’s one thing to put on one movement at a time separately, and we’re realizing it’s a completely different beast because we have to also layer [each movement] with the concept of a wall or, in this case, the symbol of the Berlin Wall, so it’s taking almost a different life for me and for Robert…. And it’s only eight dancers and it’s going to be incredibly physical and athletic and intense, so we also have to distribute our dancers in a way that we don’t kill them in the first movement.”
Ten years ago, Dansencore commissioned Campanella and Glumbek to create the first movement. At the time, the festival was celebrating its 15th anniversary, as well as the establishment of Trois-Rivières, with Beethoven’s Ninth, said Campanella. “The idea was that there were different choreographers allocated for the four different movements … and we put the whole thing together probably in one day or two with the live orchestra and the live choir, so it was a mega-super-project. It all came together then.
“What we decided to do, with the permission, of course, of the festival, we said, ‘Can we present out first movement only for our company, ProArteDanza?’ We were granted permission and we presented just the movement itself as part of a mixed program the year after, or the same year, here in Toronto. Then we looked at each other, Robert and I, and said, ‘Why don’t we do a long version of it? Why don’t we continue? But let’s take our time. Why don’t we continue on the same path we’re doing, a movement at a time, we present it, we look at it and see what comes out of it?’
“And then, in 2010, I was in Berlin shooting a movie and I had a few days off,” continued Campanella. “I went to the Berlin Wall, which is essentially rubble, it’s just bricks, there isn’t much, but there are these audio-visual stations, where you can put headphones on and have a look at old footage of when they were building it; it’s pretty much the history of the wall. And there was one image that still, I would say, hit the spot, which was these two families on [opposite] sides of the wall waving at each other, probably they were related to each other … and the waving at each other was different from one side of the wall and the other. And then I thought, could it be that this [image] is actually our Ninth Symphony concept? So, I talked to Robert and I said, ‘Can we explore that and see where it goes?’ And that’s when the ball started rolling for us, but always maintaining the idea that we were not going to present the whole thing until we had all the four movements done and presented.”
The timing of The 9th’s completion comes with a few coincidences, said Campanella. Most notably, the final concert date, in Toronto, is Nov. 9 and, he said, “Nov. 9, 1989, is the actual day of the fall of the Berlin Wall,” so the show will occur exactly 30 years after the wall’s fall. He also noted that ProArteDanza’s show, which is called The 9th, ends on the ninth and that, at the 1989 celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leonard Bernstein conducted the Ninth Symphony.
For Campanella, the fall of the Berlin Wall is “about freedom, it’s about brotherhood, it’s about unity and diversity, celebrating all of that.”
In addition to the challenges of portraying these concepts, Campanella said it’s been fascinating to reimagine the movements that were created in the early years.
“We look at what we did 10 years ago and we cringe,” he said. When he and Glumbek watched videos of the piece, “you should have heard us, we were thinking, ‘Who choreographed that?’”
The pair have broken through many artistic walls since then in their respective careers, said Campanella, that they decided “this is not us anymore and so we are going to revisit it, reassess it, reevaluate what we’ve done and why.”
He pointed out that the original first movement was also created by a different cast. “There is only, I think, one [dancer] left who’s done everything. So, there are things that are born with a certain cast but there is a turnover of cast, [so] it will inevitably take a different direction naturally, as well as us being different now than 10 years ago.”
Part of what’s great about dance, he said, “is that you have the ability to remount things. A painting, once it’s done, it’s done. You’re going to hang it somewhere and you’ll look at it; it’s done, it’s over. For us, we have that ability to remount and re-look at it and say, ‘Who am I now that’s going to be in this current version of it?’ So, it’s been a very fascinating process.”
Campanella said, in creating The 9th, he and Glumbek “took our time because we really wanted to respect first and foremost the score of this magnificent piece of artwork,” referring to Beethoven’s composition.
In The 9th, more than one version of the symphony is used. Of those that were not chosen, Campanella said, “some of the versions are what we think are excruciatingly slow for us. Maybe they are amazing versions for musicians, for the experts, [but] they’re not conducive to the physical movement part of it.”
Mary-Louise Albert was not only a dancer in the first-ever Chutzpah! Festival, but its poster model (see image below).
As the 19th annual Chutzpah! Festival approaches, ready to embrace its new season – no longer a spring festival but a fall one – it will have to loosen its embrace on its artistic managing director, Mary-Louise Albert. After 15 years heading Chutzpah!, this is her last. Albert is moving on to the next part of her creative and personal journey, and the Jewish Independent spoke to her about the festival, its legacy and what might lie ahead for her.
JI: What do you think the main impact of the Chutzpah! Festival has been for the Jewish and general communities and the relationship between the two?
MA: Presenting and facilitating the growth of professional performing arts is an exciting and multi-layered approach to uniting communities. I am very proud that we have brought the festival to a point of national and international recognition, as well as being one of the flagship Jewish festivals in North America.
Through the insistence of high standards and by supporting new work, the festival has increased an understanding and appreciation of programming that embraces an eclectic range that is Jewish arts and culture, in particular from a Canadian perspective. Expanding on this programming, Jewish and non-Jewish artists share our stages, increasing our ability to bring many Canadian and North American premières to Lower Mainland audiences. Seeing, over the past 15 years, audiences from all walks of life and backgrounds embracing the festival is particularly rewarding.
JI: Have you accomplished what you set out to do when you took over the festival 15 years ago?
MA: Yes, which feels very satisfying to be able to say. I wanted the festival to not only survive but thrive in a very competitive local and national performing arts scene, which is tricky given a cultural umbrella. This meant attaining an international standard – not just a couple of high-profile shows, but across the board. It also meant the dance and music programming had to expand, which has in particular allowed for funding opportunities and artist growth.
An area I’m very proud of is connecting urban and rural communities through creation residencies. Many B.C.-based Chutzpah! artists have had creation residencies in both the North Island region and in the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre, resulting in world premières, with these productions going on to tour nationally and internationally. For example, this year, Geoff Berner, T.J. Dawe, Toby Berner, Tallulah Winkelman and Jack Garten will be Chutzpah! artists-in-residence for a week in Sointula, Malcolm Island, where they will perform as well. Chutzpah! will be sending UNA dance company from New York City to perform in Sointula, Port McNeil and in Alert Bay with the N’amgis nation directly before their Vancouver performances, which is a rare and meaningful opportunity for all involved. Sharing artistic wealth with underserved regions of B.C. is and has been an important aspect of the festival for the past few years. It is also in keeping with the times.
JI: In a couple of interviews I’ve read, you speak about how your training and working as a dancer was helpful to you in running Chutzpah! Could you speak a bit to that?
MA: I was trained in ballet and contemporary, danced professionally for 20 years and, within this time period, became a mother of two children. I was 45 when I stopped performing and, through support from the Dancers Transition Resource Centre, embarked on a new adventure of being the oldest “kid” in the class for a few years at Capilano U and BCIT’s Business School.
I was then hired by Gerry Zipursky [then-executive director of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, which is home to the Rothstein Theatre] and an inquisitive hiring committee (who I will always be grateful to) … and embarked on this job where I needed to come in running and move things forward. All this took stamina, tunnel vision, a somewhat sharp brain (and elbows), nerviness, flexibility and passion – things that a combination of dance training and a professional dance career prepares you for.
JI: In relation to Chutzpah!, what are one or two of your “I’m most proud of” moments?
MA: There are so many that I am proud of, but I would have to say the festival has been a trailblazer in presenting Israeli artists – and often in their first Canadian or North American appearances. Artists such as the Idan Raichel Project, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, Batsheva Dance Company, Balkan Beat Box, Yemen Blues, Idan Sharabi, Roy Assaf, Avishai Cohen Quartet, Itamar Borochov Quartet, Dudu Tassa, Diwan Saz, Maria Kong, Baladino, Victoria Hana, David Broza and Mira Awad, A-WA and many more. And continuing this year with AvevA, Yemen Blues, Guy Mintus Trio, and Rami Kleinstein.
As well, I’m very proud of the growth of the dance and music programming and how this growth has affected positively and in a multi-faceted way the artistic development of many artists.
JI: What’s next for you?
MA: I live in both Burnaby and in Sointula on Malcolm Island. Development of contemporary dance, rural B.C. and social causes are beckoning. At 64, I still have a bit of “oomph” left to pursue.
JI: If there is anything else you’d like to add, please do.
MA: I’m honoured and thankful to have worked with so many excellent professional colleagues in the arts world and at the JCC in accomplishing the festival’s achievements, as well as working with some wonderful volunteers. However, there are two volunteers in particular who I want to give a special thank you to. People with integrity and grace who have stuck by me and the festival from the very beginning – Harriet Wolfe and Lloyd Baron.”
Comedian Jacob Samuel headlines A Night of Shticks & Giggles Feb. 21 at the Rothstein Theatre. (photo from JCCGV)
In just one week, I will be standing on stage at one of the most exciting events I have ever been a part of. On Feb. 21, some of the funniest stand-up comedians in Vancouver will join me in the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Rothstein Theatre, using laughter to raise money for JCC youth sports scholarships.
A Night of Shticks & Giggles is co-produced by the JCC and Rise of the Comics. Headlined by 2017 Yuk Off champion Jacob Samuel – It’s good to finally see a successful Jewish comedian, right!? – it will also feature a performance from Larke Miller, who I remember watching on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, as well as several other local comedic stars.
While the show will be one of those guaranteed good times for the audience, for me, it also represents a unique opportunity to combine two of my great passions.
Passion #1: As the delegation head for the JCC Maccabi Games – an athletics and arts program that provides Jewish teens the opportunity to travel and experience an Olympic-style international event – I have the responsibility and honour of raising scholarship funds to enable as many teens as possible the chance to participate in this life-changing event.
Passion #2: As a stand-up comic still in his rookie season, I get to meet, learn from and share the stage with some of the city’s top comics. Not to mention the opportunity to stand and perform my craft in front of an audience of 200+ in the Rothstein. (Gulp!)
As a producer of the show, the fact that I will be performing my own original set kind of makes me like that kid who got to start on the soccer team because my dad happened to be the head coach. Except, in this case, I also run the soccer team, picked my dad to be the coach and, oh boy, he’s putting me in!
While I might not end up being the funniest comic of the night, I can promise A Night of Shticks & Giggles will deliver the funny in spades.
Among his many local appearances, Samuel has performed on the Rothstein stage before, when the Jewish Independent team held their JI Chai Celebration in December 2017. He followed that up with his Yuk Off championship win, and his career has taken off since.
Harris Anderson, Joey Commisso and Randee Neumeyer have all inspired me with their irreverent, clever and sharp takes on life, as well.
Another one of the comics, Ed Konyha, used to run the award-winning open mic Stand-up and Deliver, the show in which I finally found the courage to perform my very first set as a stand-up comic.
Finally, Scotty Aceman, emcee for the night and producer of Rise of the Comics, has worked with me on a few shows now (this being the largest by far!) and is a huge inspiration for anyone thinking of quitting their day jobs and following their passion – no matter how little money it makes them. Aceman had a career in the cellphone business before giving it all up to bring comedy to Vancouver’s masses. Today, Rise of the Comics showcases Vancouver’s incredible comedy scene, producing and selling out regular live shows while featuring these local talents on their YouTube channel. His latest venture, Rise After Dark, offers people the chance to bring stand-up comedy right into their living room or private event.
Shticks & Giggles is a well-supported community event with a powerhouse of partnerships including the Chutzpah! Festival; Axis, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s young adult initiative; and, of course, the Jewish Independent.
Tickets for A Night of Shticks & Giggles are $20 and can be bought online at ticketpeak.com/jccgv. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 21, with the show set to begin at 8 p.m.
Kyle Bergeris coordinator, sports department, Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and co-producer of A Night of Shticks & Giggles.