Alley Theatre, in partnership with Good Night Out Vancouver, presents the world première of a multi-perspective, docu-theatre dance creation entitled #whatnow, Oct. 28-Nov. 7, at the Russian Hall, as part of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival.
After collecting hours of audio interviews from people of different genders, sexual orientations, cultures, ages and abilities, real-life stories and reflections around the #metoo movement come to life through the mediums of headphone verbatim (explained below) and dance.
“This piece is both a celebration of survival and a call for action,” explained co-director and sexual assault survivor Marisa Emma Smith. “What surprised me the most about interviewing people is their natural humour and poeticism. We couldn’t have written better lines to describe the things they went through or committed. I am so honoured to have met them all.”
Co-director and choreographer of #whatnow is Amber Barton, who has been a featured performer at the Chutzpah! Festival.
“We’re living in a time of increased awareness and social justice,” said Barton. “For me, that means it’s important to keep our conversations, such as the ones around the #metoo movement, alive. #whatnow is a unique performance experience that helps us to continue these conversations. I feel so privileged to be part of this production and to be trusted with the stories that have been shared with us.”
#whatnow includes testimonials from survivors of harassment, misconduct and assault, as well as stories from those who took accountability for their harms. Throughout the piece, Barton has crafted ensemble movement that articulates tone, environment and viewpoints. The work also uses the format “headphone verbatim,” where edited audio interviews are played through headphones to actors on stage and the actors mimic and repeat what they hear, in real time. Every cough, stutter and hesitation is reproduced, and the actors never “memorize the lines.”
#whatnow features performances by Sabrina Symington, Yvonne Wallace, Patrick Dodd, Emily Grace Brook and Siobhan Sloane-Seale. Running time is approximately 80 minutes, with professionally facilitated conversations afterward. There are a few gender-specific performances, to allow for an honest and supported environment for audiences to respond to the performance with other people of the gender they identify as most. As well, there is ASL interpretation at the Nov. 7 show.
Tickets start at $15 and $2 from every ticket goes to Pacific Association of First Nations Women. The Oct. 28 preview is two-for-one. Visit alleytheatre.ca.
After COVID-19 hit, The Eichmann Project – Terminal 1 evolved into a per- formance directed to a camera. (photo from Pathos-Mathos Company)
Art has many facets, forms and reasons for being. As much as it can be an escape from our daily realities, it can help us process and understand them, sometimes in vastly different ways. The Chutzpah! Festival, which opens Nov. 4 with City Opera Vancouver singers performing to the Marx brothers’ A Night at the Opera, features many examples of entertainment with multiple purposes.
On the face of it, Project InTandem’s dance double bill (Nov. 6-7) might seem to have nothing in common with the theatre work The Eichmann Project – Terminal 1 (Nov. 8). Yet both deal with, among other things, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as our ability to change ourselves and even our circumstances.
The Eichmann trial
Lilach Dekel-Avneri and the Pathos-Mathos Company’s Terminal 1 examines the 1961 trial, in Israel, of Adolf Eichmann, one of the main perpetrators of the Holocaust. The books of attorney-general Gideon Hausner, political theorist Hannah Arendt and journalist and poet Haim Gouri, “with their testimonies on the trial, were the inspiration for the three main ‘characters’” of the theatre work, explained Dekel-Avneri. “My dramaturg, Liat Fassberg, and I, like in a Greek tragedy, positioned the two main characters with opposing worldviews, one against of the other. The words by poet Haim Gouri, who was present at the courtroom and reported daily from there, were composed and treated as a chorus. The chorus tries to advance in telling the tale of the trial while providing a dramatic lament on the happenings.
“It is actually a trial of the trial,” said Dekel-Avneri, “dotted with texts from researchers of the Holocaust and post-traumatic stress disorder, poets, philosophers, and performers’ live comments between those three main voices. The COVID-19 epidemic presents itself in the team’s testimonies and actions, erasing all plans and forcing project evolution into a digital performance to the camera.”
Dekel-Avneri refers to the Eichmann trial as “the first reality show in Israel.”
“A lot has been said about the connection between trials and performance,” she explained. “The Eichmann trial was the first trial-show recorded in front of a live audience, that actually bought tickets, and was projected live on the radio, later on television, with the full documentary show now available on the internet.”
Terminal 1 explores the concepts of collaboration and obedience, and asks, “What is our responsibility as citizens, as artists?”
“It’s an extension of Arendt’s brilliant manifest evoking the citizens to think by themselves and not to obey automatically. Not to automatically be part of horrific systems, just because they say: do this and not that,” said Dekel-Avneri. “We are thinking creatures, the least we can do is use our heart and brain, take responsibility for our actions, and not collaborate with demons.”
The show initially was created to be interactive with an audience and then remade for film because of COVID.
“During 2020, at the beginning of the outbreak, the Israel Festival, where we premièred, decided to move online, so I made my choice,” said Dekel-Avneri. “Since I do not believe in shooting a theatre show and screening it, I had to let go of my vision for the full project I was working on for six years, and re-create it as something new, made especially for the camera.
“The Eichmann Project – Terminal 1 is, for me, the first station, like its name,” she continued. “The last station may be completed in the future, or not. It will need to start almost from the beginning. We hope that one day we will find a sponsor or a theatre to collaborate with and fulfil the vision of this Via Dolorosa of 21 live scenes. The trial is not going anywhere and, unfortunately, we, by ‘we’ I mean humanity, do not learn from our past mistakes, so it looks like it will remain relevant for awhile.”
Dekel-Avneri recently premièred Crowned, which she described as “a performative portrait, broken by the encounter with time, shattered in the prism of the plague, emerging through a web of video and audio testimonies by seven women at different decades of their lives, which coalesce into a course of a lifetime. An attempt to leave a monument to the voice of femininity at the current time, femininity striving, despite everything, to see the opportunity for growth within the crisis and wonder about the intersection between life and art at a time of change. These women take responsibility of their actions, future and well-being,” she said.
“In a way,” she added, “Crowned is a post-traumatic response to what COVID did to The Eichmann Project. After being torn apart from my original vision and separated from the audience, I prepared a show for any situation – we are not afraid from lockdowns or the camera anymore. The camera became a friend, a tool and a partner, to continue creating performative works.”
Project InTandem – which was cofounded by Calgary-based producers and choreographers Sylvie Moquin and Meghann Michalsky in 2017 – brings two works to the Chutzpah! Festival: Deep END by Michalsky and moving through, it all amounts to something by Moquin.
“This double-bill,” explains the press material, “explores themes of female struggle and empowerment…. Michalsky investigates how movement can accumulate and evolve through set rounds and repetition. Moquin’s work is inspired by the concept of neuroplasticity and the journey of rewiring one’s patterning.”
The pair met for the first time when they both created short works for a production at the University of Calgary, eventually forming Project InTandem “to share workload, resources, and to create an opportunity for emerging artists to produce evening length work.”
“Having Meghann as a collaborator has always pulled me to a higher standard,” Moquin told the Independent. “I think we work together in a way that elevates us to achieve more than what might be possible on our own. It also makes the journey of being an artist less lonely.”
“Our approaches to dance can sometimes overlap because we have had similar experiences or opportunities, or trained within similar methods,” they said in their email interview with the JI. “All of our accumulated experiences as dancers and movers inform us as creators; those experiences become like an inventory of information.”
Moquin has been a dancer within Michalsky’s choreographic works since 2018, so that also informs their relationship.
“Some of our shared values include creating work with visceral physicality, creating opportunities within our city, elevating the production value of contemporary dance work, and always prioritizing integrity,” they said.
Each has her own interests, though.
“I am really interested in exploring what the body can endure in this work,” said Michalsky. “We push and we push again. As performers, we pass through movements and states and eventually surrender to things that are no longer needed. I am interested in seeing the dancer go through something tangible in real time, something that is honest and showcases risk and vulnerability. As a choreographer, I play with conflict from both internally in the body and externally in the space and I desire for both of these things to be felt by the audience.”
About her piece, moving through, Moquin said, “When creating this work, I was completely immersed with investigating partner work (the way bodies engage and interact) as well as being upside down. I used these primary desires to dig into the concept of neuroplasticity – the way we adapt, the way we can gain governance over our thinking; sometimes even the feeling of being trapped in our own mind and thoughts.
“I am a big believer that we must fail in order to succeed,” she continued. “As a choreographer, I use the sensing body to somatically approach theories I find fascinating in the world. I am especially interested in how bodies interact with one another, how they can support each other to fly, spin, and find themselves upside down effortlessly. I am keenly interested in the effects of the mind, the power of our thoughts, and the ability for change and growth. I would say that my research and choreography seeks to find a sense of hope within a world of chaos.”
The initial vision of moving through included the use of “walls.”
“I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind, and so I finally started looking into building/creating something to fulfil these ideas,” said Moquin. “The material used (a form of Plexiglass) was almost a happenstance. I became fascinated by the translucent quality. I had no way of knowing how this material would have such an impact within our world merely months after creating and premièring the work in March 2020. As I watch this work now, two years later, after a global pandemic, it is almost startling to watch the dancers engaging with these Plexiglass structures.”
The Chutzpah! Festival runs Nov. 4-24. For tickets and the full lineup, visit chutzpahfestival.com or call 604-257-5145.
The Nov. 1 online event Finding Grounds for Goodness includes the première presentation of Finding Grounds for Goodness in the Downtown Eastside, which was created during last year’s Heart of the City Festival. (photo from Jumblies Theatre)
This year’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, which runs Oct. 27-Nov. 7, includes the screening of short videos from Jumblies Theatre and partners on the theme of “social goodness.”
Jumblies’ multi-year Grounds for Goodness project is an artful exploration of why and how people sometimes act in good ways towards each other. As it has adapted to community-engaged art-making during pandemic times, this project has generated a varied and whimsical collection of short videos with communities and artists from around Canada.
At the Nov. 1, 4 p.m., online event Finding Grounds for Goodness, hosted from Toronto by Jumblies staff, a sampling of these short films will be shared, including the première presentation of Finding Grounds for Goodness in the Downtown Eastside, which was created during last year’s Heart of the City Festival with DTES creative community members and Vancouver and Toronto artists.
Jewish community member Ruth Howard is the founder and artistic director of Jumblies Theatre, which makes art in everyday and extraordinary places with, for and about the people and stories found there. The Jumblies project was originally inspired by the history about the rescue of Albanian Jews during the Second World War by Albanian Muslim people.
Composer Martin van de Ven, an expert in klezmer and Jewish music, who has been involved in many Jumblies projects, told the Independent, in an interview last year about the DTES’s Grounds for Goodness, about besa, “an Albanian Islamic concept about hospitality and the need to help and protect guests and those in need within and beyond your community.
“In Albania,” he explained, “during the Second World War (and Italian and then Nazi occupation), this meant that almost all Jewish people living and finding refuge in Albania were sheltered and hidden, and Albania ended up with a larger Jewish population at the end of the war than at the beginning.” (See jewishindependent.ca/highlighting-goodness.)
The festival at large
The 18th Annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival is presented by Vancouver Moving Theatre in association with Carnegie Community Centre, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians and a host of community partners. It will feature more than 100 events throughout the DTES and online.
This year’s festival theme, “Stories We Need to Hear,” resonates today as people grapple with the dramatic impact of the pandemic, ongoing displacement, the fentanyl crisis, and the reality of bigotry and systemic racism.
In the words of late DTES poet Sandy Cameron, “When we tell our stories we draw our own maps, and question the maps of the powerful. Each of us has something to tell, something to teach.”
The 12-day festival includes music, stories, poetry, theatre, ceremony, films, readings, forums, workshops, discussions, art talks, history talks and visual art exhibitions. The Art in the Streets program features surprise pop-up music and spoken word activities on sidewalks and small plazas throughout the historic district.
A few highlights of this year’s festival are We Live Here, a large-scale outdoor project projecting hyper-speed videos of Downtown Eastside artists’ artwork, produced by Radix Theatre; Honouring Our Grandmothers’ Healing Journey Launch, three days of ceremony, teachings and storytelling honouring grandmothers who traveled to the DTES (with Further We Rise Collective and Wild Salmon Caravan); and Indigenous Journeys: Solos by Three Woman, which profiles local artists Priscillia Mays Tait (Gitxsan/Wet’suwet’en), Kat Zu’comulwat Norris (Lyackson First Nation) and Gunargie O’Sullivan aka ga’axstasalas (Kwakuilth Nation).
Elder and activist Grace Eiko Thomson reads from and talks about her book Chiru Sakura (Falling Cherry Blossoms), which chronicles her and her mother’s journey through racism, and Eiko Thomson’s advocacy for the rights of Canadians of Japanese ancestry. In My Art Is Activism: Part III, DTES resident Sid Chow Tan shares videos from his archival collection that highlight Chinese Canadian social movements and direct action in Chinatown, particularly redress for Chinese head tax and exclusion. And the ensemble Illicit Projects presents Incarcerated: Truth in Shadows, three shadow plays dedicated to people who have faced unjust treatment in Canada’s incarceration system.
Other events honour various DTES performing artists and shared cultures. The festival involves professional, community, emerging and student artists, and lovers of the arts.
Josh “Socalled” Dolgin leads an evening of Yiddish songs as part of Chutzpah! 2021. (photo from Chutzpah!)
The Chutzpah! Festival returns this November, presenting music, theatre, comedy and dance that reflect the joy of coming back together. For more than two decades, Chutzpah! has been an annual highlight of Greater Vancouver’s arts season. From Nov. 4 to 24, artists will once again grace the stage of the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre, the festival’s hub, and share their work in person and online. Tickets go on sale Sept. 15.
The 21st Annual Chutzpah! Festival will include a variety of performances, paired with conversations and opportunities to interact with the artists. Audiences will have the chance to attend in-person shows, with COVID safety protocols in place, or enjoy digital streams from their homes. With an emphasis on artists from across Canada, the festival will also present work from Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom.
“Artists and arts enthusiasts alike have been eagerly awaiting our chance to come back together to share our stories,” said Jessica Mann Gutteridge, artistic managing director. “With the joy of reconnecting comes the knowledge that our lives have profoundly changed over the past year-and-a-half. The Chutzpah! Festival will explore and celebrate the many ways we tell stories now, with a variety of ways to experience and participate in the work.”
The festival opens Nov. 4 with a screening at the Rothstein Theatre of the Marx brothers classic A Night at the Opera, during which City Opera Vancouver will sing the operatic music parodied in the film. The 1930s cinema experience will include festive treats, glamour and a costume contest.
In the comedy realm – all in-person performances at the Rothstein Theatre – Canadian-born, New York-based stand-up comedian, storyteller and writer Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR’s comedy and trivia show Ask Me Another, performs Nov. 10. Israeli-American stand-up comedian Avi Liberman is joined by special guest Jacob Samuel and host Kyle Berger on Nov. 20. And Iris Bahr, who impressed Chutzpah! audiences in 2020 with her festival hosting and her solo show DAI (enough), performs her new solo show Nov. 23.
The dance performances at the Rothstein will be in-person events, as well as digitally streamed. Nov. 6 and 7, a Project inTandem double-bill features the works of Calgary producers and choreographers Sylvie Moquin and Meghann Michalsky, which explore the themes of female struggle and empowerment. Nov. 13 and 14, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art return to Chutzpah! as resident artists with the third “chapter” of Kuebler’s research that began in 2018, after he read about the United Kingdom hiring a minister of loneliness. On Nov. 16 and 18, Ballet BC artist in residence Alexis Fletcher, who was 2019 and 2021 Chutzpah! resident artist, returns to the festival with a solo integrating movement and the visual art of Vancouver painter and HIV/AIDS activist Tiko Kerr, while 2020 and 2021 Chutzpah! resident artist Ne.Sans Opera & Dance, led by Idan Cohen, returns to showcase a new solo drawing inspiration from the myth of Orpheus and Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice, with co-creator Ted Littlemore (aka Mila Dramatic).
Theatre works featured are Lilach Dekel-Avneri and the Pathos-Mathos Company’s The Eichmann Project – Terminal 1 on Nov. 8 (digital stream available); The Flame – An Evening of Storytelling on Nov. 17, under the stewardship of artistic director Deborah Williams, featuring storytellers including Stephen Aberle, Glenda Zenoff, Eleanor Lipov and Helen Schneiderman, with musical guest Anton Lipovetsky; and Halifax-based Surplus Production Unit’s A Timed Speed-Read of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Trial Transcript on Nov. 21 and 22.
Montreal’s Josh “Socalled” Dolgin, accompanied by a local string quartet, leads an evening of rediscovered Yiddish songs, with stories and perhaps a little magic, on Nov. 19, and Israel’s Guy Mintus Trio’s performs A Gershwin Playground Nov. 24. (Digital streams available for both shows.)
Nov. 8-12, Chutzpah! Festival favourite, U.K.-based theatre artist Tamara Micner, transforms her theatrical work-in-progress (workshopped in the 2020 festival) into an audio installation. Audience members will be invited into the Zack Gallery to listen to Micner’s reading of letters written to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, reflecting on how their music informs her feelings about friendship, activism, Jewishness and art. There will be opportunities to “meet” the artist via video stream for conversations about her work and ideas.
Throughout the festival, Bahr converses with festival artists, featuring her stand-up and a wide-ranging cast of characters.
Due to COVID-19 safety processes, all tickets must be purchased in advance and will not be available at the door. Visit chutzpahfestival.com starting on Sept. 15 or call 604-257-5145.
Megan Phillips, left, and Hayley Sullivan in A Coveted Wife of East Van, part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival, which runs Sept. 9-19. (photo by Marn Norwich)
An all-star Jewish team consisting of poet Marn Norwich, director Ariel Martz-Oberlander, jazz musician Itamar Erez and actress Hayley Sullivan join forces to produce A Coveted Wife of East Van, the post-pandemic dating musical that you didn’t know you needed at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival. Light and fun, this show is the cathartic release we’ve all been jonesing for after months of pandemic isolation and, if you’re single, forced celibacy.
A Coveted Wife of East Van tells the story of Samantha Cohen as she navigates friendship, men and dating apps while making some very bad decisions along the way. Featuring both original music by Erez and familiar melodies from shows like Fiddler on the Roof, the story is set in Commercial Drive’s Café Deux Soleils. Samatha goes on a date with an East Van hippie, don’t forget the crystals; a mansplainer, need we say more; a pimp; and a murderer, who brings her ex’s head as an offering on their date. Just before things go horribly wrong, Samantha is saved by her best friend in this story about friendship, online dating and the search to find “the one.”
Norwich, an independent journalist for the CBC and Georgia Straight, and Erez, nominee for 2020 Instrumental Artist of the Year award, are joined by award-winning director Martz-Oberlander and Sullivan, as well as producer of the Or Festival Olivia Etey; Best of Fringe Award-winning actor Megan Phillips; winner of best comedy at the 2020 Florence Film Awards actor Mostafa Shaker; and set designer Michael Duggan, who has 30-plus years in the industry and has worked on more than 25 film productions.
A Coveted Wife of East Van opens Sept. 11, 3:30 p.m., and closes Sept. 19, 4:30 p.m., with several shows in between. The Fringe Festival runs Sept 9-19. For the full schedule, visit vancouverfringe.com.
Katherine Matlashewski and Tanner Zerr in Fast Foward. (photo by Emily Cooper)
Since COVID-19, we have been learning how to relate to one another from a distance, as well as how to use the technologies, like Zoom, that have allowed us to retain a more personal connection than we could have if we had experienced the pandemic even a handful of years ago. While our reality seems stolen from the script of a futuristic sci-fi horror film, playwright Rosamund Small’s visions of love in the future and how technology affects it, TomorrowLove, are “hilarious, snappy, moving and refreshingly fun in these times,” according to Shekhar Paleja and Lauren Taylor, co-directors of Studio 58’s production of Small’s playlet collection.
Jewish community members Samantha Levy and Katherine Matlashewski are among the cast members of the production, which will be released online on Feb. 28 and available to watch individually or collectively until March 7.
Studio 58 is Langara College’s professional theatre training program, and this spring’s lineup – which TomorrowLove launches – is the first under the direction of Courtenay Dobbie. Both Levy and Matlashewski are in their second year of study.
“I was finishing up my first year when the pandemic began in earnest here,” Levy told the Independent. “COVID-19 has forced me to be more isolated from my school community through Zoom classes, but it has not taken away the care and dedication of my professors, or the support of my peers. We are still a family, even though we are distanced or online.”
It has become a hybrid program since the pandemic, with some classes online and others held in person with social distancing, said Matlashewski. “Since Studio 58 is a hands-on conservatory program, the transition to online studies was challenging at first,” she admitted. “The faculty and staff, however, have been extremely supportive during these uncertain times. They have all worked tirelessly to adapt our training while also prioritizing our safety.
“That being said,” she added, “as a result of COVID, students are now required to commute to and from the college quite a bit … [and] the hours of online Zoom classes are exhausting. Despite these challenges, I appreciate the continuation of our small in-person classes.”
Prior to her post-secondary training at Studio 58, Matlashewski appeared as Mopsy in King Arthur’s Court (Metro Theatre), where she received the Community Theatre Coalition Award for best supporting actress. Other select credits include Alana in Dear Evan Hansen (Laughing Matters), Luisa in The Fantasticks (Stage 43) and Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods: In Concert (Royal City Musical Theatre). Most recently, she was awarded the 2021 Cheryl Hutcherson Award by Applause! Musicals Society.
“I have been a part of the Vancouver theatre and dance community from a very young age,” said Matlashewski. “I feel incredibly blessed to live, create and play on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.”
In TomorrowLove, Matlashewski said, “I have the pleasure of acting in the playlet called Fast Forward, alongside Tanner Zerr. This playlet explores themes of love, abandonment, age difference, time travel and the consequences that come with it.”
Levy plays the role of Jessie in the short play Take This Soul. “In Take This Soul, Jessie’s ex-partner, Rylan, shows up at her doorstep after having disappeared for four days,” explained Levy. “He tells an outlandish tale of an experiment in a distant country that has allowed him to return and present her with his literal soul.”
In addition to this Studio 58 production, Levy’s acting credits include Love, Loss and What I Wore (Centaur Theatre), Fancy Nancy: The Musical (Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society, Segal Centre) and It Shoulda Been You (Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, Segal Centre). Her TV and film credits include Annedroids and 18 To Life.
“I’ve been performing since the age of 5, when my parents signed me up for an extracurricular theatre troupe in my hometown, Montreal,” said Levy. “Little did they know that I would fall in love with performing! Since then, I’ve acted on stage and on screen, trained at the Stratford Festival’s Theatre Arts Camp, and dabbled in directing both plays and musicals. Now, I am so thrilled my love of acting has led me to Studio 58!”
But the experience is not what it normally would be, of course.
“During the pandemic, the lovely production team has been working extra hard to keep us all safe,” said Levy, “and that includes managing our schedules closely to avoid contact between folks. So, I have come to value the time I have with others in person even more. When we are in person, we are also wearing masks and social distancing at all times. This often means coming up with innovative new ways to express ourselves without proximity or touch on stage, which has been a wonderful challenge. It is incredibly uplifting for me to have the privilege to be able to continue to create with others, be vulnerable and connect.”
Acknowledging that the “pandemic has been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone,” Matlashewski said, “One of the challenges that I have faced is navigating acting while wearing a mask. Prior to COVID, I did not realize how much I relied on the non-verbal cues and facial expressions of my scene partners. However, now that two-thirds of the human face is covered by a mask, I find that I have to listen more closely to fully understand my scene partner. With that in mind, we all have had to adjust and be patient with ourselves and others.
“My biggest take away from acting during COVID is the importance of human connection,” she continued. “We have had to find new ways to connect and communicate while maintaining physical distancing. During the rehearsal process of Fast Forward, I discovered how social distancing impacted my acting choices. Since I had to maintain a two-metre distance from my scene partner, each movement that I made on stage had to be carefully considered. Our fantastic director, Lauren Taylor, guided us through this process and helped specify our blocking.
“Although we are required to maintain physical distance and wear masks while we are acting, I am thankful that I get to act in person for my first mainstage show at Studio 58.”
Reflecting on her connections to Jewish community and culture, Matlashewski said, “Within Judaism, community is a value that is held with the highest importance. Although we cannot gather in person, I invite you all to find the light where you can and share it with those around you.”
For her part, Levy said, “As my parents are across the country in Montreal and my brother (he’s a doctor!) is in St. John’s, Jewish culture and art are an anchor to the family who love me. Seeing Jewish representation in art is healing and beautiful.”
She then added a “non-performance-related anecdote.”
“I walked into a Jewish bakery during Chanukah to get a few latkes,” said Levy, “and I left with tears in my eyes and a bag full of items I had not planned to buy.”
To see one or all 13 of the TomorrowLove playlets, visit studio58.ca.
Matthew Tom-Wing, right, dressed as Elvis, was one of the participants in the 2019 Chutzpah! Festival finale. His mother, Elizabeth Tom-Wing, recalled it as a “standout moment for our community and for our son!” (photo from JCC)
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). It offers a wonderful time to look back at some of our community achievements in fostering inclusion at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver; in particular, the 2019 Chutzpah! Festival’s Inclusion Project.
Mary-Louise Albert was artistic and managing director of Chutzpah! and the Rothstein Theatre for 15 years. Before she retired, she and I had many spirited conversations about the importance of creating access for local community members in all areas of Jewish communal life and at the JCC, which is the home of the festival and the theatre, and where I am the coordinator of inclusion services.
We believed that the arts are an important avenue for personal growth and skills development, and that they also bolster visibility and foster true belonging. We hoped that the JCC’s inclusion services and Chutzpah! could collaborate in some way and, through our conversations and Mary-Louise’s vision and expertise, the Chutzpah Inclusion Project crystalized.
After months of planning, in November 2019, members of the local community took to the Rothstein stage to participate in a first-ever Inclusion Project performance – an evening of dance and comedy with international inclusion advocate Pamela Schuller and professional dancers Troy Ogilvie and Rebecca Margolick. The event was the finale of the 2019 Chutzpah! Festival and a highlight of Albert’s final year with Chutzpah!
In preparation to take to the stage, participants had a yearlong introduction to theatre, including low-barrier and free classes with a specialist through the JCC’s Theatre Lab program. Participants attended many local productions through the JCC’s social club, and spent hours rehearsing and co-creating with Ogilvie, Margolick and Schuller over a series of workshops that would not have been possible without community partners and friends.
The 2019 performance received a standing ovation from the audience. The feeling of solidarity and acceptance between the audience and the performers was palpable. What was most amazing, Elizabeth Tom-Wing recalled, is that her son had the opportunity to “train and perform on stage with the professional dancers, along with his friends, and close off the three-week-long 2019 Chutzpah! Festival.” She recalled it as a “standout moment for our community and for our son!”
This project demonstrated that artists of mixed ability and skill can create a powerful and moving performance. Moreover, it reminds us that it is only through equity and action that belonging can be fostered. As diversity, equity and inclusion strategist Arthur Chan explains: “Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. Belonging is the outcome.”
Leamore Cohenis inclusion services coordinator at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
The Kirman English and Yiddish Library at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture is available for anyone in the community to access. (photo from Peretz Centre)
“Books are humanity in print” – Barbara Tuchman
The Kirman English and Yiddish Library at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture was set up in 1976 by Paula and Shaya Kirman, members of the Peretz Institute – as it was then known – and dedicated Yiddishists. The two main purposes in establishing the library were, first, to collect and preserve the books that were scattered in different places in the community, and, second, to make these books available to the whole community in a lending library.
Paula Kirman, who worked as a cataloguer at the University of British Columbia library, volunteered many hours to set up a card catalogue and shelve the Peretz library in an organized way. Eventually, she resigned from her volunteer position because of a perceived lack of support from the Peretz Institute’s board of directors.
In 1999, in preparation for the construction of the Peretz Centre’s present building (in the same location the institute had been since the 1960s), the library books and card catalogue had to be boxed and removed. With the completion of the new building in 2000-2001, the organization was renamed the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture and the words of I.L. Peretz, considered by many as the “father” of modern Jewish culture, were prominently displayed above the entrance foyer: “A people’s memory is history; without a history, a people can grow neither wiser nor better.”
Sporadic attempts to restore the library were made, but, when Al Stein returned to Vancouver and joined the centre’s board of directors in 2001, much of the library was still in boxes and Kirman’s card catalogue was in disarray. Stein volunteered to lead the effort to restore the library, if the board would support it in two ways: vote for funding for new shelving and support Stein’s effort to obtain a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver to hire a library technician and digitize the entire library, including the Yiddish books.
The grant proposal was successful. A newly graduated library technician, unfamiliar with Yiddish, was contracted and many hundreds of hours were spent properly transliterating each Yiddish book and journal title, digitizing the entire collection in accordance with the latest electronic library standards, relabeling each book, arranging for electronic hosting of the library catalogue, supervising the installation of new shelving and then, finally, shelving the books and journals in an organized fashion.
Thanks to large and small donations of both English and Yiddish books from individuals, from the Winnipeg Jewish Library and from the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, as well as a small number of purchases, the Kirman Library of the Peretz Centre now contains nearly 4,000 books and journals and is almost at capacity. The collection includes titles by kabbalists, rabbis, atheists, historians, politicians, musicians, artists, humourists, and those who wrote fiction, plays and poetry – in other words, the entire spectrum of Jewish creativity, encompassing all the arts.
Most of the collection is now in English and is a unique treasure trove of information and pleasure for the casual reader and the scholar. Two collections are of note. The late Dr. Gersh Winrob donated his English-language collection of Holocaust literature, memoirs, history and analyses, certainly one of the largest in the community. And the late poet Miriam Waddington donated part of her library, mostly English-language literature and essays, with a bit of Yiddish poetry.
The Peretz Centre is a proud member of the Yiddish Book Centre, now the largest Jewish cultural organization in the United States.
The Peretz’s library catalogue may be searched from any computer via the Peretz Centre website, peretz-centre.org: click the Kirman Library tab and then the Catalog link. The library ID is Kirman Library. No password is needed.
Books and periodicals can be borrowed for a $10/year fee. Four items may be borrowed at a time, for a period of four weeks, which may be renewed if no hold has been placed on the item. And the library may be used whenever the Peretz office is open, so call ahead before coming down, or for more information about library policy in general, such as its overdue or lost items policy, or to obtain a library card: 604-325-1812, ext. 1, or [email protected].
If you have any specific questions or comments about the library, or wish to make a donation to it, Stein can be reached at 604 731-1193 or [email protected].
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.
Josh Epstein and Amanda Sum in do you want what i have got? a craigslist cantata, written by Veda Hille, Bill Richardson and Amiel Gladstone, and presented by the Cultch and Musical Stage Company. (photo by Emily Cooper)
Welcome back the cast of wild and wacky characters from the Craigslist community as they attempt to buy and sell online, all the while longing and searching for human connection – this time with a fresh, new perspective on social isolation, and livestreamed from all around the Cultch. The production features the original songs “300 Stuffed Penguins,” “Chili Eating Buddy,” “Decapitated Dolls,” and more. Joining actors Epstein and Sum in the cast are Meaghan Chenosky, Kayvon Khoshkam and Andrew Wheeler. Showtimes are Feb. 5-6, 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 7, at noon. Tickets ($25/$29/$58) can be purchased from 604-251-1363 or thecultch.com/event/a-craigslist-cantata.