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“Take a leap, and the net will appear.” “When you first fall in love, you feel like a better version of yourself. That is what travel does to me. Travel is my lover. I do not know how long the money will hold out, or if I will make any money by documenting these adventures, but for now, I am very happy.” – Carole Rosenblat
“Hold this.” He whispered, shoving a clump of black curtain into my hand.
“When Frumma Sarah finishes singing, open the curtain from here very quickly so we can wheel her backstage,” the man in black ordered. “This will be your job at every performance.”
And just like that, I had my first job in community theater. While my son was doing his thing onstage being a shtetl boy, I had my part backstage helping Fume Sarah get offstage. And I did my job proudly, all the while pantomiming Frumma Sarah’s motions and words, with another stagehand who I had not met until that final tech dress rehearsal, every night I was not in the audience watching my son with pride.
I was a suburban mom. This other stagehand was a young woman at most in her 20’s. We had never met before that night, but though “The Dream,” we had an instant connection. And at that moment, I realized: I am not a soccer mom. I am a stage mom!
That was last year, the year my son came home buzzing about how he wanted to audition for Fiddler on The Roof with a local community theater group. He heard about it from a poster hung up at his new school. I drove him to every rehearsal and instead of dropping off and running home or going for coffee, I hung around.
This year, I was asked to serve on the board, and perform on stage, as a member of a long-standing mainly volunteer community theater group in the Detroit Metro Area.
As a transplant, getting involved in community theater has proven the best way for me to plug into a community. Now that the curtain has closed on our most recent production, here is a few things community theater has taught this newbie:
You cannot produce any old show you want – Planning to produce a show in community begins nearly a year before opening curtain. Music Theater International has strict licensing guidelines and a catalog of shows available for community theater production that is regularly updated. Nothing running on Broadway, or that is a Broadway national tour, can be produced. And licensing rights for some musicals, especially the Disney genre, are extremely costly. Being that our company is geared to be a family, multi-generational theater company also restricts our choices. Hair and R.E.N.T. are definitely no-nos.
Everyone counts: To the untrained eye, a theatergoer might think that the female lead with the canary-like voice or the dancer with the highest kicks or the tenor with the sweetest crooning is the most important facet of a musical theater production. But the ones you see on the stage, we are just mere puppets. It is everyone else: the sound engineer who follows the script line by line during every performance, whose fingers fly across the soundboard making sure your mike is hot only when it needs to be, the stage manager and their fearless tech crew who wheel stage sets around 180 degrees or pull the grand curtain open and shut within seconds, they are the backbone of any good production. As is the props master, whom months before opening curtain thought of every detail, and where it needs to be when not on stage, who matters. As is the costumer who hunts around at thrift stores and begs borrows and steals if she has to just the right costume from other community theater groups, who is up late at night sewing and resewing hemlines and taking in trousers, that’s who matters in a show. Not to mention (and OF COURSE they need mention!) the multi-piece orchestra that plays at your feet from the pit, whose musicians will even throw in their own laughter if a joke onstage falls flat. I don’t understand why they can’t join us on stage for a bow each night.
You gain an insane appreciation for people who actually want to do musical theater for a living – As much as I loved being in a performance, towards closing night I was wiped. How do people do this and keep it fresh, some for 3,000 performances in a row? Maybe it is because most of our company is slightly older than professional Broadway stars. But Broadway stars, for eight performances a week, have to give it all to their audience, even when they may not have it all that night. Even if they are under the weather. Or had a fight with their boyfriend. One night, while driving to rehearsal, I heard Seth Rudetsky on the XM Broadway Channel interview an actor who passed a KIDNEY STONE on stage while he played Horton in Seussical the Musical. After all, the show must go on, and the paying audience does not care if you are passing a kidney stone. When you need to be on stage, you must be on stage. Even if you have to pass a kidney stone. Or even pee. Yes, perhaps of all the things I learned about being on stage is that performers do not get to use the bathroom any old zany time they want to. For thousands of performances. Yet, they have to keep themselves hydrated? How is that all supposed to even out?
Hair and Makeup – This again speaks to the immense appreciation I have gained for professional actors, because this business is way too high maintenance for me, an otherwise hermit-like writer, when it comes to tending to hair and makeup prep that is worthy of the stage. To get myself ready for performances, I spent hours watching Youtube videos on how to create the perfect Gibson Girl updo from the Edwardian era. I found videos on proper contouring and learned how to apply blush not to my cheekbones but underneath. The first time I tried to apply my makeup, I looked more like a Geisha girl than someone who lived in River City, Iowa, but thanks to our volunteer makeup artist, a woman in her 40s who is also a national champion figure skater (!!), I got it looking just right.
Community Theater is not high school theater – You know where my favorite place in the theater is? Not on stage, under those hot bright lights, but deep backstage. Where the darkness is lit only by a string of lights. Where the smell of sawed wood and paint lingers in the air. Where you can find random things like an old stove or a stripped down Chevy Convertible from shows past. Graffiti that says things like “Best Cast Ever Guys and Dolls ’86” Because if only for a second, I can pretend I am backstage in my own high school. But this is not high school theater, even if this may have been the high school of others for many decades. It wasn’t mine. And as a transplant, few, if any of the audience members knew me, let alone knew me from high school. I also got that lonely transplanted feeling after performances, watching my fellow cast mates surrounded by adoring family and friends, awkwardly balancing bunches of flower and candy in their arms while they posed for a picture. When you are a transplant, this post-performance shower of adoration can feel a bit thin.
But this post is not about being a transplant. It is about showbiz! So let’s move on:
Breath Support, Personal amplifier – Just as a choreographer tells a dancer how to move their body, a great vocal director will tell you how to move your lips, teeth, tongue in such a way that you would believe that you never knew how to move your lips, teeth, tongue and even the roof of your mouth (did you know you can move the ROOF of your mouth?) before he taught you. Every note has choreography and a dynamic, and a good musical director will get this out of you if he has to beat it out of you to make sure you are sounding like a well-supported ensemble, a chorus capable of producing that building wall of sound. You might think that singing in the shower or singing in your car is singing, until you have taken actual formal instruction from a musical director. There really is a difference.
Community Theater truly is a community– My son discovered something that I learned this year. Yes, the cast and crew become like family. After all, in the intensive weeks leading up to opening curtain, you will see them more than your actual family. They are there for you – totally there – to celebrate your birthday, to say a community prayer of healing if you have a loved one in the hospital, to root for you if you are waiting on that job offer after months of unemployment. They are there for you to change you out of one costume and into another in under 90 seconds. Or loan you a favorite antique hatpin to keep your hat from flopping over your face, because, really, who owns hat pins in this century? They are there for you to hold your hand and wipe away a tear when it all becomes too overwhelming. And, if your cast is lucky enough to contain some medical professionals, they will do what they have to do to keep you healthy for those crucial last rehearsals leading up to opening night. Believe me. A month after closing curtain, and I am going through deep withdrawal missing my theater family. I cannot wait to do it all again next year!
I feel weird asking it because I am not the kind of person to ask for a lot of help. Hell, I even feel bad asking a neighbor to for an egg or a cuppa sugar to save me from pulling my boots on and heading out to the supermarket on a snowy day. Or asking you to pick up my kid at band rehearsal if I drive the other way, would you drive the other?
But this is a biggie. A total solid.
If things in this country got very bad for me, your Jewish friend;
if it came to it where laws were put in place forbidding people to do business with Jews, for going to school with Jews, for being treated by Jewish doctors or seeking counsel from Jewish lawyers; if Jews were forbidden from riding in public transportation or eating in restaurants, or going to movie theaters:
Would you hide me?
What about just my kids?
In the height of World War II, there were the few, brave righteous gentiles who imperiled their own lives to hide Jews in their basements, a large closet, a ditch under their barn, and most famously, in an Amsterdam attic. Some of their stories can be viewed here in a video created by the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
Pretty dark and drastic, perhaps fatalistic and Pollyannaish all at the same time just a few days away from Valentine’s Day, right?
I know. Sorry if I am freaking you out.
Yet, I am beginning to have my doubts just how many would say yes.
It is evidenced by the alarming silence, or maybe apathy, or maybe just news fatigue I have witnessed ever since this summer.
And I know, for my Facebook friends, you are probably sick of all the stuff I have posted since this summer, starting with the horrible war between Israel and her neighbors in Gaza, followed by the outrageous double standard displayed in media coverage. You are just probably sick to death of me and have most likely hidden all my rantings from your newsfeed.
I have also posted many petitions asking you to stand up against hatred against the only democracy in the Middle East. I have tried to educate the unfamiliar on the history of the formation of the modern state of Israel, lest you are misled by those who want you to believe that Jews are land stealing colonists with no ties to this scrap of land in the Middle East.
I have tried to make you understand that yes, when some say “I have no problem with Jews, it is just the Zionists we hate” that this is just a thin veil, a code word for Jew hatred.
I have tried to teach you the real meaning of what it means to be a Zionist. I posted petitions asking our government to stop forcing Israel into any negotiations with a party who in its very charter calls for the total destruction of the Jewish state, and Jews in general.
I have shared petitions about lending your voice to speak out against the rapid rise of Jew Hatred in Europe and even right here in our own country as college student governing bodies pass ruling after ruling asking their university administrations to stop doing business with any business that does business with Israel, to stop RESEARCH and PROGRESS if it means collaborating and learning and working with Israeli researchers.
Post after post, I pretty much knew who would share, or who would comment, or maybe who would just click “like.” Same people. Same choir.
Those who know their history understand what silence in the face of evil brings. That is why I am asking you that very uncomfortable question:
Would you hide me?
It is not only me who feels this way. Just this week, clinical social worker Carla Naumburg, PhD wrote in “Jewish, American and Scared” how she is making sure that all her ducks are in order: passport, bank statements, title deeds to house and car, just in case she has to flee with her family to Israel. As many French Jews have been fleeing after anti-Semitism in that country has nearly quadrupled over the last few years. I shared and posted about that too, mostly to seemingly deaf ears.
How many of you have dared to tweet #JeSuisJuif?
So, if you are Jewish, please share this post and ask this question of your friends.
If you are not Jewish, check in with your conscience and think back to a time when you (hopefully) watched a Holocaust documentary, or Schindler’s List, or visited a Holocaust Museum, and asked yourselves how the hell could this have happened?? Ask yourself what you are doing right now, in the 21st Century, to prevent this from happening again.
Silence and apathy of the majority of the good allowed evil to take over and murder millions.
Silence and apathy, that’s how it happened.
It is a good thing there is now a place I can go, if it comes to it.